posted on December 09, 2011 00:00
2011 NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill Race Recap
By Robbie Montinola
The U.S. Air Force NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill completed its 9th running this past weekend at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, CA. With a record breaking number of entries, 83 racecars took the green flag for the longest sports car endurance race in North America. What’s unique to the 25hr is the wide range of teams and drivers entered into this one event, from pro-level ALMS and Grand-Am teams to the local NASA privateers, all racing for 25hr glory. Combine that with the grueling conditions of a December winter in Northern California and you have yourself one of the toughest competitions in motorsports.
The race features an eclectic mix of racecars that compete in five different NASA endurance classes. Over the past few years a Porsche GT3 Cup car has dominated the competition in the unlimited ES class. It’s reliability and speed has proven to be the car to beat. It helps when you also have a crew of ALMS and Grand-Am mechanics and an all-star driver line-up like Mercer Motorsports. The Mercer crew took home the hat trick with its third overall victory with pro drivers Jon Fogarty, Johannes van Overbeek, Tommy Sadler, Rich Walton and Wolf Henzler behind the wheel. The team from Los Altos, CA dominated this year’s race covering 691 laps, posting the fastest lap of the race and beating their closest competitor by 41 laps. Coming in second overall and in ES was the G22 Racing/Truspeed Porsche followed by the BMW M3 of Stammer Inc./Bavarian Performance in third.
Blown engines, broken parts, and contact plagued the E0 class, the highest of the limited classes within NASA’s endurance series. Usually dominated by E36 BMW M3’s, this year saw every BMW team have drama that ultimately kept them from the top step of the podium. The Atlanta Motorsports Group took the victory in their Playboy Mazda MX5 Cup car after battling through a broken transmission early in the race. Their crew swapped in a spare transmission in 25 minutes to get them back in the race and a steady pace carried them the victory. The Edge Motorsport/Apex Race Parts BMW came in second after also swapping in a new transmission with the Bimmerworld BMW M3 following in third.
In E1, the CJ Wilson Racing team won for the second year in a row in their Mazda MX5 Cup car. The driver line-up included recent Formula D Irwindale winner, Super Lap Battle and Global Time Attack record holder Tyler McQuarrie. They were 30 laps down and pushed hard to the end to win the E1 class. The E2 class also featured another Mazda winning, this time the 949 Racing Mazda Miata took the victory in its first try. And in E3, the RJ Racing Mazda Miata won the largest class of the race with 22 cars. An interesting tidbit, four of the five classes were won by a Mazda and a Mazda also held ten of the possible 18 podium positions. I guess Mazda’s right, there are more Mazda’s racing on any given weekend then any other manufacturer!
Friday, December 09, 2011 12:29 AM
To add a little, the DG-Spec Scion was dominating with a 28 lap lead in E1 (IIRC) when an oil fitting cracked leading to a loss of oil pressure and a grenaded engine at the 22nd hour. Even though there was less than 3 hours left, the team chose to swap engines and managed to get back out on track in time to claim 3rd place, 1 lap ahead of 4th place!
Friday, December 09, 2011 11:03 AM
You can plan for everything, but still have that $10 part kill the effort. With the DG Spec Scion, we were about 28 laps up on 2nd in E1, and 5th overall, when we noticed an oil leak during a brake change with about 4 hours of race left to go. Just a couple of drips, but enough of a concern with the time left. Brought the car back in, and checked for the leak. One of the fittings in the line to the oil cooler was leaking. Did a quick tightness check, and it started to leak more. Did a quick fix on it, added some more oil, and sent the car back on track, while I worked on a more permanent fix. We didn't make it to the fix before the engine let go.
With about 3 hours left of the enduro, I was ready to just let the time ride out. 22 hours in, the guys had been on little sleep for ~26 hours by then. We took a vote, and everyone wanted to try and get it done, and take the checkered if possible. A front wheel drive car engine swap is a pretty big job. Even more complicated when its turbocharged. About an hour in, the 2nd engine was getting dressed, the first engine was dropping out the bottom.We had some really great guys on the team, trying to get it all done in about a 10 foot wide space at the front of the car. A little over 2 hours in I was cranking the engine, checking for oil pressure.
The car fired, we let it run for a little bit, checking for leaks, wheels back on, driver back in. About two and a half hours after the car was pulled in with a blown engine, Craig Stanton was back out on track. We had to make a quick splash for fuel, and finished one lap in front of 3rd place.
It took me at least two days just to feel OK after the event. Very tough event. I was really proud that the guys wanted to do the engine swap, and we got it done with enough time to put the car on track, and finish under the checkered flag.
Friday, December 09, 2011 11:10 AM
"We had to make a quick splash for fuel, and finished one lap in front of 3rd place. "
One lap in front of 4th place.
Friday, December 09, 2011 12:36 PM
Good seeing you and Aiden up there. At least you guys finished!
Friday, December 09, 2011 1:19 PM
"That" is dedication. Awesome write up tyndago. I love to hear the back storys of what goes on in the pits. Great job.
Hey maybe you could help Martin and Steve with their efforts for that kind of dedication to finishing a race. When Project G20 racecar transmission gears explode, and good friends offer up a spare transmission and help install it at 1 AM in the morning so they can race the 2nd MPTCC race on Sunday.... they should say YES. Hahahah, you know I love you guys! :)
Friday, December 09, 2011 8:14 PM
Sean is sicker than a dog now!
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