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Gentilozzi fights own car, field

By MIKE READLING and BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Paul Gentilozzi pulled down pit road, parked his No. 3 Jaguar just behind where the top three finishers were going to accept their trophies and quickly climbed through the driver's window.

Ignoring the bottle of water someone placed on his roof, the Trans-Am series veteran rushed to the front of his car and pulled off his helmet in time for everyone to see him grimace.

The look had nothing to do with the escalating celebration behind him and the fact that he wasn't part of it. Rather, Gentilozzi was more worried about the chunk of his front spoiler that was somewhere on the 1.806-mile course.

It was a mishap that most likely cost Gentilozzi a spot in the middle of the crowd that was quickly beginning to push back to his car.

"Something broke loose in the nose probably from jumping curbs or something," Gentilozzi said, explaining the broken fiberglass spoiler. "When the nose went, the car pushed really hard and wouldn't stop. It started on about Lap 5, then it started vibrating."

The damage forced Gentilozzi to drive by the seat of his pants a lot more than he's accustomed.

"Right in the middle there I couldn't get the car to stop," he said. "What happened was it folded in on itself and was keeping the air from going under the car. It was pretty ugly, then it wore out and I kind of got my nerve back."

Nerve or not, Gentilozzi was a factor most of the day.

He and teammates Scott Pruett and Johnny Miller dominated the top three until Boris Said worked his way up from the back of the pack. Then it turned into a four-car Rubik's Cube as they switched positions with regularity.

"Everybody was really good," said Gentilozzi, who bought the licensing rights to the series during the offseason. "It was good racing and that's what Trans-Am is all about."

As Gentilozzi began to walk away, he stopped in time to see the No. 07 car of Claudio Burtin crunch into his car's rear quarterpanel as Burtin headed back to the paddock.

For Gentilozzi, it seemed the perfect ending to an up-and-down day.

TO THE VICTOR ... : As the winner of the five-race Fran-Am 2000 Winter Series, Charles Hall brought home the lion's share of the $100,000 prize and earned a ride in the Super Renault V-6 series in Europe. Formula Renault is one of the feeder series to Formula One.

Hall's take as the series winner was $36,000. Juan Martin Ponte and Alex Lloyd, who finished second and third in the final standings, earned tests in the Formula Renault series, allowing them a chance to catch a sponsor's eye and earn a ride for the season.

DOUBLE DUTY: When Pruett wasn't driving really fast and winning races, he was scurrying along pit road during the Champ Car race as part of his other job -- pit reporter for Speed Channel.

"They're giving me a hard time," Pruett said of his TV companions. "(Fellow pit reporter) Calvin (Fish) called me an old geezer, I'm not too happy about that."

This was Pruett's first weekend of double duty and he found out why it's going to be hard. "The Trans-Am autograph session was just about to start and I was still in a pre-production meeting," he said. "But everybody's been great. Both sides have been very good in working together."

TRANS-AM'S FAST FIVE: After every race Trans-Am officials will award two championship points to the driver who records the fastest lap and one point to all drivers within five seconds of that time. Sunday's fast lap was turned by Pruett. Gentilozzi, Said and Miller received one point.

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