As the adage goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And try, and try and try. Such is the case with Peter Hopelain and Team Technik Competition, which took its first class win in E2 at the 2019 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance after more than a decade of trying.
Team Technik Competition battled back and forth — and sometimes in contact— with a tight field in E2, a class that showcased the closest racing in last year’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Hopelain, who also hosts the Technik podcast on SoundCloud.com, has been chasing this rabbit a long time, and he’s been getting closer and closer ever since the team built the 2003 BMW 330i specifically for racing enduros. We caught up with Hopelain in mid-January to find out a bit more about what it took, and what it felt like to finally get a class win.
Q: How long had you been trying for a win at Thunderhill, and how does it feel to finally get that win?
A: I have been slightly obsessed with this race since 2003. I have only missed three. That puts me at 14 years of banging my head against the wall on this race. Fun fact: Our car number is 14.
Winning the 25 hours brought a lot of mixed emotions. After so many years of having bad luck, and getting in my own way, being let down by others, and just beat fair and square, leading up the race finish, I had a hard time accepting it. My driver came on the radio after we won, but had not taken the flag yet, to congratulate me, and I told him not to talk until he drives past a checkered flag.
At this point, the race had already been decided, but I had a hard time believing it. It didn’t sink in until the burnout was over. A bunch of our team came up to me and they were crying with joy. Some of these guys have been on this journey with me for eight or nine years. I lost it after that.
Then I pulled it together, and all the E2 competitors came over and congratulated us. E2 is full of hard racers. We all respect each other so much. After talking with them, there was a feeling that this is, in fact, really happening. Will Faules came up to me to congratulate me and mentioned that we took sixth overall, and disbelief set back in. After a couple of beers with the team all gathered up, waiting for the awards, I felt proud of what this group of people did. This team means more to me than the win. The win is a by-product of this team, and that feeling hasn’t left since. I’m just peppered with disbelief.
Q: Early in the race, you had contact at pit entrance with the HQ Autosport and MooreWood teams, both E2 class cars, which set you all back a bit. What happened?
A: The truth is there is are three versions of this story. Top line is, it’s racing. If you were a fan watching, you saw three cars, in the same class, on the same lap, all in the hunt for points, enter into a turn at the same time. One came out clean. The hit was a pretty decent, I mean the passenger door wouldn’t open for the rest of the race. Luckily there was no frame damage, so we were able to keep going.
After running this race for 14 years, you learn two important things. 1) Blaming someone that has the same agenda as you, and racing you hard, is downright foolish. We were prepared to drive this car off a cliff if we thought it would bring us a win. We woke a week before the race and knew this risk. So, who was at fault? Ours for entering the toughest race in the country. There is no State Farm in racing, no good neighbors on the track — maybe in the pit, but not on track. 2) We were happy after the hit. Another 6 inches to the left, and we would have suffered suspension damage, as MooreWood Creative did. Also, the tire had a small cut, and it didn’t let go. We raced on the tire another 55 minutes until the driver change. We looked back on that incident and felt lucky that was all it was, and added it to the list of crazy things that happened to us this year.
Q: Your team and your car received an update to the livery for this year’s 25. What is the significance of the Bauhaus Design livery, and why did you choose it?
A: Racecars are starting to look the same to us at Technik. So, when we decided to rewrap the car, we noticed it was the 100-year anniversary of Bauhaus Design. Our car is German. BMW is famous for art cars. The idea is fun. We don’t worry if you like it or not. We just wanted to have some fun. We are already working on the next design.
Q: Your team made significant upgrades to your car this year. Can you highlight what you did in preparation for this year’s race?
A: Our car is pretty much the same for the last six years. You hit a point in E2 where you are just spending money on your car and not getting much pace for it. Also, the 25 Hours’ conditions change too much year to year to know if your change was a good idea, so we don’t make many changes around the car. We do invest in our team. We invest in our team like Wall Street invests in money.
In 2019, we put in over 2,000 miles of tire testing, and then at the last minute, our tires were not available, so the week before the race we ordered Hankook tires and they had them delivered to the track from Holland. And it turns out those tires are just right for this type of racing, and the wear was even better. We also changed where and when took tires during the green flag pit stops.
We switched to a four-stop, behind-pit-wall strategy rather than a hot pit one tire stop strategy. We planned for this all year. And I mean all year. Once again, the crew was out of this world. Our system for changing tires raised a lot of flags. We knew we would keep getting challenged on it from the time we thought of the idea. We understood the risk of the rules changing midrace and that it was going to be faster to adjust than argue. So, we practiced making on-the-fly adjustments on the tire stops. The crew nailed every time. So, it’s really more about the team than the car when it comes to Technik. That how we approach championships.
Q:What improvements do you think helped the most?
A: I don’t know. I keep asking myself this question, even today. So many things had to happen for us to win. The weather was just so inconsistent. At one point we were 17 laps down from Toyota, and the E2 class is a sprint race for 25 hours, so yeah … a lot of things had to happen to win, but I will say we changed a lot of tires this year, and we were fast at that. I think our strategists and crew chiefs did a very good job taking advantage of the race to make up time. It’s so hard to say. I guess all of it!
Q: The rain certainly was a factor this year. Did it help or hurt your team’s efforts?
A: I think I am going to say it helped. To nerd out, the barometer and humidity were off the charts this year, so after it would rain, things never really dried out, and if you got off the racing line, you were a goner because it was so muddy offline. I think because of this, race speeds were way down, and car setups that were dependent on aero were hurting bad in midcorner, because their setup was not going to work without more speed for downforce.
We spent the day before the race testing in the rain, and had setup that would work, and we could adjust for the conditions pretty quickly. I don’t know if the weather affected the E2 win. I think that was just a very long race. But 100 percent of it had a lot to do with overall. Oh, and we had amazing gear for the crew. When it’s cold, rainy, and windy, and you do as many stops as we did this year, the team couldn’t have done what they did without taking care of their bodies. Thank you, Aether apparel.
Q: Your team had the E2 lead at 9 a.m. against the very capable and consistent Toyota Arizona Proving Grounds Toyota 86. At what point did you think you might actually have it won?
A: We never thought we won it. It was hard to believe even after we took the checkered flag. I strongly advise to never think this way in this race. This race brings everything. Our plan was, we had 27 people that were ready to go down with the ship so we threw everything at it.
Thanks to everyone at Technik for this win. Thanks to NASA for a great race. Thanks to Thunderhill for keeping such an amazing race at their track. And thank you to the entire E2 field. What a mega race!