Rounds five and six of the United States Touring Car Championship saw a return to sunny WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the drivers after a seven-week break. The world-famous venue was host for the NTT IndyCar Series and the touring cars, making it the largest race of the calendar year for the teams, drivers, and fans. As with all high-profile events, new drivers were the talk of the paddock, and with a field of 33 competitors, the competition was as tough as ever.
In the GT class, all eyes were on three-time USTCC champion Edgar Lau’s Meta VC Capital Ford Mustang FP350S. Due to a transponder error, Lau started the race in last place and would have to catch polesitter Bob Accardo’s Accurate Arms Chevrolet Camaro. After a start that was more akin to Lau’s Gran Turismo roots, Lau found himself within striking
distance of his GT rivals after an early safety car that bunched the field up.
The rest was history as Lau fought his way into second overall chasing Accardo. The stage was set for an all-out battle for the overall and GT victories in front of the fans. After heavy pressure from Lau, Accardo finally cracked and made a costly mistake in Turn 6 and lost momentum going uphill to the Corkscrew. As opportunistic as an apex predator, Lau seized the moment and took the inside to overtake for the lead.
From there, Lau was able to manage the race and take the win by just over 5 seconds, gaining an astounding 13 positions in the process. Accardo’s race was not over once Lau got by. Red Panther Motorsport teammate Beau Borders’ Factory Five Racing GTM was the quickest car on the track and gaining on Accardo all the way to the line, but in the end, came up less than 2 seconds short of second place. Championship leader Rob Harper managed a solid fourth-place finish to maintain his lead in the points as well in the AP Racing/Essex Chevrolet Corvette.
The Super Touring class saw some of the best racing of the weekend. Series newcomers and teammates Shaun Webster and John Friesen’s pair of Edge Motorworks BMW M3s were blistering quick from the outset on Friday. They set the times for the others to chase and chase they did. After the Safety Car came out due to a crash in Sportsman on the opening lap, a leading group of four drivers escaped the rest of the ST field and fought among themselves for the victory. Webster and Friesen were joined by Art Nersisyan’s TNI Racing BMW M3 and Brandon Elghaniain’s Cool Boxx BMW M3. The quartet was flying around the track, trading fastest laps in the 1:37s and trading positions as well. With Webster leading the pack, TNI Racing’s Art Nersisyan made the decisive move for the lead through the Corkscrew. Going side-by-side with Webster, Nersisyan was able to take the lead, but it was Webster who came down the five-and-a-half story drop sideways and over the rumble strips and drainage grates and debeaded one of his Hankook tires. Friesen and Elghanian dodged the weaving Webster who was now running on only three tires and one smoking carcass of a tire. Webster managed to get the car to the pits safely, but his race was over. Once in the lead, Nersisyan held off the pair of rookies Friesen and Elghanian to win by 1.7 seconds for the first time this season. Friesen came home in second, and after Elghanian suffered suspension damage, championship leader Viktor Czapla’s Cool Boxx Audi R8 claimed the final step on the podium after holding off the ARG MBO Motorsports pair of Doug Makishima and Daniel Rose.
The Touring Car class was a familiar story as Gary Sheehan piloted his GoGoGear.com Konig Wheels Hyundai Genesis Coupe to victory from pole position. Sheehan was not without competition as his teammate, Ali Arsham, in the sister Hyundai Genesis Coupe was close behind and completed a 1-2 finish for the GoGoGear.com Team, their first of the year. The battle for third was closely contested between Victor Ng’s ARG MBO Motorsports BMW M3 and Gary Trudeau’s Gary’s Airbag Service Hyundai Genesis Coupe. In the end, Ng was able to hold off Trudeau to prevent a Hyundai sweep of the podium to claim his first podium of the year in his new M3 after switching from a Honda S2000. Championship contender Mark McManus’ Figs Engineering/Accel Lexus IS300 struggled and could only manage fifth position, losing ground to the pair of GoGoGear.com teammates.
The Sportsman class was as tightly contested as usual. After crashing in practice, Brad Austin’s TNI Racing Mazda MX5 was only quick enough for second on the grid behind a blistering lap by veteran Pete Bovenberg’s ARG MBO Motorsports Honda Civic. However, Austin did not waste time getting to the front as Bovenburg’s front-wheel-drive Civic was no match for Austin’s Mazda off the line. In fact, Bovenberg was no match for the entire field as he saw himself go from first to last off of the line. After an excellent start for Daniel Milburn’s Milburn Motorsports Acura RSX-S, he found himself spinning at the Andretti Hairpin, a victim of cold tires, leaving the struggling Bovenberg with nowhere to go but into the right rear corner of the RSX-S. The incident brought out the safety car and ended both their races. After the restart, Austin found himself gapping Josh Lion’s Lion Racing BMW 330i due to his radio call that the green flag was out for the leaders, despite being at Turn 9 himself. Austin then managed his tires and fuel to perfection to take his fourth consecutive win in the Sportsman class. Lion raced home to an excellent second place while the battle for third was unfolding behind him. Series veteran Andy Chittum’s newly built bright orange Mad Man Motors Mazda MX5 — say that three times fast — defended Matthew Rivkin’s Cool Boxx BMW 330i. Rivkin clearly had the straight-line speed, but Chittum was quicker through the tighter corners. Despite a valiant effort from Chittum, Rivkin was able to set up a move and make the pass under braking into the Andretti Hairpin. However, Chittum’s experience prevailed after Rivkin found himself running wide through the dirt and losing out to the JenniferMillinery.com/LeMans Karting Mazda MX5. With only a few laps to go, this time, Chittum was able to hold off the charging rookie for a podium finish on the car’s debut for Chittum. Meanwhile, DNFs for championship contenders Daniel Milburn, Reza Arsham, and Pete Bovenberg meant that Brad Austin had one hand on the Driver’s Championship with three championship rounds to go.
With intense battles throughout the field, round five of the United States Touring Car Championship did not disappoint. Drivers didn’t have to wait long before having another chance at glory due to the weekend’s doubleheader format.
Only 24 hours removed from the excitement of round five drivers and teams had to divert their eyes from the excitement of the NTT IndyCar race and focus on ensuring their own cars were ready. Round six of the United States Touring Car Championship followed after the NTT IndyCar Series and proved to be quite the spectacle for the remaining fans. After coming from the back to win round five, Edgar Lau was relieved to start round six from the overall pole, with plenty of open track ahead to stretch the legs of his Meta VC Capital Ford Mustang FP350S. His closest competition came from Bob Accardo’s Accurate Arms Chevrolet Camaro. However, after eight laps, Accardo found himself in the gravel trap outside Turn 5 after a scary brake failure. Lau went on to repeat victory with championship leader Rob Harper’s AP Racing/Essex Chevrolet Corvette coming home with a great haul of points in second place. Teammate Beau Border’s Hankook/MyRaceShop.com Factory Five Racing GTM claimed another third place.
After losing out on victory Saturday due to a debeaded tire, Shaun Webster was driving with a vengeance and made up for the lost opportunity to win on debut. Webster’s well-prepared Edge Motorworks BMW M3 was in a league of his own and wholeheartedly deserved the victory in the ST class. Teammate John Friesen’s BMW M3 was again involved in action for most of the race with Brandon Elghanian’s Imperial Capital Holdings LLC BMW M3. Friesen came home in second to claim the Top Team award for Edge Motorworks, with Elghanian being disqualified for passing under yellow. That promoted Doug Makishima’s No. 19 Rose Construction/Summit Tech BMW M3 to third place after another hard-fought battle that saw him gain eight positions and get the better of points leader Viktor Czapla’s Cool Boxx Audi R8.
Gary Sheehan was putting on a driving clinic in the Touring Car class as he drove away from the field to victory. Sheehan’s GoGoGear.com/Konig Wheels Hyundai Genesis Coupe was the most consistent car on track, and that consistency was too much for his rivals to keep up with. Sheehan’s excellent early pace meant that he could clear the fierce battles in Sportsman that held up many other competitors. Victor Ng’s ARG MBO Motorsports BMW M3 was caught up behind the pair of Pete Bovenberg and Josh Lion’s SP cars and couldn’t match Sheehan’s consistent pace.
Despite his difficulties, Ng was able to stay in front of the pair of Ken Kurtz and Gary Trudeau for second place. Kurtz’s Figs Engineering Lexus IS300 was beginning to struggle toward the end of the race and fell into the clutches of Gary Trudeau’s Red Panther Motorsports Hyundai Genesis Coupe. On the contrary, Trudeau was recovering from a poor opening lap that must have felt like driving on ice rather than asphalt because his tires were severely struggling for grip. With only .002 seconds between Kurtz’s and Trudeau’s best laps that were both set on lap seven, the pair were glued to each other and could only be separated by less than .2 seconds after 19 laps of racing, with Kurtz coming out on top of that particular battle for third place.
The Sportsman class was yet again filled with excitement. Brad Austin’s excellent start meant that he was able to gap the field off of the line from pole position. Austin led the field as chaos ensued behind him. Pete Bovenberg’s ARG MBO Motorsports Honda Civic and Josh Lion’s Lion Racing BMW 330i were locked in a battle for the better half of the race for second place before coming together on the exit of the Andretti Hairpin. Bovenberg’s car came off worse than Lion’s, and after limping it around, Bovenberg was forced to retire.
However, it was Reza Arsham’s GoGoGear.com/Konig Wheels Honda Civic that was setting the field alight. After a poor qualifying that saw him start sixth, Arsham’s K24 powered Civic had been slowly working his way through the SP field and towards the front runners. After getting past Sean Milburn and Andy Chittum, Arsham found himself in fourth and right behind the battle of Bovenberg and Lion. After the contact between the two, Arsham seized the opportunity and passed both on the same lap to get to second place, behind leader Brad Austin. Arsham was the fastest SP car on the track and was catching Austin’s blue MX5, a car that Arsham himself is very familiar with, having driven it for a majority of the 2019 season.
However, it was not all smooth sailing for Arsham. With the leader in sight and certain victory one position away, an electrical gremlin that ended his race on Saturday struck again and meant that his charge through the field would ultimately result in disappointment. This would have been good news for leader Austin if he were not struggling with a lack of fuel. Austin had been conserving for many laps, but it wasn’t until the last lap that his 2.5-liter engine finally cut out for the final time and left him stranded and helpless to watch the Sportsman field go past.
However, the determination of Austin meant that running on fumes alone, he was able to get the car across the finish line for an incredible yet disappointing third-place finish and a nearly 4-minute final lap around Laguna Seca. In the end, Josh Lion prevailed and held off the late-charging Sean Milburn and his Milburn Motorsports Acura RSX-S by half a second for the win in Sportsman. Milburn came home second after working through the night to repair the lap one damage from round five. Further back in the Sportsman field, Andy Chittum, who himself was on for another podium, ran out of fuel in his JenniferMillinery.com/LeMans Karting Mazda MX-5 and came in for a highly unusual splash and dash pitstop to come home sixth.
Chris Evertsen’s GoGoGear.com / The Speed Traveler BMW 328i made up six positions for fifth after crashes in practice and qualifying due to suspension failures. Becky Arsham and her GOGoGear.com Honda Civic marked her return to the series with a seventh-place finish. At the same time, a very unusual rear suspension failure ended Matthew Rivkin’s Cool Boxx BMW 330i in its tracks before the checkered flag.
The action continues October 16-17 for the penultimate round of the United States Touring Car Championship at Buttonwillow Raceway.