St. Pete: Season opener race notebook

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ‹ Scott Pruett won the Jaguar Pole for Sunday's Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup race, part of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Saturday. Pruett, driving the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance Jaguar XKR, lapped ...

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ‹ Scott Pruett won the Jaguar Pole for Sunday's Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup race, part of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Saturday.

Pruett, driving the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance Jaguar XKR, lapped the 1.806-mile 14-turn temporary combined street and airport course in 1:14.545 minutes at an average speed of 85.961 miles per hour to record his 21st career pole.

Pruett's teammate and car owner, Paul Gentilozzi (No. 3 Jaguar R Performance Jaguar XKR), was second fastest at 85.944 mph, ahead of fellow Rocketsports Racing driver Johnny Miller (No. 64 Eaton/Cutler-Hammer/Automation Direct Jaguar XKR), who ripped off a 85.222-mph effort on the final lap of his qualifying session.

Boris Said qualified fourth in the No. 33 Menard's Ford Mustang, but was forced to start at the back of the grid due to a rule infraction found in post-qualifying technical inspection. Said's teammate, Paul Menard, started next to Said

Stu Hayner (No. 2 Trenton Forging Chevrolet Corvette) was elevated to fourth as a result of the penalty, while Tomy Drissi (No. 5 Phone Booth The Movie Jaguar XKR) started fifth Sunday.

Pruett became the first winner of this year's new Jaguar Pole Award, a performance-based initiative that rewards drivers who win the pole at each of the Trans-Am Series' 11 events this season. Pruett, who won his most recent pole during his last full Trans-Am season in 1994, received a key, which, at the culmination of the season, he will use to attempt to open the door to a 2004 Jaguar XK8. If the key opens the vehicle, Pruett will win a one-year lease on the car.

"It was good that Jaguar is continuing on with the tradition they've already put in place," said Pruett, who won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 1987 and was the only defending winner in the field. "It's easy for a driver when you have a good car. I was finding my way during that first (practice) session, kind of like a good old rusty nail, but yesterday afternoon we started feeling more confident. Hopefully we can keep that roll going. "It's fun to be back, especially with Jaguar. My heritage goes back a long time with them, back to the early 1990s with Tom Walkinshaw. It's good to be back."

Pruett further credited spec tire supplier BFGoodrich for his fast lap. "I have to couple the car with what BFGoodrich has done with the radial," said Pruett. "The last time I ran here was on bias-ply tires from a different manufacturer. I have to believe that has a lot to do with the pole."

Jaguar North America announced Friday it will return as an engine supplier for the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup. It will mark the first time since 1981 that a Jaguar engine has competed in America's oldest continuously running road racing series.

The 4.5-liter, four-valve, fuel-injected engine, designated the AJ-V-8, is derived from the lightweight 4.2-liter dual-overhead-cam engine found in all of the Jaguar's V-8 powered street cars.

The announcement is part of an overall move by the Trans-Am Series to encourage the use of multi-valve engines.

The engine will be developed this season by Rocketsports Racing's multi-car team, which includes team owner and three-time Trans-Am champion Gentilozzi, who will race on a part-time basis this year; two-time titleholder Pruett, who returns to the Trans-Am Series full-time this year; Miller and Drissi. The engine is expected to make 650 horsepower and will rev to 9,000 rpms. A new Jaguar XKR body is also being created.

The company's Jaguar XKR, which comprises seven of this weekend's 19-car field, is powered by a corporate-derived V-8.

BFGoodrich Tires, presenting sponsor of the Trans-Am Series, brought 640 g-Force Radial racing tires to St. Petersburg in two dry compounds‹medium and hard‹and one full-wet compound. According to Gary Blalock, tire designer for BFGoodrich Tires, all competitors used the medium 200 compound g-Force Radials in Sunday's Trans-Am Series race. BFGoodrich brings two tire compounds to every Trans-Am race‹75 (hard) and 200 (medium)‹plus a full-wet, treaded tire.

2002 BBS Most Improved Driver Randy Ruhlman and his wife, Cristi, celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary Thursday. Cristi also handles public relations and marketing responsibilities for Ruhlman.

When is a new race an old race? Although Sunday's race was an inaugural for the Champ Car World Series, the Trans-Am Series has raced in St. Petersburg eight times between 1986 and 1997. However, this year's 1.806-mile street course around Bayfront Center is brand new. The Series previously raced on a course around Tropicana Field and one adjacent the Renaissance Venoy Hotel.

Bill Bentley of Longwood, Fla., who drover the No. 46 Chevrolet Camaro Sunday, hopes to fulfill his dream of running full time in the Trans-Am Series. Bentley, who owns an architecture and engineering firm, competed in several GT-1 races last season, and finished fourth in an SCCA national event at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.

Trans-Am Series drivers Miller, Drissi, Stu Hayner, Randy Ruhlman, Bobby Sak, along with St. Petersburg service organization Ye Mystique Krewe, visited sick children at All Children's Hospital Saturday. The drivers visited with, and signed autographs for 20 children ranging in age from 4-14. An additional 20 children, in the isolation ward, were presented autographed hero cards and memorabilia.

The "Krewe," formed in February of 2002, dress up as 17th Century Spanish mariners. Its mission is to provide charitable service to St. Petersburg community charities.

A group of fifth graders from Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg visited the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup paddock Friday afternoon, Feb. 23 as guests of Smith Fence.

The children colored in a drawing of a Trans-Am Series Corvette, and took part in a contest judged by Revolution Racing drivers Hayner (No. 02 Trenton Forging Chevrolet Corvette) and Sak (No. 10 Chevrolet Corvette). Whitney Nasse, Christiana Mastry and J.D. Anderson won the coloring contest and took home Revolution Racing T-shirts.

Ruhlman (No. 49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette), Menard, Miller and Drissi joined Hayner and Sak, signing autographs for the eager youth.

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Scott Pruett , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Paul Menard , Bill Bentley , Stu Hayner , Tom Walkinshaw