Patrick Chio won the opening round of the United States Touring Car Championship Touring Car class race in the Speed SF/Auto Logic Nissan 350Z while Nik Romano won the Sportsman class in the GKR Racing/ Indotech Motorsports Lexus IS300. Larry Bani won the Super Touring class in the GoGoGear.com Suspension/AFE Power BMW M3 and Rob Harper won the GT Class in the Life’s Good Racing Chevrolet Corvette.
The race was held in conjunction with the Lights Fest, which brought thousands of people to the track and created a traffic jam in the small community of Willows, Calif. The Lights Fest is an experience designed for thousands of friends and families to gather to listen to live music, fill up on great food and watch racing and share personal wishes, dreams and goals.
Qualifying was challenging since strategy played a big part. The teams had to deal with traffic and weather in the two qualifying sessions and the teams had to choose the correct tires at the right time and avoid any traffic to get a good time while gambling on when the rain would arrive. At the end, Gary Sheehan qualified on pole position in the GoGoGear.com Wheels/KW Suspension Hyundai Genesis Coupe while Chio would start next to him only a tenth of a second behind. In Sportsman, Romano beat out last year’s champion Thomas Pitre in the Pitre Racing Acura by a similar amount.
At the start, Sheehan took the lead and was chased by Chio for most of the race. Chio fell back in the early stages, but was lapping considerably quicker and closed the gap quickly to Sheehan. Sheehan did a great job of holding Chio back for many laps until he missed a shift exiting Turn 15. The missed shift basically determined the result as Chio took advantage of the situation and took the lead.
“I was very concerned on where I placed my car and I tried to shift into fourth gear, and just could not find it for a split second, and before I knew it, Patrick was gone,” said Sheehan afterward.
The battle for the Sportsman class was just as exciting as Romano was leading with Pitre doing the chasing. As they came upon a lapped car, Romano lost a bit of momentum, which is what Pitre was looking for. He took advantage and put the Acura ahead, but Romano was not done. Two laps later, he took over the lead and the checkered flag.