Maeda and Conner Put on a Show at Watkins Glen International for East Round 5
Watkins Glen, NY – The United States Touring Car Championship East Region continued its 2023 season with a visit to Watkins Glen International (WGI) for a Round 5. The world-famous high-speed track is a new stop for the East Series, and expectations were high.
The weekend’s events were to be split into two different configurations of the historic WGI circuit, with Saturday’s events to be run on the full 3.4-mile course including the technical section known as “the Boot.” Sunday’s Feature would focus on the faster “NASCAR” layout, also known as the Short Course.
The field for both days was a mix of high horsepower machines, everything from Pro Trans Am TA2 Camaros and Mustangs to American Sedan beasts. The USTCC cars were nestled right in the midst of these thunderous giants.
The qualifying session on Saturday was thrilling for the USTCC participants, despite many teams being unable to attend due to overlapping championships and mechanical issues from Round 4. Both drivers were new to this formidable facility’s surface, making the first lap of the initial qualifying round a significant learning curve in terms of understanding the track and managing traffic.
As the qualifying session went green, the USTCC cars quickly settled in, lap times started to drop as free space on the track became available. For both drivers “The Glen” started to lift its veil. With each passing lap, the secrets of this historic track began to reveal themselves. Both teams were quick to take note, storing away important facts like brake point and corner turn in locations and other areas of hot lap importance. However, the session was disrupted by a full-course caution due to oil on the track from a Mustang that had lost its crankshaft. This incident caused all cars to bunch up and disrupted the rhythm that the USTCC drivers had built.
The Saturday race would prove to be a shootout between Roger Maeda and Andrew Conner. Both drivers were eager to have a clean race between themselves, but also put the USTCC as far forward in the pack as possible. As the green flag flew, the TA2 cars barreled into turn one with the USTCC cars giving chase. The goal of the 1st lap was not to win the race, but rather distance themselves from the split start of the American Sedan cars that would be charging towards them after the first 3 laps or so. The plan worked and both Roger and Andrew were able to provide a show for the fans and gain the respect of a few of the Pro TA2 drivers with whom they were sharing the track. At the drop of the checkered flag, Roger in his Honda Prelude was able to outpace Andrew’s BMW E90 by a margin of 2.65 seconds at the stripe. At post-race impound the USTCC drivers were all smiles, knowing that the race was clean, and the battle was well fought, and the preparation for the Sunday Short Course had begun.
As dawn broke over Lake Seneca and the early morning mist began to dissipate, the USTCC teams were already bustling in the paddock. There were no major tasks to be done, but routine maintenance was underway - tires were being rotated, brakes checked, and pressures adjusted. The looming threat of rain later in the day added a layer of complexity to the team's strategies, especially given the track's proximity to a large lake. Although the session was declared dry, the overcast skies kept the teams on their toes, constantly monitoring the weather.
Once on the grid for Short Course qualifying, all thoughts of weather faded, the attention was placed fully on the task at hand: Get through turn 1, keep the wheels on the track surface, and get ahead of the A-Sedan cars. Clean air was going to be the key to both USTCC cars being able to achieve a solid qual time and keep near the front for the Feature race, which in turn would allow them both to continue their battle from Saturday’s race on the Long Course. Roger was able to set a fast lap of 1:30.265 while Andrew was able to muster a fast lap of 1:33.235. These times placed both Roger and Andrew in positions on the Feature grid that would ensure an epic battle. Roger has the lighter nimbler car in the turns, while Andrew with the S54 grunt can pull away in the straights, the stage was set, all there was left to do now would be to wait.
On the grid for the Feature Race, the high-powered cars had positioned themselves at the front, with the USTCC once again comfortably situated in the middle - exactly where they wanted to be. The A-Sedan cars would again be doing a split start, so the goals from Saturday of getting ahead and staying ahead were still in play. At the drop of the green, the cars thundered into turn one, a Dekon Chevrolet Monza suffered an unknown mechanical failure which caused numerous cars to spin, just ahead of both Roger and Andrew. Roger darted to the left to avoid becoming a victim, while Andrew plunged to the inside avoiding the melee and quickly powered ahead. This would prove to be the opening that Andrew would need to get ahead of Roger and stay there. As Roger was within sight of the back of Andrew’s red BMW, he suffered a session ending clutch pressure plate failure, forcing an early retirement. Andrew was able to cruise to a comfortable USTCC series win, earning a victory over Roger, who proved to have the better car all weekend long up until his unfortunate failure.
The teams now will prep their cars for the final round of the 2024 season at New Jersey Motorsports Park in October.