Sheehan wins at Sonoma
The #31 GoGoGear Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8L and driver Gary Sheehan came out the previous race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA with a dominant win as the US Touring Car Championship headed to the team’s home race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, CA, with the driving team of Gary Sheehan/Reza Arsham closing the gap between their 2nd place position in the championship against the championship leading line-up of Gary Trudeau/Dave Brown in another Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8L.
Sonoma Raceway is always a welcome event as it is the “home track” for Gary Sheehan, as well as one of his favorite tracks. The elevation changes, blind corners, and high-risk high-speed corners suit Sheehan’s driving style and experience.
Saturday consisted of a morning practice session and an afternoon qualifying session, which Sheehan used as a practice session by not using the marked racing tires required for official lap times. This was time well spent as the team made several adjustments to the car to minimize the car’s tendency towards significant oversteer in the slow corners and moderate understeer in the higher speed corners. The effort in sorting the car paid dividends in Sunday’s Quali 2 session, rewarding the #31 car with the fastest qualifying time in the Touring Car Class, giving Sheehan the lane choice for pole position. Sheehan chose the Touring Car pole position to be the right lane, due to the advantage of having the inside for Turn 2.
The race start saw was slightly messy due to a miscue by the Starting Flagger, but everyone got away from the line cleanly. Sheehan tried to press his Turn 2 line advantage by slipping up the inside of Reto Baumann’s Super Touring Volkswagen Jetta. Reto did not see the move coming and turned in, causing the Hyundai Genesis nose to touch the Jettas passenger side front door. The touch pushed the Jetta into a slow spin across the bow of the Genesis. Just as it seemed the Jetta would continue to spin off to the right, its rotation stopped and the two cars had a violent second impact. Unfortunately, this second impact damaged the Jetta to the point where it could not continue, ending Reto’s day. The Genesis of Sheehan had some suspension damage that knocked out the front alignment, but the car was still in the race.
During this dust-up, TC Championship leader Gary Trudeau snuck around the outside of Turn 2 into the lead of the race. Once Sheehan gathered up the car, he took the next couple of laps to ensure the car was still raceable and to relearn how the car needed to be driven with the steering wheel 15 degrees to the left while driving in a straight line. Once Sheehan had recovered his bearings, he set off to see if he could track down Gary Trudeau.
Sheehan slowly reeled in Trudeau over the next several laps to get within striking distance. At about 2/3rds race distance, Sheehan was close enough to make a move down the inside of Turn 7. Trudeau hung tough around the outside of the tight corner as Sheehan struggled for rear grip on the inside, with Trudeau retaining the lead by the exit of the corner. On the same lap Sheehan faked right causing Trudeau to defend the inside going into Turn 11. Now Trudeau was in tight struggling with traction, and Sheehan was able to establish a stronger exit and passed Trudeau for the lead on the front straight. From there Sheehan was able to slowly put some space between the Hyundais and brought home the team’s second consecutive race win.
“That was a really tough battle”, said Gary Sheehan after the race. “The car wasn’t as strong as it was in qualifying after the incident with Reto at the start, but we were desperate to close the points gap to the Trudeau/Brown duo. It has been a long time since I worked that hard in a car! At one point my logger showed my heart rate in the high 180s! It was a good, clean battle with Trudeau, and he really made me work for it, so great driving on his part. Reza and I are now within 10 points of the championship lead as we head to the Laguna Seca Indycar Race where we have a double-header. This is another great track and our hopes are high that we can have a successful weekend and come out the other side in the lead of the Touring Car Championship!”
The teams have a just three weeks before they are back at it again, this time at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Montery, CA on September 9-11.