The 2016 season opener of the United States Touring Car Championship featured nonstop action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The race challenged drivers because of its unique format. This was the second time in series history that the drivers faced single-car qualifying. The format worked well, because with so many cars, there was no issue with traffic slowing anyone down. Each driver would get one hot lap to set his best time. With no room for error, you had to bring your best to the table. As one driver said, “You have to be good all of the time not just some of the time.” That proved to be correct as a few cars drove with a bit too much enthusiasm and overshot the course.
Another unique factor was the two-part race format. The race began with the traditional standing start for a 35-minute heat. There was then a 20-minute break afterward, during which the teams could make adjustments, followed by a 20-minute flying-start race.
The start of the first heat was definitely the biggest nail biter as the pack of cars funneled into Turn 1, three-wide in some cases. The drivers showed their professionalism with no spins or body contact.
The Touring class was the most competitive and the largest class with a tight battle for the win among three cars. The win was captured by 2014 champion, Gary Sheehan driving the GoGoGear.com/Konig Wheels/UTI Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Finishing right behind was rookie Michael Shawhan driving the BTM Motorwerks BMW 330i. Shawhan made life difficult for Sheehan as he pushed him as hard as he could, but the closest he could get was alongside the Hyundai. In third place was the Speed SF Nissan 350Z of Patrick Chio who was the 2015 Plastex Top Rookie.
In the Super Touring class, VJ Mirzayan took the win in his Achilles Motorsports BMW M3. He was followed closely by Doug Makishima’s SanDisk/MCS BMW M3, who had an oil-line issue earlier and was not even sure if the car would be repaired in time for the race. Makishima was followed by the GoGoGear.com/Konig Wheels/UTI BMW M3 of Roger Eagleton, who moved from Sportsman to Super Touring class this year.
The Sportsman class featured some of the best racing of the day, with Larry Bani winning the class in his GoGoGear.com/Konig Wheels/UTI BMW M3. He was followed by newcomer Dmytro Pykhanov, driving the Domport/Red Star Racing BMW M3. Third place was Michael McColligan in the MazdaTrix/Racing Beat Mazda RX8.
Daniel Akhromstev won the GT class in the Domport/Red Star Racing BMW M3 while Ron Valtierra finished second in the TNI Racing Mazdaspeed 3.