You might have read that bringing a LeMans prototype to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance is akin to bringing a gun to a knife fight. You might even have read it on the pages of Speed News. As entertaining as that might have been to write, and as amusing, one hopes, as it was to read, it just isn’t accurate.
Teams have been bringing five- and six-figure prototype racecars to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill for years. Rileys, Crawfords, Pragas, NP01 EVOs, Ginettas and Ligiers all have run the race, but until 2022, not one of them has ever won overall. A Norma sports racer did win overall in 2014, but the more expensive enclosed LeMans prototypes have not. In fact, the winningest car in pursuit of the overall win at Thunderhill is still the ubiquitous Porsche 911.
For example, Ryno Racing brought two Ginetta G57 LeMans prototypes in 2017. They were the fastest cars on track that year — by 5 seconds in qualifying — but they finished 27th and 35th overall, behind the E1 MX-5’s of Sick Sideways and Trim Tex Racing, and the E2 KD Motorsports E30.
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill doesn’t care what car you bring. It dares you to come. It dares you to finish. Whether you win depends on so much more than the car. The race requires you to bring your best. Nothing less will do.
A good car is one part of the recipe. You’ll also need a roster of quick and conscientious drivers. Minor incidents of contact multiplied over 25 hours can mean the difference between winning and a DNF. A good crew chief and a skilled crew also are a must. Slow pit stops and careless handling of fuel can have you sitting out a penalty, which no doubt are the longest minutes of a racing driver’s life.
And, of course, some measure of good luck never hurts.
Crowdstrike by Riley clearly had the fastest car heading into the 2022 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance, a Ligier LMP320. Its qualifying time was 6 seconds faster than the P2 Stratus Racing NP01-EVO powered by a 2.5-liter Mazda MZR engine, and the P3 TVI Racing 10 Radical SR3. Crowdstrike by Riley team principals Bill Riley and George Kurtz were confident in the team and equipment, but they knew full well a lot can change during the course of the race. The team finished second in 2021.
Like all teams this year, Crowdstrike by Riley fought through rain and a four-hour Sunday morning fog delay during the 19th running of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill on Sunday. Crowdstrike by Riley ended the race with an 86-lap lead over second-place finisher MooreWood Creative White. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that was the biggest gap between first and second place in the history of the 25.
“It’s Thunderhill, you know, rain, cold, mud, and the CrowdStrike by Riley team just did a fantastic job. Fantastic driver lineup with Colin and Felipe and Matt, and it’s 10 years in the making,” said Kurtz. “It’s been a lot of P2’s and finally, we get the overall victory. So, we’re really happy. We had a little bit on the sound that we had to work on, and some heat issues, and we had a panel go bad, but the team did a fantastic job. The car was just about flawless for 25 hours almost.”
With the green flag waving under steady rain, the early stages of the race were a lesson in restraint. It didn’t matter how much horsepower you had, the rain simply wouldn’t let you use all of it, and that applied to all but the slowest cars in the E3 class, and even they probably had to use the throttle judiciously.
That meant the Crowdstrike by Riley team couldn’t attempt the same kinds of lap times it had set in qualifying Friday night. In the wet, early in the race, the team’s lap times were 15 seconds slower, but Crowdstrike by Riley had the overall lead at every hour mark except for hour two, when TVI Racing 10 was the front runner.
Team TVI Racing 10 maintained second place in class and overall for the first five hours, at which point Stratus Racing took over second place. By 12 hours in, the TVI Racing 10 Radical had retaken second and had put a 10-lap lead on Stratus Racing. At the 14-hour mark, Stratus Racing got back into second place and at 263 laps, about the 15-hour mark, TVI Racing 10 was out of the race. Stratus Racing had been battling electrical issues with the 2.5-liter MZR in its NP01-EVO, which they were able to overcome and finish with 420 laps counted.
“The 2.5-liter build is a new build for us. This is our first time actually kind of stress-testing it in an endurance environment,” said team owner and driver Katia Capprelli. “We don’t race it in our regular season. So a lot of this event was kind of working out the bugs that came along with, you know, what if we took the NP01 platform and made it a little bit more powerful, a little bit beefier. So we had some issues with the wiring loom, a lot of throttle body issues that we were trying to work out, but ultimately, we ended up pretty happy with the amount of on-track time that we got in this event for a brand-new setup. This track is great for the NP01 in general. It’s a really, really great track for high-downforce cars, so add a little bit more power to that and it’s a riot.”
With its completion of 263 laps, TVI Racing 10 finished third in ESR.
Establishing classes is a way to group cars of similar performance, but E0 at the 2022 25 Hours of Thunderhill had only two cars, and they could hardly have been more different.
Dig Motorsports was campaigning a SN197 Mustang and Tazio Ottis Racing was racing a Honda Civic. Where each car shined on track was vastly different, but each of the teams was running nearly identical lap times. After finishing second the last two years, Dig Motorsports broke through and won the E0 class at 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Dig Motorsports won by 31 laps over Tazio Ottis Racing, but the majority of the race was much closer, with both teams trading the class lead several times overnight. Tazio Ottis suffered a gearbox failure that gave Dig Motorsports the distance it needed for the victory.
“I’ve had multiple people come up and say that’s probably the best E0 race they’ve seen at 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 10 years,” said team owner Jeremy Cuthbertson, who was quick to recognize Tazio Ottis Racing for being great competition and great sportsmen. “We just went for the win, but it came close at the end. We were chewing our nails because it came down to fuel between the Honda and us.”
Cuthbertson credited the team’s tire strategy and the rain for helping their tires last so long. The first set would have lasted even longer except the car went four off and packed the wheels full of mud, which caused a great deal of vibration.
“We were able to avoid time behind the wall going back and forth, Cuthbertson added. “We only once came behind the wall to change four tires. So we changed those out and we were good to go from then on.”
The Dig Motorsports Ford Mustang finished 10th overall.
After pushing the car to the side when the rest of the field was leaving grid for warmup laps, and trading the class lead several times over the course of the race, Tazio Ottis Racing finished second of two cars in E0 and 15th overall.
“For us, it was amazing. There were times where before the race even started, we weren’t sure if the car was going to make it. We had to do a trackside gearbox rebuild after practice the night before the race. And yeah, that definitely taxed the team, myself included, and the car,” said driver and team owner Tazio Ottis.
The new replacement third gear the team had installed was defective, so they reinstalled a timed-out gear, which is what failed in the last hour. The car pulled to the side of the track by Start/Finish, but was able to get going again under its own power and take the checkers.
“We didn’t have any time to test it. A driveshaft popped out on the opening lap,” Ottis said. “So we got to pop the driveshaft back in and the car seemed to run pretty damn well for 24 hours. That 25th one was the killer.”
The Honda Racing team hadn’t won at 25 Hours of Thunderhill since 2013, but a dream weekend had the two Honda Civic cars finishing first and second in the E1 Class, and third and fourth overall.
The Honda team consists of volunteers from Honda facilities around the United States. The team included engineers, accountants and marketing people.
“Honda associates are doing this in their spare time, so we’re really fortunate because no one is paid to do this. This is all basically passion driven,” said team principal Lawrence Hwang.
Just three laps separated the Honda Racing THRW1 and THRW2 cars.
“Surprisingly, we actually had zero stoppage, zero penalties. Everything went like clockwork, even though we didn’t plan on very, very aggressive lap times,” Hwang added. “And yeah, we finished P1 and P2, and third and fourth overall, which is a lot better than we were hoping for, honestly.”
In its first attempt at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance, Trackspec Autosports/Yokohama Tire/Heatwave finished third in E1 and ninth overall.
The team did not have an easy go of things. Even though they were able to run the race on one set of brake pads, the team endured a Miata spinning in front of them, which destroyed their right side door. Late in the race on Sunday afternoon, a driver went four off in Turn 1, which brought out the yellows and the tow vehicles. When they tried to pull the car out at an angle with the stock rear tow hook, it broke. When safety workers tried to pull it from the front, it broke the tow hook off and ripped off the fascia and crash bar from the front of the car. Fun fact: An E46 M3 has a carbon fiber front crash bar. A regular E46 has an aluminum bar.
The team brought the car behind the wall and got it going again in pretty short order.
“We got to experience all the highs and lows of the 25,” said driver Tom Tang. “We had mechanical damage. We got hit by somebody else during the race. We had our own kind of mistakes and things, but we never gave up. We kept persevering. And you know, at the end of the race, we managed ninth overall and third in class, so we couldn’t be happier.
“This year, we’ve been working with Yokohama Tire. We helped to launch and debut the new A055 DOT R compound. And we were planning to use those this weekend,” Tang continued. “But given the conditions, we started on intermediates on Saturday morning at 11 a.m., which for us is the AD08R, and we ended up using two sets of those for pretty much the entire 23 and a half hours that we were green, so yeah, it was unexpected for sure. I’m just glad it didn’t snow.”
The E2 contest was the race of the race, and Team MooreWood Creative White took the E2 lead about four hours into the race, after changing an engine on Friday. MooreWood Creative White held the lead over second place Palomar Racing Thunder, which held onto second place till the last hour of the race, when an engine that was slowly losing power began to severely handicap Palomar’s lap times.
Palomar tried everything to maintain its grip on second place, including have its sister car, the No. 24 Palomar car, push it around the track to give it greater straightaway speeds. That worked till the last 15 minutes of the race when MooreWood Creative/Bay City Electric took over the second place spot, relegating Palomar Racing Thunder to finish third.
“It just came together. I mean we just run our program like we always do and just keep pushing, and it worked out great for us,” said driver and team owner Larry Moore. “I drove the night stint from 11:30 to 3:30. And you know, the rain started to pick up again around 1. And it was great. I had a great time. I don’t know, I just enjoy the night, but working it through the night is always hard and you have to pay attention and keep it on the track. Keep it clean, and just keep pushing.”
When MooreWood Creative/Bay City Electric driver Tony Domenici jumped in for his last stint in “the black car,” the team was running in third, and there was just enough time for him to potentially catch and challenge Palomar Racing Thunder No. 25 car for second place. About an hour and a half.
“When I went out, I knew I had a certain lap time I had to run to catch him. It basically felt like we were qualifying for an hour and a half trying to catch him. I think I had to make up three laps. But certainly in my small racing career, it was the highlight of my career,” Domenici said. “But I’ve been on the losing end of that before and it was just really special. It was really special to the team.”
This is the second consecutive year that the MooreWood cars finished one-two in class.
Coming into the last hour, the Palomar Racing Thunder 25 car’s engine began to emit a sour exhaust note. It just didn’t sound right, and its lap times were trending downward. Driver Matt Million did everything he could to hold second place, but ended up bringing the car home in third.
“The car was just losing power slowly over the last like five hours, which was a bummer,” Million said. “We had like an eight- to 10-lap lead over the MooreWood 73, but overall, I think we lost it at the end, but it was still a great effort to finish third and fourth. I’m super proud of the Palomar team for their first 25 hour, their first endurance season, their first year with these cars and it was really an honor to be a part of, and I hope we can do it again.”
The old adage in endurance racing is to protect the car so you have something to hand off to your co-driver, and that’s exactly what Lesher Motorsports did — for 25 hours. No small feat. When the race was over, the car was filthy, but all body panels were present and accounted for, and as straight as they were when the race began.
“Short of snow, we had everything: beautiful sunshine, greasy, slick mud everywhere, rain, fog, you couldn’t see through,” said driver Mark Hamilton Peters. “I was pleased that that they decided to pause the race when they did. I was talking to our teammates in the 54 car and we were driving upon memory. When I get here, if I turn the wheel this amount, it should work out. And it did for the most part. But it was all done on bravery and foolishness, and that’s no way to go racing. It was a good safe call.”
Lesher Motorsports 15 finished first and just out of the top 10 in 11th overall.
E3 pole team Misfits Racing started from of the front of the class, but the team suffered some setbacks early in the form of meatball flag for exceeding sound limits. The team solved that by packing the exhaust with some steel wool and affixing it with self-tapping screws.
The next meatball flag came as the sun was getting low on Saturday, and contact with another car left the Misfits Racing’s rear bumper flailing about, attached on the left quarter panel only. That repair put them back to fifth place. By 8 p.m. Saturday night, Misfits Racing had climbed back to second place, 11 laps behind first in class. The team got to within five laps of Lesher Motorsports 15, but when the checkers flew, they were eight laps back from first place — on tires with the cords showing.
“We had a good group of drivers for us,” said crew chief Marc Freire. “We watched the radar, kept an eye on the weather. We took some slicks, cut some grooves in them. We had Aim Tires do that for us. And so we ran those and had an intermediate rain tire and just ran them down to the nubs.”
Lesher Motorsports 54 alternated between second, third and fifth place before finishing in third in E3. Unfortunately, early in the race, when it was really wet, they got into the back of an NP01, which caused enough damage that they had to bring the car in for repairs, and they ran the rest of the race with the radiator exposed because there was no front bumper fascia. It’s a minor miracle they didn’t go through several radiators.
“That set us back definitely a handful of laps, getting the radiator out,” said driver Tommy McCarthy. “We were worried the engine was going to be fried. But we got it back in pretty quick. And just a solid effort by the team, put some really good night stints in to bring it back.”
Starting and finishing the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is an accomplishment. Finishing two consecutive 25 Hours of Thunderhill in an electric car is next level.
That’s what the Sacramento, Pa.,-based Entropy Racing team accomplished, winning its EM class (sole entry) and finishing 17th overall, turning 1,341 miles over the weekend.
“We’ve developed this car and this driveline as far as it can go. It was never intended for this level of abuse or use,” said team owner and driver Charlie Greenhaus. “We really think that the only real future for EVSR, specifically, is to partner with somebody that understands the technology.”
By the time the race had ended, the Ageless Bio Racing NP01-EVO looked like it had been through a lot. Caked with mud on the splitter and streaked with brake-dusted water stains, the Ageless Bio Racing team had performed more than its share of repairs over the course of the event. At the end, they had completed 369 laps on the way to an unopposed win in ENP and a 23rd-place overall finish.
A late-night trip off track in the fast Turn 7 knocked Three Thieves Racing out of the running for the overall podium, but as the lone entry in ES, the team took the class win and finished seventh overall.
Initially it was thought brake failure was the reason the Audi R8 went off track, but it was a driver error, said crew chief Martin Sarukhanyan of Three Thieves Racing.
“That set us off the track about 300 feet and it took I think like 40 minutes to dig out,” Sarukhanyan said, noting that crews had to use several tow straps and ropes to free the R8. “We dragged the car over to the hose over and dug out probably like 80 pounds of mud. Everybody was cleaning it for probably 25 minutes.
The team also lost a starter in the middle of the night, so they either had to leave the car running or push-start it. In the closing hours Sunday afternoon, the car went four off in Turn 1 and stalled, and with no way to start it, the car was stranded in Turn 1, bringing out double yellows. Safety workers towed the car back to the pits at which point the Three Thieves crew push-started the car and it rejoined the race. Even with the setback, the team finished seventh overall, completing 553 laps and completing more than 1,600 miles over the 25-hour race.
“Late in the race, you know, the tires were pretty old. We were about to come in in five minutes, fresh tires, fuel and a new driver to finish the race, and went into Turn 1, and the rear just lost grip and he went around,” said Sarukhanyan. “So if we had the starter working, it would have been fine. But unfortunately that wasn’t the case for us today.”
The GT race looked all but settled late into the race, but with less than an hour left to go, Modified Racing took the GT class lead from Kleen Blast/David’s Racing Products, which had held the lead for 95 percent of the event. All but a couple of the hourly timing and scoring updates show Modified Racing in second place, but it’s the very last of those 25 hourly updates that matters most. When the checkers flew, it was the Chevrolet-powered Mustang-bodied stock car Modified Racing taking the GT class win.
“You know, a lot of things happen in a 25-hour race, for sure. And we had a lot of problems up front, and they had theirs a little later on. So, you know, fortunate for us, but unfortunate for Tim and Mike,” said driver Mike Beeler. “We’re running Tim’s car that he had run here previously, so now we’re running it and we just thank them for getting us here and getting us into this sport.”
Modified Racing finished 18th overall.
Team Kleen Blast/David’s Racing Products finished second in GT and 21st overall. Driver Tim Spurgeon was quick to thank NASA NorCal for creating the GT class for stock car chassis. The Kleen Blast/David’s Racing Products team suffered some mechanical issues late in the race, which cost it the class lead.
“We just we had some mechanical stuff that we couldn’t quite overcome. They did, too. We shared parts back and forth and they just they ran more laps than we did, so good for them,” Spurgeon said. “If you finish second, you’re the first loser, but you know when you’ve only got two people in the class, you’re the last loser, too, so I don’t know how that goes. But you know we had a good time doing it. Looking forward to coming back next year.”