MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 11, 2004) — It was a case of Tommy Kendall winning the battle and Paul Gentilozzi winning the war in Saturday’s Motorock Trans-Am Series 2004 season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In the end, it ended up virtually a draw as Kendall led every lap of the race for his second victory this year, while Gentilozzi clinched his fourth Series championship, with the two tied with 222 points in the final championship.
Boris Said finished second in the No. 33 Applied Computer Solutions/GE Access Ford Mustang, ahead of the No. 40 Derhaag Motorsports/Baljet Chevrolet Corvette of Ron Fellows. Gentilozzi’s fourth-place finish came in the No. 3 Jaguar R Performance XKR, ahead of the No. 49 Preformed Line Products Corvette of Randy Ruhlman.
Gentilozzi and Kendall finished the season tied in championship points, a feat not achieved in the Trans-Am Series since 1966. Gentilozzi clinched the title by virtue of his five wins this year to two victories for Kendall. His fourth title ties Gentilozzi with Kendall for the most championships in Trans-Am history. In fact, it was the closest Drivers’ Championship finish in Trans-Am’s 39-year history as the drivers’ title was not officially instituted until the 1971 season.
“I just had a ball this year,” said Kendall. “It might drive me nuts looking at all of the places I could have picked up a point this year. We had the fastest car all weekend at Road America and a I missed a shift at Denver and failed to lead a lap, so there will be a lot of those. I gave it my all and did what I needed to do.
“At the start of the year, I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” added Kendall, who helped develop Jaguar’s new production-based, fuel-injected AJ-V8 engine this year. “The engine had only been on the dyno a few times, but it hadn’t had much race time. After Long Beach, that I wanted to win a pole against these guys and win a race. We’ve accomplished both this year.”
“This is conflicting,” said Gentilozzi. “I told Tommy my job was to win him the championship, but we struggled early. I was really torn up about what to do. I told Tommy if he wanted, I wouldn’t race. In the end, we thought the fans deserved a race to the end. That’s what they got. To go in the tank just to pass another championship along would have detracted from it.
“Tommy never faltered in his belief in the combination,” added Gentilozzi. “He and John Mills, our engineer, formed a great working relationship that made for great race cars. It wasn’t my intention to be in the championship hunt, but Tommy had some trouble and Jorge Diaz, Jr. won Toronto. So, there were just a lot of dynamics going on. I did what we thought I had to do.”
Gentilozzi was nearly denied his fourth title as a charging Ruhlman challenged him during the waning laps and nearly passed him in the Corkscrew on the final circuit.
“We raced and, man did it come close today,” said Gentilozzi. “I drove off of the race track and Randy Ruhlman followed me. That’s the only reason he didn’t beat me. I had no race car at the end. I lost the rear brakes and flat spotted the tires 10 times. It was really ugly. I was lucky. I hung back in the middle of the race. I didn’t want to get in the middle of Tommy, Boris and Ron. I got a little closer later in the race, then the brakes went out and I just hung on for my life.”
Said was pleased with his runner-up effort, which marked his third podium this season in just three starts. Said started second, but fell to third at the start. He passed Fellows for second on lap 31 and never looked back from there.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Said. “Ron and I were pretty evenly matched and we were having a great time. It looked like he lost his rear brakes and I took me shot. We went after Tommy, but he was long gone. I really wanted to win the race. This is like the old days with Ron, Tommy and I running out there.”
Fellows was equally happy with his second podium this year, also coming in his third 2004 start.
“This was a lot of fun,” said Fellows. “We were pushing hard and I messed up going into turn one. He got underneath me and there was nothing I could do. We were pretty evenly matched there. We didn’t have anything for Tommy, but it was pretty nice driving these cars again. I’m sorry we didn’t get a Chevy victory because I know it’s been a long time.”
Ross Murray’s sixth-place finish gave him the GT-1 victory, as well as the GT-1 Driver Development Program Championship. Murray drives the No. 01 Greenberg Cheese Company Dodge Viper.
“This is great being up here with Tommy and Boris,” said Murray, whose best finish this season, a fourth, came at Infineon Raceway. “To be with the top road racers in the world is quite an honor. I like to drive anything I can. The marketing helped me convince the car owner to let me do some more. Running more races in Trans-Am is definitely a goal and desire of mine. Doing well in these couple of races has proved to him that I can do that. Racing full time is absolutely something we’re going to pursue.”
John Baucom won the VP Fuels Hard Charger Award for his eighth-place finish after starting 14th.
The caution-free race ran in a record one hour, seven minutes and 18.186 seconds at an average speed of 89.782 miles per hour.
Complete results in both PDF and HTML format are available at www.trans-amseries.com.
Kendall finished second in the Drivers’ Championship, ahead of Ruhlman, Tomy Drissi (No. 5 Elktra – Only in Theaters Jan. 14) and Jorge Diaz, Jr. (No. 8 Jaguar XKR) completed the top five in points. Philip Simms clinched the 2004 Rookie of the Year title in the No. 24 Simms Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, while the Kendall’s Rocketsports Racing team won the Team Owner’s title, as well as the Engine Builders’ Challenge.
The Motorock Trans-Am Series features closed-fendered, production-based, V-8-powered sports cars, competing on permanent road courses, and temporary street and airport circuits throughout North America. Sanctioned by SCCA, the Trans-Am Series is America’s oldest continuously running road racing series and celebrates its 39th year of competition in 2004.