As any veteran racer at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance will tell you, the only thing predictable about the endurance race is its unpredictability.
The cars were developing a rhythm on the 3-mile road course when the E3 leader Lesher Motorsports had a catastrophic engine failure on turns 5 and 6 with the Mazda Miata leaving a strip of oil on the roadway. The Mazda Miata already had 250 laps in when, when team co-owner Crystal Lesher said the engine gave out unexpectedly.
Officials red-flagged the race for about 20 minutes to clean up the oil, which sent class leaders such as Tazio Ottis into the runoff as they were unable to see the oil on the moonless night.
The oil incident even caused an anxious moment for 25 Hours of Thunderhill leader Three Thieves Racing. The starter on the Audi R8, which was recently replaced, went out early in the race and the team worried that on a stoppage, they couldn’t restart the car without push starting it.
Fortunately, for Three Thieves Racing, the car started without the assist of the team.
Most teams are letting their drivers run double shifts during the night. Car durability will be the key as the teams are expected to run the full 25 hours with ideal weather in the forecast.
Here’s where the classes stood after the 9 p.m. hour.
Recall from the 6 o’clock update that Team Three Thieves Racing was having trouble with the starter on their Audi R8. On their third pit stop, they discovered it would click, but not start the engine.
The team’s plan was to keep the car running and push start it during pit stops. As long as they didn’t spin the car on track and kill the engine, they figured they’d be OK. That plan flew out the window when the red flags came out at the 9 o’clock hour, which required them to pull over as quickly as possible and bring the car to a stop on track. When they shut it off to prevent it from overheating, they weren’t sure the car would fire up again. Luckily, when the yellow flags came out to indicate the race was back under way, the Audi R8 started on its own and they were back in the running and able to hold onto their lead.
“We got clarification from the officials. They said we could go out there and push start it if we wanted to, or we could leave it running. We didn’t know how long it was going to be, so we told him to kill it. We can push start it. It’s not hard to do. But when they said, Hey, we can fire them up. We told them Hey, try the starter and it fired right up. So it might be a temperature thing,” said Martin Sarukhanyan, motorsports director for AR Motorsports, which is running the Three Thieves Racing Audi. “But the reality is like, it’s nice out, it’s not terribly cold. It’s dry, so we have everything in our favor. Right now the cool temperature is going to actually keep the car happier, both on tire life and temperatures and pressures in the engine bay. So there’s not much more we can ask for. We just have to do our jobs with good pitstops and make sure they keep the cargo in the right direction.”
Three Thieves was two laps up on Kleen Blast – Davids Race Products at the 9 o’clock hour. Team TruSpeed Autosport was running in third, seven laps out of first.
Team Honda Racing 2 was one of the first to encounter the spilled oil in turns 5 and 6 and radioed the information to the two other cars on the team. The team then told officials who flew the red flags when they saw the extent of the cleanup required.
The Honda Racing 2 team remained focused on ticking off laps through the night and keeping an eye on the little problems that keep presenting themselves during the 25-hour event.
“We’re about ready to change some tires. Tires are pretty much worn out on both cars. We’ve had a few little hiccups. One car wouldn’t restart when it was in pit lane. And we had a we had a check engine light here, we had a limp mode at one point that cost just a couple of laps,” said crew chief Andy Hollis. “Everybody knows what their job is. Like for example, you know, a little while ago, we had a tire go down and you know, immediately call the guys up. They’re ready to go within a couple of minutes. Boom, we got out we change tire. It’s all good. And that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Honda Racing 2 was three laps ahead of sister car Honda Racing 1 for the E0 lead. LAP Motorsports was in third at that time.
By the time Team Tazio Ottis learned of the oil spilled in turns 5 and 6, the cars was in a spin on its way to the grass outside the track. That’s what makes the 25 Hours of Thunderhill so unpredictable and such a challenging race. At one point you’re marveling at the good weather and a starry night, and the next you’re spinning off track in a puddle of oil spilled from a competitor’s blown engine.
“So that’s what keeps me coming back, stories to tell for sure. So, the car’s OK, I’m OK. That’s the nice thing about racing out here. When stuff does go bad or weather gets bad. There’s still a lot of runoff. So something happens you can get back on and keep going,” said team principal Tazio Ottis. “Certainly there was a lot of oil. There was so much kitty litter down even though they swept it well. It looked like a snowstorm out there for about five laps or so, where you couldn’t see anything. But emergency crews did an amazing job. Did it really fast. Got us back driving quickly. I felt like I was barely stopped on the front straight. So it wasn’t that bad.”
Tazio Ottis Racing was running first in E1 and eighth overall. Honda Racing 3 was three laps behind Tazio Ottis for second in a class of two E1 cars.
Spark Performance has built up the largest lead of any class this year at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. The team from NASA’s Texas Region has its Mazda MX5 car 41 laps ahead of the Honda Civic from Harvey Auto Group 2.
The Spark Performance team had such a good 10 hours at 25 Hours of Thunderhill, the team is currently sitting fifth overall. The team already has 264 laps on the car with a best lap time of 2:04.510.
“Everything has been working like clock work,” said Nathaniel Sparks, team owner. “We’re making ground on our second-place competitor. Our car’s got a little bit more fuel range and it’s got a little bit more pace on the lap times, so we’re slowly moving forward and just trying to keep it clean throughout the rest of the race.”
At 6 p.m, when Lesher Motorsports had an 11-lap lead over second place Original Racers, team administrator Crystal Lesher liked how the car and the team was performing. She acknowledged that there was still a lot of racing left to go, but that the team was ready.
Lesher Motorsports was still ahead at 9 o’clock, but just after the clock hit the top of the hour, the red flags came out for a massive oil spill in turns 5 and 6. The cause was catastrophic engine failure in the Lesher Motorsports Mazda Miata. True to her word, the team was ready with a replacement engine. Repairs would take a couple of hours, which would let Original Racers take the lead. How much of a lead they would get would depend on the speed of the crew, which was yet to be determined at 10 o’clock because the car was still in back paddock for the engine swap.
“I think right now they’re estimating about two and a half, three hours,” Lesher said. “It just went. No noise, no indication, just smoke and gone. Anything can happen at anytime. It’s not over until the checkered flag waves.”
The teams race continuously until noon Sunday. Follow the event live at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill page on Race Hero.