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Prima Racing Clinches the TC Class Season Championship in Tense USTCC Double-Header Finale

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Coming off a strong performance in the WERC 3.5 Hour race at Sonoma, the Prima Racing team set its sights back on claiming the USTCC TC Class season championship. With races 7 and 8 being scheduled back-to-back at Thunderhill Raceway, the team needed to finish strong to capture the top spot for the season’s points.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle, but I think we can do well,” Andrie Hartanto stated. “The problem is that we’ve brought the lowest-powered car with the highest amount of rewards ballast added to a track where power makes a difference.”

Andrie Hartanto and James Tam make preparations Saturday morning in the team’s bid to seize the championship

While the team boasted a strong lead in the championship points, there was no guarantee that they would be successful in locking things up. If the team became disqualified or failed to finish either race, the championship would be left wide open.

Saturday practice got off to a good start with driver Michael Ostby behind the wheel. He managed to put in the second fastest lap time of the TC field, beating his prior personal best time. As the session came to a close, a problem occurred.

“First, it seemed that we had lost the power steering, but then the car felt as though it was losing power. It was hard to tell since I was off the pace to cool down, but coming down the hill after Turn 9, I could tell that we had no power. The car came to a stop right at the outside of Turn 11,” Ostby explained.

With a broken alternator, Ostby came to a halt at the end of Saturday's practice

With a broken alternator, Ostby came to a halt at the end of Saturday’s practice

The team had battled sensor issues which caused the car to run in a reduced power capacity, but this appeared to be different. After being towed into the pits, James Tam, Andrie Hartanto and Lee-Anne Ostby went over the car to discover a broken alternator and alternator bolts. After multiple attempts at reinstalling and checking the connections, it became clear that the alternator could not be salvaged. After a challenging season of testing and racing, the team had amassed a veritable reserve of spare parts, although an alternator was one of the few parts absent from their inventory.

Hartanto and Tam attempt to diagnose what appears to be a faulty fuel pump prior to further inspecting the alternator

James Tam inspects the damaged alternator and connections while Hartanto and Lee-Anne Ostby look on

With no other parts readily available nearby, and with not a single alternator to be found within any Honda dealership in all of California, the team had now shifted its focus from making qualifying to instead salvaging its season. A DNF would spell certain doom for the championship. Fortunately, replacements were found and driven up from Sonoma Raceway. Once the part arrived, the team fashioned a makeshift means to securing the alternator and were able to get the S2000 running right before the race.

“We were fortunate enough to have the support of Jei Chang and Graham Downey who provided the alternators, plus our friends at R Crew who were able to hustle all the way up to Thunderhill just in time, Andrie commented. “Without that last minute effort, we would have lost out on absolutely vital points.”

With the team failing to make the qualifying session, Lee-Anne Ostby shuts the hood and prepares the S2000 for the race

Having missed qualifying, the team was relegated to starting in the back of the TC Class field, however even making the starting grid at all was a major victory.

James Tam checks the radio cable before Andrie Hartanto heads onto the grid for the race

During the standing start, Hartanto got a strong jump and moved into fourth position, passing Cedric Walker in his BMW M3 on the outside of the braking zone of Turn 2. Following the pass to take he found himself battling with the BTM Motorwerks’ BMW of Michael Shawhan. The two found themselves fighting side-by-side through Thunderhill’s flowing, technical sector of turns 2-5 before Hartanto gained the upper hand.

At the start of the race, Hartanto makes his move from 5th place

At the start of the race, Hartanto makes his move from 5th place

Hartanto then set his sights ahead to second place with Gary Sheehan in his Hyundai Genesis, who was already applying pressure to Patrick Chio and his Nissan 350Z for the lead. By the end of the first lap, Sheehan forced the pass around Chio at the exit of Turn 15.

Hartanto continued by driving at a qualifying lap pace, catching Chio by Turn 6 of the second lap. However the large disparity in horsepower and the added Rewards ballast earned over the course of the season proved to be too much for the Honda S2000 as Chio’s 350Z easily pulled away on the full-throttle stretch between Turns 6 and 8.

Hartanto tries to pressure Chio through the final corners

Hartanto tries to pressure Chio through the final corners

While the team lamented the increasing handicap of added weight over the season, this was the perfect recipe for one of the most intense battles of the season. Hartanto continued to wring every last ounce out of the S2000, only to be overpowered by the middle of nearly every straightaway.

Hartanto and Chio continued to swap positions with nearly every lap. No matter how many times Hartanto discovered a way to pass, Chio would manage to overpower Hartanto down Thunderhill’s straightaway. On at least two occasions, contact occurred, both in Turn 9 and later in Turn 3, when the larger of the impacts inflicted damage to the left rear of the S2000. With Hartanto suffering altered rear toe settings, he pushed hard in hopes of a mistake by Chio in front while keeping an incredibly close gap to the 350Z.

Hartanto found himself  leading Chio for much of the race, but was regularly out-muscled down the straights

Hartanto found himself leading Chio for much of the race, but was regularly out-muscled down the straights

On the final lap, race leader Gary Sheehan ran out of fuel, with both Chio and Hartanto making the pass heading onto the back straight. Despite his best efforts, Hartanto managed to come away with a second place podium finish, having no answer for Chio exiting onto the front straight after Turn 15.

Chio managed to maintain his defense, holding off Hartanto and winning the race

Chio managed to maintain his defense, holding off Hartanto and winning the race

“It was a thrilling battle! One of the hardest fights I’ve had in years,” Hartanto exclaimed. “I tried everything I could while trying to run a clean race. Patrick did an amazing job to beat us today.”

As fortune would have it, the results of Saturday’s race put Prima Racing in a comfortable position to win the championship. All the team would have to do is finish in Sunday’s race and the TC Class season trophy would be theirs. The team still had work to do in between races, however.

James Tam inspects the S2000 after Hartanto’s thrilling battle with Patrick Chio

James Tam, Andrie Hartanto and Lee-Anne Ostby surveyed the car for damage, making sure that the car was safe to race and in optimal shape. The rear toe was corrected and the physical evidence of the thrilling duel was cleaned up.

James Tam works to re-set the rear toe settings while Lee-Anne Ostby cleans up rubber left from Saturday’s race

Rookie driver, Michael Ostby resumed driving duties on Sunday for the team, taking part in his second USTCC Race and fourth race of the season.

Tam and Hartanto prepare the S2000 for Sunday’s race

Qualifying for Ostby went better than expected, as he piloted the S2000 to third on the TC grid, only a few tenths behind Gary Sheehan in the Hyundai Genesis and Michael Sheehan in his E46 BMW 330i.

Ostby had a good qualifying session, running near the top of the times for the TC Class

Ostby had a good qualifying session, running near the top of the times for the TC Class

“You would think that with nothing to do other than to finish, there wouldn’t be much pressure, but I’m feeling quite the opposite! All it takes is a DNF (did not finish classification) or a DQ (disqualification) and that’s our season. I got a little competitive in qualifying and now we’re right in the mix of things,” Ostby  remarked.

His competitive nature didn’t stop there, however. In a rushed standing start, Ostby nailed the dropping of the green flag, vaulting him into second place overall, following behind the Genesis of Gary Sheehan. Ostby held off the hard-charging field for most of the first lap.

“When I rolled onto the starting grid, I realized that I didn’t just want to show up. Halfway through the opening lap, I also realized that all it would take is one bad move by someone behind us, or a mistake on my part and it’d cost us everything. As much as I really wanted to fight and get some solid racing experience, I was worried that this was neither the time nor the place,” Ostby admitted.

Following behind Gary Sheehan, Ostby leads the rest of the field during the opening lap

Following behind Gary Sheehan, Ostby leads the rest of the field during the opening lap

In Turn 10, Ostby left the door open for the faster ST Class BMW M3 driven by Melvud Meladze to pass. This also allowed in-class competitor, Michael Shawhan, to work his way past in Turn 11. Heading down to the heavy braking section of Turn 14, rookie nerves got to Ostby and a missed downshift caused him to run wide, allowing Patrick Chio in the 350Z and Cedric Walker in the M3 to pass.

Whether he liked it or not, by the end of the opening lap, Ostby had been granted his wish of running without any pressure by the end of the first lap.

It wasn’t long before Ostby caught up to Cedric Walker in the Life’s Good Racing E46 M3, but making his way around proved difficult.

“I saw a few openings, but it was tough with the power disparity. The only thing worse than not getting around was committing some sort of catastrophic error,” Ostby explained. “Cedric was driving really well, I’d gain slightly in a few places, but he was moving quick. The only place where we were much faster was through Turn 11, but it didn’t matter as it leads onto the back straight and it didn’t make sense to be right on top of the car there.”

After a number of laps Ostby dropped back to try and get a run on Walker through Turns 11-13, hoping to gain a favorable position by Turn 14. Instead, Walker spun directly in front of Ostby, which left the door open to pass.

“We’re fortunate that our S2000 wasn’t closer. Had we still been trying to battle there, it could have been bad for the both of us. After that, we pretty much coasted until the end without any drama,” Ostby stated.

With a fourth place finish locked up, the team had successfully clinched the USTCC TC Class season championship.

Ostby managed to run a clean race, finishing 4th and netting the points vital to clinching the championship

Ostby managed to run a clean race, finishing 4th and netting the points vital to clinching the championship

“If you think about where this car started the year, it’s pretty remarkable that we were able to accomplish so much, so soon. It’s amazing to be part of such a successful team,” Ostby commented. “As a team, we owe so much to our partners, sponsors and supporters. Without them, none of this would be possible.”

Ostby then continued, “as a member of this team, you can’t overlook the leadership, the know-how and the unbelievable driving of Andrie Hartanto. He’s been a mentor to everyone on this team and our success is a direct result of his efforts.”

“I’m proud of how much we’ve accomplished this year. We put in a lot of hard work this season.  The car had a ton of deferred maintenance over the years. Building it and then racing it as a full-blown race car saw us replace and improve so many of the components. We were either testing or working on the car almost every week this year. It’s amazing to see how much we’ve grown as a team through all of the ups and downs of this year,” Andrie Hartanto explained. “We’ll take a brief moment to celebrate, but we plan on getting right back to work soon.”

With the 2017 racing season at a close and the championship won, the Prima Racing team would like to once again thank its sponsors for a very successful 2017 season; Supertech Performance,QuickJack Portable JacksRota WheelsG-LOC BrakesCT EngineeringHondataExedy USAWicked TuningBlackTrax Performance and Graphtech.