2016 marked the first time two Nissan Z cars, a 350 and a 370 were contesting for the E0 win at Thunderhill. Typically the class is the domain of E36 and E46 BMWs, but this year was different — and down to the wire.
Team Valkyrie Autosport outqualified Rearden Racing by 3 seconds, and they started two rows ahead of Rearden, with E0 veterans El Diablo Motorsports in between them in an E46 sedan.
Team Valkyrie had been competed at Thunderhill in 2015 and some electrical gremlins had put them out of the running, so the team spent all of 2016 bullet-proofing its trouble spots. They knew the chassis could hold up, so they pushed hard. By midnight Saturday, they were five laps up on Rearden Racing and had been up by as many as seven laps.
Rearden knew it didn’t have the pace, but the team was relying on strategy. What they didn’t know was that Valkyrie had developed a leak in the power steering rack, which slowed them down and required adding steering fluid at every stop. By morning, the right side of their car was filthy, caked with spewed fluid. Valkyrie was still leading, but both cars were on the same lap.
“The other Nissan, they cleaned up some of their pit stops, and they started having a really good run, and I couldn’t believe we were so close with just two hours to go,” said driver and team co-owner Brian Lock.
At about 9:30 a.m., Rearden Racing pitted with a failed left rear half shaft. Valkyrie supplied their spare axle to Rearden, but the repair took Rearden out of the running.
“We knew it was going to come down to the end and we had to be perfect, and it showed,” said Rearden crew chief Zack Porter. “We were seconds apart. We tried to predict out good fuel strategy and put good drivers in, and the mechanical failure got the best of us. Lady luck wasn’t on our side.”
That put Valkyrie on top for the win, with Rearden in second. Team El Diablo had endured a leaking radiator and a broken differential output flange early in the race. They ended up finishing third after parking the car for at least an hour Sunday morning due to a lean condition caused by a faulty fuel pump.
“There was no way we could catch them and no point in going around and blowing the motor sky high,” said driver James Clay. “So, we parked it waited, then went back out when the Lotus team put us at risk of losing P3, but just maintained and got our spot.”