Drivers start in cars, finish in ovens

Leitzinger thermometer registers 158 degrees

Grand Prix notebook

Auto Racing

July 21, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Was it a victory circle or an oasis?

Butch Leitzinger had just won the Trans Am race in the Cadillac Grand Prix, but he seemed more interested in pressing a wet cloth to his face than holding up a trophy.

The two men who joined him on the podium, second-place finisher Paul Gentilozzi and third-place driver Boris Said, looked as if they'd just emerged from a fortnight in the Sahara.

"It's not so bad when you're racing," said Leitzinger, setting down a gallon jug of Gatorade. "The adrenaline keeps you going. It's when the car stops that you realize your feet are burning up and that you can't breathe.

"We had a thermometer mounted on the dash in my car and it got up to 158 degrees."

Leitzinger , a rookie in the series, was celebrating his second win of the season. His Corvette won by 1.023 seconds over Gentilozzi's Jaguar XKR.

The heat has been a big part of the story here in the first major auto race weekend in this city. The track is holding up well, Said said as he poured a large glass of water onto his chest; it's the drivers who are suffering.

One of them, Sascha Maassen, who was the fastest qualifier in the GT series for today's American Le Mans Series Cadillac Grand Prix, said the temperatures in the cars will "make it difficult to keep cool heads."

They were words that surprised GTS pole-sitter Ron Fellows.

"Sascha said that?" he asked. "He has a point, but when I'm out there racing and I come up on him, I'm going to remember that."

Delighted with turnout

Race promoter Chris Lencheski said he is "very happy" with the way the weekend is progressing.

"We'll reach our expectations for 70,000 for the weekend," he said. "There were a lot of doubters. Brock Yates wrote that he doubted we'd get 10,000 for the weekend and we sold 13,000 tickets for Friday alone."

Yesterday, there was a strong walkup, and guesses on the crowd came in at more than 25,000.

"We've delivered a good racing circuit to the drivers and I think the drivers have said everything I possible could say about its quality," Lencheski said. "And what I've heard from sponsors and the fans who have come is that it is a very welcome addition to the series."

Despite some anger from nearby residents about the noise, Lencheski also said he has no doubts about the race returning. "We have a 10-year base contract with multiple options," he said. "We'll be right back here next year."

Good work by locals

Randy Pobst of Gainesville, Ga., started from the pole in the Porsche 911 Cup and won the Speed GT race yesterday. He beat Johannes van Overbeek of Danville, Calif., by .761 of a second, averaging 75.553 mph.

The Maryland contingent competing in the race acquitted itself well. Bob Miller of Ellicott City started sixth and finished 10th. Abingdon's Gannady Soykher started 13th and came home 12th. Reisterstown's Michael Levitas came from 16th to run in the top 10 before winding up 11th.

Columbia's Guy Pavageau began 18th and moved up to 16th. And Walkersville's Tom Pank, who with Soykher's help was able to fix a transmission leak and start 21st, finished 15th.

Sapp, Winter bidding

The Speed World Challenge Touring race will be run this afternoon, with Ellicott City's Neal Sapp starting 14th and Clarksville's Jon Winter making the 48-car field at No. 38.

Moses Smith of Chandler, Ariz., won the Star Mazda race yesterday over the well-named Scott Speed of Manteca, Calif.

Race facts

What:Grand Prix of Washington

Where:Adjacent to RFK Stadium

When:Today

Format:Endurance races of set time or distance

TV:Today, 1 p.m., chs. 11, 4

Schedule:Today, noon, American Le Mans Series race; 3:20 p.m., Speed World Challenge race.

Tickets:202-432-7328

Parking:No on-site public parking. Spectators should use Metro rail (Stadium-Armory station) or free shuttle from parking at US Airways Arena in Landover.

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