Sheehan Motor Racing Wins Portland USTCC Race Martinez, CA: Gary Sheehan drove the Subaru of America/Cobb Tuning/Stoptech WRX to its first win of the 2003 season, ahead of Neil Vanni's Honda Civic and Tom Lepper's Honda Accord. After a...
Sheehan Motor Racing Wins Portland USTCC Race
Martinez, CA: Gary Sheehan drove the Subaru of America/Cobb Tuning/Stoptech WRX to its first win of the 2003 season, ahead of Neil Vanni's Honda Civic and Tom Lepper's Honda Accord.
After a morning practice session, the first qualifying session of the weekend was held on Saturday afternoon. The weathermen had been threatening rain all weekend, but as the cars rolled out on track it was dry as a bone. Neil Vanni grabbed the provisional pole position with a lap time of 1:19.149. Gary Sheehan recorded the second fastest time of 1:19.932. Tom Lepper set the third quickest time with a 1:21.832. About 10 minutes after the session ended, the skies opened and a downpour ensued.
The second qualifying session was scheduled for early Sunday morning. The rains had slowed, but they didn't stop. The teams went out onto the track to dial their cars in for the rain and learn where the sticky parts of the track were. No one had any hopes of improving their qualifying positions of the previous day.
As race time approached the weather decided to ignore the weather reporters and slowly turn off the rain. An hour before the race it had stopped completely. As the cars gridded up, the track was mostly dry with a few damp patches. Most teams showed up with full dry tires on for the race.
This race was being held with several other classes and was declared a rolling start. As the green flag dropped, Neil Vanni's Honda pulled out a car length lead. As the pack approached turn 1, Vanni braked very early, allowing Sheehan to get ahead by a car length. Vanni tried to recover from his early braking move and dove for the apex. Unfortunately, Sheehan's car was already there and Vanni plowed into the side of the WRX. Sheehan maintained control and remained in the lead while Vanni's Civic spun into the pack, collecting Johnny Merris and his brand new Acura Integra in its debut appearance.
The pace car collected and bunched up the field on the next lap while the debris was cleared that resulted from the melee. Although Merris was involved in the first lap crash, he was positioned right behind Sheehan in 2nd place. Tom Lepper, was in third with Neil Vanni back in fourth. Two laps later the green flag was waved again and the 30 minute race continued.
Sheehan continued to lead the race for the next several laps. Neil Vanni recovered from the earlier crash and slowly worked his way into second. A late braking move into turn one in lapped traffic allowed Vanni to get past Sheehan and retake the lead. Sheehan kept the pressure on Vanni for the next few laps. The pressure proved too much for Vanni, who spun in turn 6. Sheehan slipped through to retake the lead and held on to it for the remainder of the race.
"This was a tough race for us," said Sheehan. "The rules of the USTCC have really handicapped us. Our restrictor plate takes so much power away from us that the Hondas have a better power to weight ratio, so they are faster on the straights. They are also several hundred pounds lighter, so they are later on the brakes and faster in the corners. Luckily I pressured Neil into a mistake shortly after he passed me and I was able to take home the win. The additional 100 pounds of rewards weight from this race is only going to make it more difficult for us at California Speedway."
"There were a couple of new enhancements to our car that helped us stay up front today. This was the first time we had the opportunity to run the Hotchkis Tuning suspension package. The adjustable swaybars and camber links let us set the chassis up perfectly. The balance of our car today was the best it's ever been. This was also the debut of a new Quick Steering Rack from Rev-Labs. The tighter steering ratio made it easier for me to drive the car due to the reduced steering input. These were two great changes we made to the car."
The end of the Portland weekend found Gary Sheehan and Tom Lepper in a tie for the championship lead. Teams are now on a two month break and will use this time to gear up for the July 12 and 13 race at California Speedway outside of Los Angeles, CA. The weekend is shaping up to be one of the largest race weekends in the history of the USTCC as the series will be teaming up with the 2003 Hyperfest Tour (www.hyper-fest.com). Make sure to mark your calendars and come out to see the Hyperfest car shows, vendor's midway, engine swap competition and round 3 of the U.S. Touring Car Championship.