January 12th, 2009/Fremont, Ca. – Another exciting USTCC season has officially come to a close when the Nitto Tires United States Touring Car Championship teams, staff, friends and family gathered again at Le Mans Karting in Fremont, California on Saturday, January 10th, to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of their peers for the 2008 USTCC season.
San Francisco Bay Area radio personality, the official voice of USTCC and Final Drive TV co-host and former USTCC Driver Co-Champion, Jeff Lepper emceed the evening by recognizing and roasting all of the exceptional individual and group on and off-track performances throughout the 2008 season. Lepper also highlighted the night with the presentation of the coveted USTCC Drivers’ Championship and Manufacturers’ Championship trophies. But Jeff Lepper had an even greater honor of the night by presenting the Drivers’ Championship trophy to none other than his father Tom Lepper, with whom the younger Lepper co-championed in 2004.
Rod Rojas is the USTCC Driver’s Co-Champion for 2008 with Tom Lepper. For the second consecutive season another two-driver team is taking advantage of USTCC’s unique driver teammate rule. Rojas started off the Rojas-Lepper 2008 championship campaign driving one of the race machines of the TLA Associates/Team California Chevy Cobalt SS with sponsorship from MOLECULE and GoPro Camera. Rojas quickly emerged himself as a solid series contender in his first season in the USTCC with a second place finish in the season opener at Thunderhill Raceway and a top five finish in the second round during the series’ first visit to Infineon Raceway before handing over the driving duties to teammate Tom Lepper for the remainder of the season.
Tom Lepper, the veteran two-time champion wasted no laps and continued where Rojas left off by placing the MOLECULE/Go Pro Camera/TLA Racing/Team California Chevy Cobalt SS in first place in Round 3 at Thunderhill Raceway (reverse direction), a first time brand win for Chevy and the Cobalt marquee in the USTCC series. Due to a testing incident and losing his main Cobalt SS ride for the remainder of the season, Lepper did not waiver his championship hopes and quickly placed a back up vehicle in the grid by acquiring the services of the 2005 championship team, Spoon Sports/Opak Racing. Without missing a beat, Lepper easily acquainted himself with Spoon Sports JDM right-hand drive Acura RSX-R racing machines by driving consistently and mistake free, compiling 3 solid fourth places and a second podium with a third place finish in the final four races of the season. Lepper earned his series record third championship on the 10th Year of USTCC competition, breaking a tie with Dave Brown who won in the 2005-2006 seasons.
Curt Simmons, driver of #49 Stevens Creek Dodge/Cornwell Tools/MBO Motorsports Dodge SRT-4, started the 2008 season as the defending USTCC Driver’s Champion. Simmons certainly did not disappoint as the defending champion and clearly established himself as the man to beat early on in 2008. But due to a couple of unfortunate miscues and a mechanical issue, the 2007 champion had to settle for second on the final driver’s championship standings. Simmons compiled three third place finishes, one second place finish, and a single victory. A seventh place finish due to a mechanical issue during the Buttonwillow Racway round and a DQ (disqualification) due to an on-track incident during round three at Thunderhill Raceway ultimately threw a wrench to Simmons’ bid for a second straight championship.
Jerry Bradbury owner/driver of the #37 Mini Mania/Bay Bridge Motors JB Racing Mini Cooper S was definitely the feel good story of the series for the 2008 season. Bradbury went for the hat trick by taking home third overall in the championship and the DupliColor USTCC Top Rookie of the Year title in his first USTCC season. Bradbury actually began the season fielding his MINI Cooper S racer in one of NASA’s club series. He originally wanted to do a one-off race in the USTCC season opener at Thunderhill Raceway before completely committing an entire season in a pro-level series, but he liked what he saw for himself in the opening race and decided to pull all of his 2008 resources and ran the entire season and it paid off. Bradbury scored very consistent and solid finishes throughout the season to lock the third overall position in the final championship standings.
Michael McColligan driver of the #36 Mazdatrix/Racing Beat MC Racing Mazda RX8 won the 2008 Konig Cup and secured second place in the final DupliColor Rookie of the Year standings. The Konig Cup is the special award given to the highest finishing driver/team in the USTCC Championship standings that utilizes the performance wheels from the Konig Wheels line.
Brad McClure, the Crew Chief of the BTM Motorwerks/LeMans Karting MadMan Racing BMW 328ti took home the Miller Crew Chief of the Year award. With McClure’s handy work, the series saw the complete evolution of Andy Chittum’s BMW 328ti into a full blown racing machine. With McClure’s help Chittum went from a mid pack runner to a front runner, scoring a pole position at Infineon Raceway and placing in the top five in the last four races.
Acura clinched another USTCC Manufacturers title with solid contribution from Andrie Hartanto in his Acura TSX and Tom Lepper behind the wheel of the Spoon Sports/Opak Racing prepared RSX-R and TSX race cars.
If there was an award for “USTCC Hard Charger of the Year” drivers Andrie Hartanto and Andy Chittum would be tied and they certainly deserve the recognition.
Andrie Hartanto driver of the #8 Red Zone Performance/CT Engineering Acura TSX went for the sweep in the final four races stringing four straight podiums starting off with a second place finish in his first race of the season at round 4. Then Hartanto went for the trifecta and bagged three straight victories in the final three rounds breaking the series bid for no repeat winner for the season. The series had a record of five different winners in as many races with Hartanto being fifth different winner, then went on to break the trend and reeled in two more victories in the final two rounds. But despite the strong finish, it wasn’t enough to ice Lepper’s bid for his record third championship.
While Hartanto was sweeping for victories, it did not quite come easy. Andy Chittum also came on strong in the final rounds of the season. In fact Andy Chittum in the BTM Motorwerks/Le Mans Karting Mad Man Racing BMW 328ti looked more like the man to beat for the championship in the waning rounds of the season. With the aid of Miller Crew Chief the Year Award winner Brad McClure, Chittum was able out qualify everyone in the last three rounds and was the one Hartanto had to fend off for victories. Chittum had his best USTCC season by far; compiling five top five out of five races he started.
After all the awards had been handed out and all the toasts have been made, the reigning USTCC Champions and the rest of the USTCC team members strapped on their racing helmets and gloves and took center stage for another awesome USTCC karting challenge at Le Mans Karting’s premier indoor karting track. For some, it’s simple bragging rights. For others it’s another chance to out race the newly crowned champions.
It was indeed another very close heated kart race at Le Mans Karting, USTCC style. This year’s karting challenge, Le Mans Karting and USTCC went for the one hour endurance format with ten two-driver teams. The Chittum-Lepper kart team of Andy Chittum, driver of the BTM Moterwerks/Le Mans Karting Mad Man Racing BMW 328ti and your Final Drive TV host Jeff Lepper took the top step after compiling a best lap of 20.61 seconds, average laps of 25.85 seconds in 150 total laps. Not far behind was the Price-Brown kart team of 2005-2006 USTCC Champion Dave Brown who finished second place after compiling a best lap of 20.56 seconds. After an hour of racing, the margin of victory was three seconds. The Bovenberg-Do kart team of 2007 USTCC Co-Champion and MBO Motorsports driver/owner Pete Bovenberg, followed in not so distant third place after recording the fastest lap of the race with 19.84, with an average lap of 25.96 in 150 total laps.
Once again, special thanks, goes out to Rick Gaan and the entire staff of Le Mans Karting of Fremont, California (www.lemanskarting.com) for again graciously hosting the 2008 USTCC awards banquet and karting challenge. But it is almost time to put away the karts and time to prepare for the 2009 Nitto Tires U.S. Touring Car Championship season.
Photos by Ryan Cristobal (click images for larger versions)
1. Curt Simmons. Second place
2. Karting final race was a battle between The Chittum/Lepper team and the Price/Brown team.
3. The awards awaiting their new homes.
4. Brad McClure won the Miller Welders Crew Chief of the Year award for the BTM Motorwerkes team.
5. Jerry Bradbury won third place in the driver's championship and earned the Dupli Color Rookie of the Year.
6. Tom Lepper won the driver's championship, marking a record third driver's title and his first since 2004.
7. Center: The team of Jeff Lepper and Andy Chittum won the karting challenge. Right: Second place was the Brown/Price team that finished only 3 seconds behind. Left: Third place was the Bovenberg/Do team.
8. LeMans Karting of Fremont were the gracious hosts of the event.
9. USTCC staff getting the event ready.