USTCC opens 2003 season in Las Vegas Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the site of the season opening race on March 22-23, 2003 for the United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC), sanctioned by the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). Tom ...
USTCC opens 2003 season in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the site of the season opening race on March 22-23, 2003 for the United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC), sanctioned by the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). Tom Lepper was the man to beat at this race and he did not fail scoring his first ever win in USTCC after many years of trying.
The win looked easy for Lepper as he was the man at the top of the times charts in every session. But he was not without competition. Many came close to his times and he certainly never looked invincible. In the first qualifying session Lepper lead with the Eagle Awards Honda Accord with a time of 56.591. He was closely chased by Ali Arsham's Gogogear.com Honda Civic who did a lap of 57.353 in only two hot laps. He experienced engine problems which sidelined him for the rest of the weekend. With Arsham no longer a threat, the next fastest qualifier was Jeff Lepper with a time of 59.024.
In the second qualifying session, Lepper improved his time to a 56.516. But his competition had closed the gap as Jeff Owen's Pro Drive / Special Projects Honda Integra R came awfully close to stealing the pole with a best lap of 56.690. Jeff Lepper was again third fastest with a lap of 58.399. Missing from the top three was the preseason favorite to win the championship, Gary Sheehan aboard the Subaru of America WRX. Sheehan was only fifth fastest after two days of qualifying after experiencing engine problems.
The race was filled with excitement from the first second the green flag dropped. As soon as Owen dropped the clutch, an axle snapped on the Integra and he was passed by the entire field by Turn 1. All the hard work of qualifying second was down the drain in a hurry. Lepper took the lead and was being chased by a hungry pack of drivers. Two drivers that made great starts were Sheehan who went from fifth to second and Tom Pitre who brought the Gogogear.com Acura Integra GS-R from sixth to third. As the race progressed Sheehan found himself under intense pressure from Pitre's Integra. Pitre, the 2002 A'pex Integration Rookie of the Year, was waiting for a mistake by Sheehan to make an attempt. Several times he brought the Integra side by side but each time Sheehan prevailed. After the race Sheehan said, "I could not believe how hard I had to work to keep Pitre behind me. I am exhausted." But great drivers are often proven under pressure and with intense pressure, Sheehan managed to keep the Subaru ahead of the Integra at the finish line. The top-finishing rookie was Andrew Gillis in the Focus Central Ford Focus. Andrew also earned the FLUIDYNE Cool Move of the Race award for a great battle with fellow rookie, Patrick Sharp aboard the Sharp Cellars Honda Civic. Patrick in returned earned the Speedtoys.com Stop Short award for a great braking move during the race.