Chris Lock Wins the Thunderhill Round of the Nitto Tires USTCC Chris Lock, driving the Roger Kraus Racing Honda Prelude, won round two of the Nitto Tires United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, California. This was Lock’s first USTCC win and he won the race as a rookie. Finishing in second position was the K-PAX/Auto Parts Warehouse Volvo C30 of Robert Thorne. Hyundai managed to score a first ever podium finish with the help of Ali Arsham who was driving the GoGoGear.com/DelCity.net/UTI Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
The race started off in a normal fashion with Thorne starting from pole position and assuming the lead. A fight soon began between the Volvo of Thorne and the TNI Racing Mazdaspeed 3 of Felipe Cabezas. Cabezas was glued to the yellow Volvo and would not let Thorne get away. The two started to pull away from everyone else and nearly collided on the first lap in Turn 6. Things really got interesting as soon as the fuel stops started to come into play.
Cabezas pitted for fuel on lap 23. The crew gave him five gallons of fuel and hoped that it would be enough to finish the race. The strategy was to beat Thorne with a quicker pit stop. Unfortunately the pit stop lap took 7 minutes and 27 seconds since Cabezas actually waited a lap too long and ran out of fuel on the track. Then three laps later on Lap 26, it was the Volvo’s turn to stop for fuel. The K-PAX crew did a great job and managed to do the pit stop lap in 5 minutes and 4 seconds.
The pit stop of the Volvo on lap 26 surrendered the lead to the Honda of Lock who managed to stay out for three more laps than the Volvo. The big turning point of the race happened at this point when the crew of the Honda managed to put in five gallons of fuel into the Honda and doing the complete lap in 3 minutes and 30 seconds. The quick stop meant that Lock gained a minute and a half on the Volvo in the process.
Lock never gave up the lead during the pit stop and now it was up to the Volvo to catch up to the Honda. Thorne was turning lap times that were a second quicker than Lock’s Honda and the Volvo team knew that they had to catch up and pass Lock if they wanted to win. Thorne drove at maximum attack mode and tried his best to catch Lock. It looked like Thorne could get the job done as Lock was slowing down because the Honda was starting to run out of fuel.
“With about 20 minutes to go, my fuel gauge stopped showing any fuel. Crap, I said to myself. I radioed to my crew chief and told them that I needed fuel. But they told me to slow down and save fuel since there were only a few laps left,” said Lock after the race. Thorne was having his share of problems as well. His super hard driving trying to catch Lock resulted in a destroyed right front tire that barely made it to the finish.
Behind this battle, there was another fight brewing for the final podium spot. Arsham’s Hyundai was running in third place in the later parts of the race.
“My strategist was on the radio telling me that Cabezas was on the same lap as me and was gaining on me quickly. He did the math and said that I need to speed up considerably or I will get passed,” commented Arsham after the race. The GoGoGear.com team’s strategy was bold and risky from the beginning. They decided to try to do the race without stopping for fuel.
“Hyundais are known for their excellent reliability and fuel economy. We knew that these were the strengths of our Konig Wheels Genesis Coupe and knew that we needed to use those strengths to gain an advantage,” added Arsham. On lap 39, the Mazda caught up and passed Arsham and it looked like the Mazda was headed to the podium. But five laps later, the Mazda was forced to pit. The turbocharged engine was thirsty and needed more fuel. The TNI Racing Team crew hurried and did a super quick pit stop lap of 3:03, the fastest pit stop of the day to try to send Cabezas in front of Arsham. But as the car was still in the pits, Arsham roared by the pits and reclaimed third place. Then both teams started to work out the math to figure out the gap.
With only five laps left in the race, Arsham’s crew radioed him to step it up. They knew that third place was theirs to lose. Arsham started to click his personal best laps in the last five laps of the race trying to stop Cabezas from catching him. The TNI Racing crew also knew what was going on and were telling Cabezas that he needs to step it up. While on the last lap, Cabezas was behind Lock but one lap down and the checkered flag was shown. Cabezas was done but Arsham who had just passed Lock still had one more lap to finish. Everything was looking good but suddenly at Turn 9, the Hyundai slowed down out of fuel.
“I knew it was out of gas because we have done considerable testing and know exactly what the car will and will not do. I knew that if I can get to Turn 14, I would be in good shape because it is a right hand turn and the fuel pick up is on the left side. Sure enough, just when it looked like the car was done, it came back to life,” said a very happy Arsham. The Hyundai crossed the finish line and then stopped on the side of the track, just after the pit exit in third place. “We used Hyundai’s fuel economy to our advantage to score a podium finish. This was our first podium finish in our Hyundai which is getting better at every race and is a terrific achievement for our team. Being able to do it with the help of the Universal Technical Institute students and instructors, is a real bonus,“ added Arsham.
The enduro format races are now in the history books. As the summer approaches, the USTCC drivers will see more sprint format races of 30-60 minutes in length. The next race will be 30 minutes in length at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California on June 16-17, 2012. For more information, visit www.ustcc.com