TROIS-RIVIÃˆRES, Quebec -- The Grand Prix de Trois-RiviÃ¨res has long been a part of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrichÂ® Tires Cup legend. On Saturday, Aug. 2, that legend will continue at America's oldest temporary street circuit as the ...
TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Quebec -- The Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières has long been a part of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup legend. On Saturday, Aug. 2, that legend will continue at America's oldest temporary street circuit as the Trans-Am Series hits town for Round 7 of this year's championship. This year's race will rewrite both Series and the event's history. Not one of the active drivers entered this year have won here in the 19 years America's oldest continuously running road racing series has competed at Trois-Rivières, beginning in 1976.
Heading up the impressive league of drivers seeking their first triumph here is local hot shoe Claude Bourbonnais, who will compete in the No. 3 Rocketsports Jaguar XKR. Although the French Canadian driver is making his first Trans-Am Series start, his vast experience and the proven record of the Rocketsports squad could easily put him on the top step of the podium.
Bourbonnais will compete in the car normally driven by three-time Trans-Am Series champion Paul Gentilozzi. Gentilozzi, who ended his record streak of 183 consecutive starts by surrendering his ride to Brian Simo at Lime Rock earlier this year, is competing on a part-time basis this year.
Bourbonnais has a long history at Trois-Rivières. In fact, Bourbonnais has competed regularly at the 1.52-mile, nine-turn temporary road course since 1985. Bourbonnais is a veteran of the F-2000, Toyota Atlantic, British Formula 2, Indy Lights, along with the Champ Car World Series, the Indianapolis 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Most recently, Bourbonnais finished fourth overall at Trois-Rivières in the 2000 Players Grand Prix Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series race. Bourbonnais co-drove a Ford Lola B2K10 Sports Racer Prototype with Scott Schubot in that event.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to compete for Rocketsports at Trois-Rivières," said Bourbonnais, who has 28 victories in his career, and multiple track records. "I know the track like the back of my hand.
"Plus, it's always special to run where people know you," added Bourbonnais, who with a victory, would join the likes of Robby Gordon and Price Cobb by winning in his Trans-Am Series debut. "I'm from Quebec, and I have a lot of experience at Trois-Rivières. Since 1989, the course hasn't changed much, and I've been there on and off ever since, so I think I have a bit of an advantage from the start."
Yet, Bourbonnais won't be alone in his quest for victory, as Scott Pruett and Johnny Miller, embroiled in a tight race for the points lead, are both seeking success here. That battle is very much up in the air, as Pruett, driver of the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR, leads the points chase by just 34 points coming into a track where he has very little experience.
In fact, Pruett has just one start here, in 1994. He won the pole for that event, but finished 10th after contact during the event.
"I don't really remember the place, which will make for a very interesting race," said Pruett, who won the Trans-Am Series Drivers' Championships in 1987 and 1994. "Looking at it, it's probably going to be one of my biggest challenges this year. I just don't remember the place and I don't know what I'll be looking for out of the car. Racing one time there in 1994, in a race that wasn't really all that good because of contact, I really think makes for a challenge.
"I have confidence coming off of my Cleveland victory," added Pruett, who this season has earned four triumphs, five podium finishes and five poles. "However, at the same time, I'm thinking I'm going to have to be totally on my game to let the cards play out in our favor."
Yet, Pruett, in true championship style, possesses a quiet confidence coming into Trois-Rivières. That confidence, in large part, stems from his vast experience. Pruett returned to the Trans-Am Series at the beginning of this season after an eight-year hiatus, during which he competed in the Champ Car World Series and NASCAR.
"Typically, you lose championships by looking in your rearview mirror," said Pruett. "We're so focused on going forward that we're not paying attention to what is behind us. Until you get down to the last couple races, you can't really let up because anything can happen. You can have a mechanical failure, a crash, or a bad finish. Any of those things can be costly. While we know the championship is out there, we're still focusing on winning each race."
Miller, on the other hand, is attempting to bounce back from a streak of bad luck that started in Round 5 at Infineon Raceway in California. The driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR finished 12th at Infineon Raceway after contact with another competitor and ninth at Cleveland after having to pit twice to remove debris from the front grill of his car. According to Miller, the energy and excitement surrounding this historic event may be just what he needs for a victory.
"The ambiance and energy of the town and all of the fans there is just incredible," said Miller, who won his second career Trans-Am Series race earlier this year at Lime Rock Park. "It makes the race weekend really exciting."
Miller has five starts here, with his best finish of third coming in 1999. It was during that race that Miller led his first lap in the Trans-Am Series. Miller finished 12th in last year's race after being sidelined by an engine failure.
"We were running second last year and we were saving the car for the end of the race," said Miller, who grabbed one victory, four podiums and one pole so far this season. "The sad part is we had lapped so many people that if it failed on the front stretch, we still would have finished sixth."
Miller's experience may pay off here, as the veteran competitor knows what it takes to win on the demanding street course, known to be tough on brakes.
"The thing about Trois-Rivières is you have to have brakes at the end," said Miller. "In 1998, I came in after the first session and the rear calipers were dripping flaming pieces of the seals. Brakes can get really hot there.
"Also, we've never run a 100-mile race here without a pit stop," added Miller. "We ran a 100-mile race here last year, but we made a stop, so that makes it even more interesting this year."
Meanwhile, Randy Ruhlman, driver of the No. 49 Preformed Line Products Canada/COYOTE Closures Chevrolet Corvette, is hoping to back up his best Series finish in last year's event here. Ruhlman finished second here last season.
"Throughout the years, no matter what car we've been in, we've been strong at Trois-Rivières," said Ruhlman, who won the BBS Most Improved Driver award last year. "It's one of those places that I've taken a liking to. It suits my driving style. We have strong performances there.
Ruhlman predicts he'll record another strong finish at Trois-Rivières.
"This year has been extremely frustrating," said Ruhlman. "Team owner Jim (Derhaag's) team has been really well thought out; the guys and the equipment are good. It just that we were bitten early by mechanical failures. That was frustrating. We had some setup issues. However, we found some things before and at Cleveland. We really thought we made progress at Cleveland. Unfortunately, we finally had the car underneath me, but I just managed to get into every bad situation that could happen.
"We're very optimistic where we are with the car," added Ruhlman. "That is fortuitous going into Trois-Rivières, I think the combination is very promising for us.
"Trois-Rivières is a drivers' course," concluded Ruhlman. "It's very challenging and makes you pay attention. The atmosphere of Trois-Rivières is to my liking. The people up there are fantastic, and are true race fans. We have a large contingent of our sponsor Preformed Line Products' Canadian operation here. You put together the track configuration and the atmosphere and it's great. When I hear Trois-Rivières, I get a smile on my face and I'm ready to go."
But don't count out 1999 Rookie of the Year Tomy Drissi. Drissi, driver of the No. 5 Jaguar XKR, is bringing a new sponsor to this year's event: "Stuck on You," the movie, which opens in theaters Dec. 12, 2003. Drissi finished third in last year's race.
"We had a really good race here last year; our best of the season," said Drissi. "I've got the same team and the same car, so we'll see what we can get this time.
"I just love this city and the people here," added Drissi. "I just feed off their energy. The whole city is thinking about and supporting the race. For me, that takes it to the highest level; it actually makes me more focused on my racing and the need to perform well."
Fellow Trans-Am Series veteran Stu Hayner is also a force to be reckoned with at Trois-Rivières. In the most recent race at Cleveland, Hayner charged from one lap down with the passenger side body work missing from his No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Commercial Finance Chevrolet Corvette to finish fifth. Hayner hopes to carry that momentum into the race here.
"I love this race," said Hayner, who has three top-five and four top-10 finishes this season. "It's a challenging track that requires smart driving. You really have to pace the car and find intelligent places to pass. There's kind of a lure as you come out onto that big wide front stretch and head down into an equally wide turn one. You feel like you're king of the world...then, all of a sudden, you're heading downhill into a narrow opening between the arches and staring right into a cemetery. Someone had an odd sense of humor.
"We had a great car here last year and I expect we'll be even better this year," added Hayner, who will make his 55th career Trans-Am Series start Saturday. "Last year, we were running up front and got put in the wall. The car was wedged into the tire wall and it took a couple laps to get me pulled out. We charged back and ended up in sixth. Plus, the car was wicked fast at Cleveland, so I expect we'll pull it off the trailer with the setup pretty close. More importantly, we love the Canadians and this event."
Finally, this year's Rookie of the Year contenders, which includes Hayner's Revolution Motorsports teammate Bobby Sak, current Rookie of the Year points leader Jorge Diaz, Jr. and Joey Scarallo, are seeking to etch their names into the Trans-Am Series legacy.
Diaz is coming off his second podium finish this season at Cleveland, while Sak will seek to cut into Diaz's 31-point lead in the rookie chase.
"Trois-Rivières is a race the team really looks forward to," said Sak, driver of the No. 10 Revolution Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. "My experience here is limited to World Challenge, but I do like the course. It provides a lot of variables and, when you have the right setup, a lot of the race is put back in the hands of the driver. I also enjoy racing in Canada. The fans love Trans-Am and really show up to support us. Even the paddock area is very active at this race. So, I'm looking forward to it."
Conversely, Diaz has never competed here. That fact may seem daunting. However, the affable Puerto Rican driver prefers to compete at new tracks.
"I wish all of the tracks we visit were new to me," said the driver of the No. 8 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR. "I like it better when I'm racing it for the first time, because I have no expectations."
Max Lagod will also be a force here. Lagod, driver of the No. 83 Hypermax Chevrolet Camaro, comes to Trois-Rivières after scoring his second podium of his career at Cleveland. Another driver to watch is Michael Lewis, who admittedly is having one of the best seasons of his career in the No. 12 Westward Tools/The Crank Jaguar XKR. Also, Bob Ruman, who finished and impressive fourth at Trois-Rivières last season, will return this season in the No. 23 Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette. Ruman recently returned to competition, following a successful battle with cancer.
Finally, John Baucom, Simon Gregg, and Garrett Kletjian complete an already impressive entry list.
Trois-Rivières is a special place for the Trans-Am Series and each and every driver is seeking their first taste of victory here this year. With one returning champion, a local favorite, a host of seasoned veterans, and a talented rookie crop, all racing on Trois-Rivières challenging temporary street circuit, this year's race will definitely be one to watch.
The Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2. The race will air LIVE on SPEED Channel. The Trans-Am Series is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year.