Few people have a perspective on the 25 Hours of Thunderhill like Louise Sousoures. She won the grueling race as a team owner, and for the past 12 years has watched the race from the tower leading Timing and Scoring in the NASA NorCal Region.
Sousoures has seen it all the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, a race now set for Nov. 11-12 at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California. With the endurance race taking place three weeks earlier than previous years, Sousoures sees the move as a positive.
“(The weather) has changed so much from the first year we did it,” Sousoures said. “Whether that’s global warming or climate change, I don’t know, but we never got fog and we rarely got rain. The change should help with the weather.”
The race started as the Timex 12 Hours of Thunderhill and in 2003 was expanded to 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Teams take the green flag at 11 a.m. Saturday and run continuously until noon Sunday, with the winning teams often logging more than 1,900 miles.
Sousoures participated in the first 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2003, forming a team with her husband, Masuo, and friends from her autocross days with the Porsche Club of America. The endurance race didn’t go as planned, especially when the check engine light came on in the 944 Porsche.
“We spent the entire 25 hours basically trying to rebuild the car,” she said. “We didn’t know anything about 944s, but we did finish it (and avoided) last place.”
Certainly, 2003 was a learning experience, the team dubbed “Lost ‘N Spaced” decided to campaign a 1974 Porsche 911 that Sousoures built as a project car. The team recruited drivers and Sousoures served as the financial manager and joined her friends as the support crew for the 2004 running of 25 Hours.
In a year’s time, the team went from finishing near the bottom at 25 Hours to second place.
“The only thing we had to do was fuel, change the tires and brake pads. The car ran flawlessly,” she said. “I think it was the most fun for me that year because I had no expectation that we would finish that high.”
For the 2005 running of the 25 Hours, the team redid the Porsche’s suspension, refreshed the engine, and added some graphics. The biggest change was the addition of a TV crew from the show “Import Racers” on ESPN2 that filmed the team throughout the event.
The Lost ‘N Spaced team made for remarkable television because they were the overall winners of the 2005 race. Teammate Peter Smith brought a donor car, which was crucial to keeping the car on track when it broke a stub axle within the first hour of the race.
“How often does a second-place team come back the next year and win overall?” Sousoures said. “I mean, it was just a fluke.”
The team raced the 25 Hour the following year and Sousoures sold the car after her mom passed away, getting out of the sport for several years. Sousoures was recruited in 2011 to run Timing and Scoring for NASA’s NorCal Region.
The role is crucial during track days but can be thankless, especially when dealing with a racer whose transponder isn’t working. Usually, the transponder is mounted in the wrong location.
“It can be challenging working with the race directors and racers trying to make everything happen and make sure that everybody is timed,” she said. “But I really do enjoy (the challenge) a lot.”
Patty Stark has worked in Timing and Scoring with Sousoures for more than a decade. Stark and Sousoures volunteered on the same 25 Hour teams, and Stark believes having that racing experience helps them relate to the racers.
“We all know what it was like to be in the car,” Stark said. “Being able to talk to the drivers about it, it makes it a better relationship … and knowing that their statistics are being taken care of and can be trusted.”
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill this November will be the last of seven NASA NorCal events the Timing and Scoring team will handle this year. Spend a few minutes in Timing and Scoring, especially at 25 Hours of Thunderhill, it’s easy to appreciate their work.
Imagine following 80 cars, checking for cars entering and leaving the pits, while keeping tabs on cars in the penalty corral. It’s not just for a few hours, but a 25-hour stretch that requires the team and technology to be near perfect.
To do the job, the Timing and Scoring group operates like a race team, stocking its second-floor perch with food, coffee and water for the three-day event. Friday afternoon serves as the qualifying, giving the teams a chance to make sure their transponders are registering. It can be a busy three-hour window with drivers and crew chiefs trying to fix the problem. Sousoures has seen enough transponder problems over the years that she usually can identify the issue.
“It turns out that they had it mounted in the cockpit or some weird place where there was something that was blocking the signal,” Sousoures said.
While following the results on RaceHero feels like a seamless process, Sousoures and the team are always prepared for what-ifs. If the computer goes down, the team is always writing down each car passing the Start/Finish line and has video. If a car’s transponder isn’t working, they are quick to contact the team.
“(Louise) understands it’s important they get credit whether it’s the fastest lap or for pre grid,” Stark said.
There is a rhythm once the race gets underway with a beeping sound as the car crosses the Start/Finish line. Overnight, the team takes turns sleeping in four-to-six-hour shifts in an RV in the paddock. Sousoures said the racing is white noise while getting some rest.
“I’ll wake up if I don’t hear it in the background like the fog last year delaying the race,” she said.
By moving into November, the chances of fog are reduced, and the daytime temperatures are 10 degrees warmer on average compared to December. Not holding the race between Thanksgiving and Christmas gives the racer one less thing to worry about, Sousoures said. Registration for the 25 is already open.
“Even though it was a good time when it first started, the new dates will be even better,” Sousoures said.
25 HOURS OF THUNDERHILL TIPS
Louise Sousoures and Patty Stark spearheaded a team that won 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2005, and they wanted share their tips for teams racing for the first time in the endurance race.
Focus on Finishing: Everyone wants to win the race, but Sousoures said just finishing is a win. “Just go in with the mindset that you need to make it to the finish line,” she said.
Prepare for any Calamity: Whether it’s a car part breaking or a rainstorm, have the tools and equipment to deal with the problem. A donor car saved the Dazed ‘N Confused team in 2006 and they earned the overall win at 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Overpack Parts: Teams spend a lot of money to race and packing it up early because of a lack of spare parts is frustrating.
Extra Sunlight: Drivers will benefit from an extra 24 minutes of sunlight in the morning with 25 Hours of Thunderhill taking place Nov. 10-11. “It’ll be nice to have a little more daylight for the team and for the drivers out there,” Stark said.
Friendly Team: The 25 Hours of Thunderhill should be fun, and working with friends will make for a memorable weekend. To support the drivers, there are roles on the team from cooking to assisting in the pits that don’t require racing experience.
|Favorite TV show:
|“Lessons in Chemistry”
|Porsche 911 Super Zoomy (“Baby L”)