USTCC: Las Vegas race report

Round one of the United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) was just what everyone expected, close battles and some surprises. The season opening race of the series was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 10-11, 2001. The National...

Round one of the United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) was just what everyone expected, close battles and some surprises. The season opening race of the series was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 10-11, 2001. The National Auto Sport Association Los Angeles Chapter hosted the event.


Photo: USTCC

James Sofranes, Newport Beach, CA, brought BMW its first win in USTCC history by starting from the third position and driving a smart race to bring the SSF/Global West Motorsports Group BMW 328i to the winner circle. Richard Holdener, Anaheim, CA driving the Extrude Hone Honda finished second while David Lang, Napa, CA driving the Miracle Auto Painting Honda Prelude finished third.

Saturday was all practice sessions with new teams working on learning the cars and the track. There were many new cars and faces at the opening round and no one knew who would come out ahead. Sunday's official morning practice produced some interesting times. Last year's champion Holdener showed why he was still the man to beat in the Honda setting the fast time with a time of 1:31.235. Second fastest was Jonathan Meris' Motorsport Dynamics Acura Integra with a time of 1:32.095. Third fastest was the BMW 328i of Sofranes with a time of 1:32.183.

The qualifying session was next and one of the changes in the rules this year was the ten points awarded to the quickest qualifier. So everyone was trying to be the fastest car on the track and they had about 20 minutes to do it. Again, Holdener came out on top by over half of a second with a best time of 1:30.924. Jumping to the second position was the Honda Prelude of Lang with a time of 1:31.511. Lang cut a second off his practice time in that run. Third fastest was Sofranes, only a tenth of a second behind Lang. Only a tenth of a second behind Sofranes was Meris' Integra while a tenth of a second slower was the Al's Auto Body Mazda 626 of Albert Betesfandiar. Only three tenth of a second slower was the Subaru of America WRX of Gary Sheehan. So the top six qualifiers were Honda, Honda, BMW, Acura, Mazda and Subaru all within 1.2 seconds of each other.

Everything was different in the race. As usual with USTCC races, a standing start was utilized. Holdener took the early lead going into the first turn with cars dicing for every inch of the Nevada asphalt behind. Ali Arsham's Gogogear.com Civic got a great start but missed a shift and lost a position only seconds into the race. After the first lap it was obvious that there were two groups. The first group was lead by Holdener who was followed by Sofranes and Lang. About 1 second behind was the biggest pack, fighting for fourth place. This group was lead by the Subaru of Sheehan followed by Meris' Integra, Betesfandiar's Mazda, Arsham's Civic and Jeff Lepper's H&R Springs Civic. Arsham moved up through the field passing Betesfandiar first and then Meris. A few laps later he put the move on Sheehan but went wide on the exit and ended up in the dirt with the whole pack going by. Sheehan soon experienced problems with one of the WRX's wheel bearings and had to retire after only 8 laps. Betesfandiar also had to retire with an overheating engine four laps later. This left Meris in fourth place, Arsham in fifth and Lepper in sixth. Lepper wanted that fifth spot and made a great pass on Arsham at Turn 1 and made it stick. Having a great battle a little further back were the beautiful CPE-online.com Acura Integra of Nick Warinner and the Gogogear.com Honda Civic of Donny Edwards.

Meanwhile up front, the big battle was for the lead. Sofranes soon put the BMW in the front by passing Holdener. Holdener wouldn't give up without a fight but eventually had to concede. Once past Holdener, Sofranes motored away thanks to Lang who got in an epic battle with Holdener. Sofranes must have been the happiest guy as he saw (in his rearview mirrors) Lang and Holdener fight at every turn. In the process, the pair's lap time dramatically slowed down. The two Hondas bumped doors at least three or four separate times as the pair were side by side almost around the entire track. At the finish line, Holdener prevailed and finished ahead of Lang by a car length. Meris finished a strong fourth and Lepper brought the Honda home in fifth place.

The series next moves to the road course of Phoenix International Raceway on May 12-13 as the teams try to tackle the banked oval.

-USTCC

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