Difficult Fontana takes toll on race cars
Round 3 of the United States Touring Car Championship saw the competitors travel to sunny and hot Fontana California. With Los Angeles as the backdrop, drivers and teams had to prepare for temperatures into the triple digits. The talking point of the weekend was not just the heat, but also how difficult the circuit was on the cars themselves. A combination of the heat and high speeds meant that the cars were pushed to their absolute limits, some beyond their limits.
The sportsman field experienced some significant thinning with two title contenders experiencing engine failures. Chris Evertson’s Speed Traveler BMW M3 and Daniel Milburn’s Milburn Motorsport Acura RSX both failed to see the green flag on Sunday. That left the door open for series Rookie Jiageng Li to claim pole position in his second event of the year. His United Motorsports Honda Civic edged out fellow rookie Ben Penn’s GoGoGear.com Honda Civic who completed the all-Honda front row at the high-speed track. The race would again be a battle of attrition. Penn got his start perfect and managed to not only steal the SP lead but also got the jump on all of the faster TC class cars as well. Unfortunately, his car began to slowly lose power, and eventually, a fuel pump issue would bring his race to the end. From there Li drove excellently to maintain his gap to second-placed Michael McColligan and bring home the win. McColligan was back in his Raybestos/Idemitsu MC Racing Mazda RX8 platform after racing the front-drive Honda Civic earlier in the season. His familiarity with the platform showed as he cruised to a second-place finish, leapfrogging himself and teammate Tom Lepper into the points lead in the process.
The Touring Car field was as closely contested as ever. Defending class champion Gary Sheehan made his TC season debut after letting teammate Reza Arsham drive the first two rounds. Sheehan’s comfort at high speeds and with his Gogogear.com Hyundai Genesis Coupe showed immediately as he went straight to the top of the timing sheets in qualifying. With pole position secured, the rest of the TC field fought for second place on the grid. Points leader Gary Trudeau’s Gary’s Airbag Service Hyundai Genesis Coupe put his car on the front row of the grid for the race. Trudeau found himself in the lead of the race after the start with Sheehan close behind. Sheehan expertly waited for an opening and with less than ten minutes to go pounced after a missed shift from Trudeau. Sheehan brought the car home to take the victory. Sheehan credited the victory to his Gogogear.com team who worked tirelessly to replace the differential after a pothole sheared a mounting bolt in practice.
In Super Touring you would be forgiven for seeing double. The Cool Boxx team of Vik Czapla and Matt Rivkin were nose to tail all weekend long. Wherever you saw one Audi R8, another was close behind. Setting blisteringly fast times all weekend the fight in ST was between the pair. Vik Czapla’s experience with the R8 platform meant that he was able to take pole position from his teammate, but the margins were close. In the race the pair were inseparable, setting lap times mere hundredths apart from each other. In the end, it was Matt Rivkin who claimed fastest lap honors, but Czapla crossed the line first to claim the maximum points. Reto Baumann’s Red Panther Motorsport VW Jetta GLI struggled with the temperature due to the turbocharger and wasn’t able to keep up with the naturally aspirated Audi’s.
Bob Accardo was enjoying plenty of clear track all weekend long. His high horsepower Chevrolet Camaro sponsored by Accurate Arms got the chance to stretch its legs on the large 2-mile oval. The change of pace was refreshing coming from the tight and twisty Sonoma Raceway. Accardo looked comfortable straight away in practice and went straight to the top of the timing table. His race was cut short after a couple of laps, but it was enough to still claim the in-class victory and extend his points lead. Accardo looks to be the outright favorite in the GT class thus far.
Round 4 of the USTCC season sees the drivers return to Sonoma Raceway. This is the driver’s last chance to prepare before the all-important double header at Laguna Seca with Indycar in September.