After a drive from Southern California beginning at 10pm the previous night, Rich Petersen towed his MINI Cooper S into the paddock at Race Sonoma where Andy Chittum had just arrived with the BTM Motorwerks Racing Trailer ready to set up for three days of US Touring Car racing. This weekend would promise to be a real crowd pleaser with The Maserati Trofeo World Series arriving from Paul Ricard, and both World Touring Cars and Auto GP arriving from the Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba.
In addition to these international series that would be competing, the US Touring Car Challenge boasted a field of 31 cars that would also take part in the weekend’s racing. In the MINI’s previous outing with USTCC, a 2 hour race at Thunderhill Raceway, Andy managed to show some speed in the MINI, but the race effort was cut short as the MINI was pulled into the pits for exceeding sound restrictions. How would the team fare in the biggest USTCC race since 2005?
1000 am - Free Practice 1.
The team set up quickly and got the little car prepared, and was the first to grid. At the green flag, it was the MINI that took to the track first, and kicked off the weekend’s proceedings with a few hot laps before coming into the pits for tire readings and adjustments. Generously, the schedule included full 45 minute sessions for practice, which gave the team time to try a few settings, and Andy to re-familiarize himself with the car. It was a surprise when the team found out their time on the modified course, a 1:58.9 was second fastest, only a tenth away from the fastest car, the KPAX Volvo c30 driven by Robert Thorne.
1145am - Free Practice 2.
After setup adjustments, the team returned to the track for some longer running, and to test further changes. While the team was only 4th fastest this time, the consistency the MINI showed was very encouraging, especially in the hot Sonoma weather. Though they completed nearly a whole race distance, the MINI’s driver side CV joint let go toward the end of the session, necessitating the team to jump into action to find a replacement part. NASA regulars on the team Hans Dinse and Mickey Kennedy set about removing the broken part, and Brad McClure of BTM Motorwerks came to the rescue with a replacement. The piece arrived 25 minutes before Q1 began, Andy strapped in 15 minutes later, and the car hit the ground just as the end of the field filed out to start qualifying.
245pm - Q1
Chittum hit the ground running, and thanks to quick work from the team, the MINI was right back to form, posting another 1:58.9, in spite of the late afternoon Sonoma heat. Brandon Kraus, the 2011 Champ posted the fastest time in his Honda Civic, while KPAX’s Robert Thorne kept his lead, leaving the MINI third in Q1.
Saturday, September 22nd - 1215pm. Q2.
Overnight, BTM Motorwerks again made suspension tweaks on the MINI and made some weight adjustments to ensure the MINI could run a full race distance and still end at the right weight. Even though most teams were slower, the MINI was still able to run a 1:58.9, and qualify P3 again for race 2.
420pm - Race 1.
The field lined up for the traditional standing start under the newly constructed starting lights at Sonoma raceway, and blasted off as they went out. Dave Brown, starting from 4th next to Andy in the MINI got an astounding start in his AWD Mitsubishi Lancer, and shot to the front. Thorne and Kraus got good starts as well, though the MINI wasn’t any faster right behind them. Larry Bani’s M3 managed to get alongside the MINI and for several laps challenged before the speedy car got clear. Kraus and Thorne got around Brown quickly, but the Chittum had to wait a few laps for the powerful Lancer to heat up, so good was its traction out of the slower turns. Finally, Chittum made a daring move around the outside of T6, and got the inside line to T7, and drove away from the powerful car. Late in the race, Chittum caught Thorne’s ailing Volvo c30, but only just as the checkered flag fell. Perhaps a few more laps, and Chittum could have taken his traditional spot on the second step of the podium.
Sunday Saturday, September 23 rd - 315pm. Race 2.
Once again, Chittum lined up P3 behind Kraus and Thorne, however, this time it was Chris Lock’s Honda Prelude that lined up in P4. Without threat of Brown’s Lancer blasting through the field at the start, there was a little more parity at the front, but just to keep things interesting, Kraus bogged his civic down on the start, and Thorne, Chittum, and most of the front of the pack went flying by. This left Thorne in P1, and Chittum in the MINI running P2 for the first part of the race. But the additional rewards weight, the 50lbs added since Race 1 was to play a vital factor in the race. The MINI’s tires only lasted a few laps this time, and in turn, Lock and Kraus were able to get by, with the MINI eventually finishing 5th.
This weekend would have not been possible without the support of
- Mickey Kennedy
- Hans Dinse
- Niello MINI
- Brad McClure and BTM Motorwerks Racing support
- Josh from BTM Motorwerks
- Jason Chittum
- Mary Walters
- Jennifer Chittum on the headset
- Rich Peterson RM Petersen Construction, for building a really outstanding little car - not only a real kick in the pants to drive, but the fastest and most reliable MINI to USTCC specifications
And the fans. The team handed out tons of autograph cards and Niello MINI T-shirts this weekend, and the little car was a true crowd favorite. We’ll hope to see you all at our next event! Follow us here on this blog, on Twitter @mmmotors (Andy Chittum) and @USTCC (US Touring Car Challenge), www.ustcc.com for our next adventure!