Fast-Closing Leitzinger sets sights on series lead in Johnson Controls 100 at Road America. CLEARWATER, Fla. (August 13, 2002) -- Boris Said has held the points lead in the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup since mid-May, but rookie...
Fast-Closing Leitzinger sets sights on series lead in Johnson Controls 100 at Road America.
CLEARWATER, Fla. (August 13, 2002) -- Boris Said has held the points lead in the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup since mid-May, but rookie Butch Leitzinger is suddenly looking like the man to beat for the championship.
With three victories in the past four events, Leitzinger has closed within 14 of Said's points lead heading into Saturday's Johnson Controls 100 at venerable Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (noon ET, Sunday, SPEED Channel, tape delay). Through seven of 12 rounds in the chase for the 2002 Trans-Am title, Said (#33 Applied Computer Solutions Panoz Esperante) holds a 198-184 advantage over Leitzinger in championship points.
Leitzinger (#88 Tommy Bahama/Tom Gloy Chevrolet Corvette) took over second place following his Aug. 4 win at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. It was his third triumph in four races, joining victories at Mid-Ohio (June 29) and Washington, D.C. (July 20).
"We want to keep winning, and if we do, the drivers' championship will take care of itself," said Leitzinger, whose performance at Trois-Rivieres extended his streak of podium finishes to five, including finishes of third at Lime Rock and second at Cleveland. "We gained a big chunk on the championship [at Trois-Rivieres]. With five races to go, we have to stay up front."
The 4.048-mile permanent road course at Road America will be the longest circuit of the season for Trans-Am Series drivers. Said owns a victory there, having claimed the first of his six career Trans-Am triumphs at Road America in 1995.
Three of Said's victories have come this season, at Mosport, Lime Rock and Cleveland. He had a streak of six podium finishes -- including second at Long Beach and third at Mid-Ohio and Washington, D.C. -- snapped at Trois-Rivieres, where he finished ninth due to brake problems.
Still well within striking distance of both Said and Leitzinger is three-time and defending Trans-Am Series champion Paul Gentilozzi (#3 Johnson Controls/Microchip/MatrixOne/Futaba Jaguar XKR), who stands third in the championship with 174 points. Gentilozzi and Said are the only Trans-Am Series drivers to own top-10 finishes in all seven 2002 events, and Gentilozzi joins Said and Leitzinger as the only drivers to have earned victories this year, having claimed the season opener at Long Beach.
Gentilozzi is also a two-time winner of the Trans-Am event at Road America, having driven to victory in 1999 and 2000. He is one of four former Road America winners in this weekend's field, joined by defending champion Michael Lewis (#12 AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR), winner of last year's weather-abbreviated event, and Stu Hayner (#02 Trenton Forging/Tom Bell Chevrolet Corvette), who was first to the checkered flag in 1998.
Previous Road America pole winners on this weekend's entry list include Gentilozzi (1998, 2001) and his Rocketsports Racing teammate, Johnny Miller (#64 Automation Direct/Eaton Cutler-Hammer), who qualified fastest in 2000.
Miller continues in fourth place in the championship with 152 points, despite seeing his run of 18 consecutive top-10 finishes come to an end with a 12th-place result at Trois-Riveires. Rounding out the top five in the championship is Randy Ruhlman (#49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette), whose runner-up finish at Trois-Rivieres was the best of his career, in his 121st career Trans-Am Series start.
The entry list for the Johnson Controls 100 at Road America features four drivers who will be making their 2002 Trans-Am Series debuts. John Schaller (#31 Central Power Distributors, Inc. Chevrolet Camaro) of St. Paul, Minn., made his career debut at Road America last year, finishing 13th, while Don Soenen (#74 Soenen Motorsports Ford Mustang) of Plymouth, Mich., also recorded the top finish of his five-start Trans-Am Series career, 17th, at Road America in 2000.
Also making his 2002 debut will be Jim Trotnow (#51 Milwaukee Electric Tool/Jensen Equipment/Trane Co. Chevrolet Camaro) of Mequon, Wis., who has made five of his six career Trans-Am Series starts at Road America, with a best finish of 17th in 1995; and Glenn Andrew (#45 Terre Haute First National Bank/Sycamore Chevrolet Pontiac Grand Prix), who will be making his 22nd career Trans-Am Series start and his first since 1999.
Returning to Trans-Am competition for the first time since the season opener at Long Beach will be veteran Greg Pickett (#6 Cytomax Ford Mustang), who finished fourth in that event. Pickett, winner of the 1978 Trans-Am Category II drivers' championship, stands second to Gentilozzi in career starts (154), top-five finishes (75) and top-10 finishes (108), and ranks third to Gentilozzi and Tom Kendall in podium finishes (47).
Following the Johnson Controls 100 at Road America, the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup travels to the Mile High City for Round 9, the Shell Grand Prix of Denver, on Sunday, September 1, on the streets of Denver, Colo.
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