Road Atlanta: Race preview

Said seeks title at Road Atlanta's Trans-Am 100 Presented by The Crank -- you've never seen a ratchet like this! CLEARWATER, Fla. (October 7, 2002) -- Boris Said is nothing if not brutally honest, even when he's describing himself. "I'd have...

Said seeks title at Road Atlanta's Trans-Am 100 Presented by The Crank -- you've never seen a ratchet like this!

CLEARWATER, Fla. (October 7, 2002) -- Boris Said is nothing if not brutally honest, even when he's describing himself.

"I'd have to be the biggest idiot in the world to throw the championship away now," Said surmised after collecting his third consecutive Trans-Am Series victory, and sixth of the season, on the streets of Miami last Sunday. "There's no way we can lose it now."

Said receives his best chance to clinch the 2002 BFGoodrich Tires Cup, emblematic of the Trans-Am Series driving championship, when the Trans-Am 100 Presented by the Crank -- You've Never Seen a Ratchet Like This! takes the green flag 3 p.m. Friday at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. (Friday, October 18, SPEED Channel, 8 p.m. ET).

Said (#33 Applied Computer Solutions Panoz Esperante) comes into the weekend with a commanding 58-point (296-238) lead over three-time and defending Trans-Am Series champion Paul Gentilozzi, and a maximum of 68 points available in the season's final two events, at Road Atlanta and Virginia International Raceway (October 27).

Said guarantees himself the title by exiting Road Atlanta with a 34-point advantage, meaning that if Gentilozzi (#3 Johnson Controls/Microchip/MatrixOne/Futaba Jaguar XKR) were to sweep the maximum 34 points available at Atlanta for winning from the pole and leading the most laps, Said would need only a 16th-place finish, worth 10 points, to clinch the Cup. Given that Said has finished off the podium only once in 10 starts this season, it seems reasonable to expect a conclusion to the championship duel this weekend.

Reasonable, perhaps, but not foregone, at least not in Gentilozzi's eyes. Which is precisely why, en route to a season-worst 12th-place finish, he squeezed one more lap, worth one more finishing position, and thus, one more point, out of a crippled car at Miami.

"It's all about points at this stage of the game," Gentilozzi said afterward. "We needed to go out and turn one more lap to get one more point, so that's what we did. We never give up and we don't intend to start now."

Still, thanks to Said's spectacular season, Gentilozzi's determination may go for naught. With victories at Mosport, Lime Rock, Cleveland, Road America, Denver and Miami, and additional podium finishes of second at Long Beach and third at Mid-Ohio and Washington, D.C., Said has been on top of the championship standings since Round 2 in mid-May. It's been a storybook season for the driver whose previous best finish in the Trans-Am Series championship was sixth, in 1995 and '96.

Only one other driver, rookie Butch Leitzinger, remains in mathematical contention for the 2002 championship. Leitzinger (#88 Tommy Bahama Chevrolet Corvette), whose three victories rank second series-wide to Said, stands third in the championship with 232 points. He has already clinched the AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year Award on the strength of his three victories and series-high four pole positions.

Though out of title contention, the fourth and fifth-place drivers in the championship couldn't be blamed for feeling they were overdue for a victory. Johnny Miller (Automation Direct/Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR), fourth with 215 points, extended his run of top-10 performances to 21 in his past 22 starts with an eighth-place finish at Miami. But his victory in the race that started the run, in the 2000 season finale at San Diego, is his only triumph over that span.

The frustration is much fresher for Stu Hayner (#02 Trenton Forging Chevrolet Corvette), who stands fifth in the championship with 205 points. Hayner held the lead going into the 73rd and final lap at Miami last weekend, but a suspension failure just one mile from the checkered flag brought a heartbreaking conclusion to his day.

Other contenders for victory Friday include Randy Ruhlman (#49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette), Tony Ave (#53 Trilithic Panoz Esperante), Michael Lewis (#12 AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR) and Tomy Drissi (#5 Daredevil/Pyro Jaguar XKR). Ruhlman had the strongest performance of the trio at Miami with a third-place finish, the second podium performance of his 12-year career.

This week's appearance will be the first for the Trans-Am Series on the 2.54-mile, 12-turn Road Atlanta road course since 1999.

-psr/scca-

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Tony Ave , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Michael Lewis , Stu Hayner