USTCC: Season opener at Sears Point race report

Sheehan takes season opener. Richmond, CA - The opening round of the 2002 United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) was held at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, CA. The season started off with some unusual circumstances. In the end, ...

Sheehan takes season opener.

Richmond, CA - The opening round of the 2002 United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) was held at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, CA. The season started off with some unusual circumstances. In the end, Gary Sheehan's Stoptech Subaru WRX took the pole and overall victory but it was not as easy as it sounds.

Sears Point is currently under a $50 Million dollar rebuilding plan. Due to this, the course layout was a bit different then what the USTCC drivers were accustomed to. During Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions, the course changed twice. The qualifying sessions for Saturday were cancelled and official qualifying took place on Sunday morning.

Sunday came and with the great Northern California weather it was raining. With yet another new track layout and wet conditions, qualifying for the USTCC teams was a crapshoot. Leading the way however was Sheehan's WRX. Sheehan qualified the WRX three seconds ahead of Daryl Chan's Autotronics/C2 Automotive Honda Civic. Qualifying third in the closest battle for qualifying, Ali Arsham's Honda Civic qualified just 7 thousandths of a second ahead of Jeff Lepper's Dodge Neon. Rounding out the top five was Pete Bovenberg in the McDonalds/PPG Honda Civic.

Prior to the start of the race the skies started to clear. All of the teams elected to put on their dry Hoosier race tires. While the cars were waiting in pre-grid it started to sprinkle. The USTCC teams had a big decision to make. Was it going to continue to rain or would it clear up? All the teams decided to stay with the race tires as the skies cleared once again.

At the start under dry conditions, Sheehan's Subaru got the jump on the field, followed closely by Chan's Civic and Arsham's Civic. Arsham soon passed Chan to take second place and went after the WRX. Chan continued to be a challenger until he spun. From there the chase was on for Sheehan's Subaru. Arsham was closing in and made several great attempts to take the lead but Sheehan was able to hold Arsham's Civic off. Further back the team of Tom Lepper and Anthony Vanni's H&R Springs/Impact Engineering Honda Accord was battling with Clyde Flewellen's Oakland Acura Type R.

The only major incident of the race involved the Fantasy Junction Integra. Going into Turn 6 Ward Rose in the Integra locked up his brakes and slid off into the mud. Rescue crews were able to get him out but he was unable to continue. Clean up took several minutes but no full course yellows were needed.

Qualifying seventh and moving up through the field setting the fastest race lap was Neil Vanni in the Hopkins Honda-Sunnyvale Civic. Vanni passed car after car and closed in on the WRX and made numerous attempts to get around Sheehan's Subaru to take the lead. Going into the turn seven complex Vanni got a run on Sheehan and got under the WRX. Vanni got sideways and did a slide job that Steve Kinser would be proud of to take the lead from the Subaru. That move earned Vanni the FLUIDYNE "Cool Move of the Race" award. However, celebrations were short lived. Going into the next lap in turn two, Vanni's Civic got loose and he was unable to save it giving the lead back to Sheehan. After spinning off early, Gary Hutto in the Global Motorsports Group/HD Racing BMW 328i was starting to gain on the leaders. Near the end he made a great pass to get ahead of Arsham's Civic for second. Going into the last lap Hutto was gaining on the WRX. Coming onto the main straight Hutto's BMW got under Sheehan's WRX. But it was not enough. Alas Sheehan was able to hold of the BMW for the win. Third place went to Arsham's Civic. Rounding out the top ten was David Lang in the Miracle Auto Painting-Napa Honda Prelude finishing fourth after starting last. Neil Vanni was able to hold on for fifth. Anthony Vanni finished right behind his brother for sixth, Chan was able to come back to seventh, with a great battle for eighth going to Flewellen's Type R over Richard/Woo/Gordon Pun's Integra. Tenth went to Jeff Lepper in the Neon after fighting ignition problems.

With a Subaru, a BMW and a Honda in the top three, the changes made in the off-season seem to have helped equalize the field. Vanni's Honda Civic actually set the fast lap of the race, which is something that the BMW and Subaru used to do frequently.

The USTCC teams next travel to Portland International Raceway in Oregon on April 27th and 28th. The long front straight at Portland will surely favor the high horsepower cars so we look to BMW and Subaru to do well there.


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About this article
Series General
Drivers Steve Kinser , Gary Hutto , Neil Vanni , Ward Rose , Ali Arsham , Gordon Pun , Jeff Lepper
Teams Global Motorsports Group