Willows, CA Ė David Bongiovanni won the season opener of the Nitto Tires United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA on March 9, 2008 driving the same Mitsubishi Evo that Dave Brown used to win the 2006 Driverís Championship. Rod Rojas, driving the Molecule/GoProCamera Chevy Cobalt SS, finished in second place. Curt Simmons managed to take third place in the Sunnyvale Dodge SRT-4 after nearly destroying the car in a huge crash in qualifying.
Simmons grabbed the pole position in qualifying thanks to a great team effort in the Saturday qualifying session. Many teams could not make the session due to its early time slot but the team used the session to put in a terrific lap which left them at the top of the charts all weekend. Bob Scheer set the best qualifying performance for a Mini Cooper S at Thunderhill with the top qualifying spot in the Sunday session which was just a tick slower than Simmonsí time. That meant that the Mini would start in second place next to the defending Champion. Starting third was Pete Bovenberg in the MBO Motorsports Honda Civic Si who also managed a great time in the Saturday session. Bongiovanni was fourth fastest in the Mitsubishi Evo but was hopeful that the AWD would launch him up at the standing start. Rojas would start in fifth spot in the Chevy Cobalt SS.
At the start, everyone did a great job and Bongiovanni did not get the explosive launch that he was hoping for. Scheer and Simmons were neck and neck going into the first turn but Simmons had the inside line and took the early lead. Scheer held on to second place but had Bovenberg filling his rear view mirror. Bovenberg was trying very hard to get by Scheer because he was being pressured by Bongiovanni. Rojasís Cobalt was right there with the Mitsubishi Evo and was not losing contact with the lead pack. And coming up very quickly after starting in the back was David Vodden in the Butte College Honda S2000. The top six cars were separated by only four seconds after the first few laps.
Coming out of turn 9 Scheer got loose and nearly spun. That caused the Mini to go from second to sixth position. With Simmons still leading, Bovenberg was now in second place which meant that the two MBO Motorsport teammates were now first and second. Behind them were Bongiovanni, Rojas, Vodden and Scheer.
Simmons had a two second lead but started to drop back and the gap was closing with the top six cars now separated by only one second. Bovenberg took advantage of that and went underneath the Dodge to take the lead going into Turn 1. Simmons got held back behind some lapped traffic and in two turns went from first to fifth. The competition was so close at the top that one small mistake meant that you would lose a lot of positions.
Bovenbergís lead lasted less than a lap as he went a little wide at the exit of Turn 6 which opened the door for Bongiovanni, Rojas and Simmons. So it was obvious that with such close competition, victory would go to the driver that made the least number of mistakes.
A full course caution soon came out for an accident behind them which ended the race under caution. It was unfortunate because there would have undoubtedly been more passing had the course stayed green.
It was a very exciting start for the Nitto Tires United States Touring Car Championship. There were a lot of new teams and new faces and you could just feel the excitement in the air. The competition was so close that it looks like anyone has a chance to score a win and with even more cars planning to attend the next round, anything can happen. But for now, Bongiovannni is at the top of the charts with a great performance.
Top Rookie For the first time, the two top spots on the podium were by rookies. Bongiovanni and Rojas are both rookies who beat out the veterans.
LeMans Karting Fremont Driver Improvement Award Rich Woo, driving the Gogogear.com Acura Integra R won the $200 LeMans Karting Fremont Driver Improvement Award. Woo finished ninth on route to collecting the award.