Slower-classes, such as E3 and E2, often boast the highest car counts at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. It has always been monumentally difficult to win overall, but it was just as arduous to win a class like E3 or E2 because the fields were so large.
But 2016 marked a paradigm shift on the grid for the longest closed-course race in North America. For example, in 2016, E3 had six cars and E2 gridded eight cars for the race. For comparison, ESR, which usually has the fastest cars, but not necessarily the most durable, fielded nine entries. Similarly, ES had 13 cars on grid and E1 had 17 cars. That’s a big change from years past, and it wasn’t lost on drivers who had to contend with the consequences for the race.
“It’s funny because the speeds haven’t changed that much. You’ve got E3 Miatas up through the Ginettas,” said Lee Papageorge, who co-drove the Robert Davis Racing E2 RX-8. “That was the same last year. What’s changed is the distribution. There are a lot more fast cars and fewer slower cars, and for us it fundamentally changes the nature of the race because the way we were managing traffic — especially at night — changes pretty significantly. We’re having to worry much more about what’s behind us.”
That disparity of cars and the speed differentials are part of what make the 25 Hours of Thunderhill so challenging. This is the nature of the race, and all drivers have to deal with it in one way or another.
This year, drivers didn’t have to deal with what can be among this race’s major challenges: weather. Truth be told, it was perfect football weather. Daytime temperatures were in the high 50s and low 60s. Saturday was nice and sunny and Sunday dawned overcast and calm. Nighttime temps hovered around 40 degrees and there was never a threat of precipitation. No rain, snow, sleet, hail or fog. Good weather for making horsepower.
The only remaining challenge was the racing itself, which is significant. Drivers were left to deal with traffic, yellows, rubber marbles off line, protecting their cars, pit stops, nutrition and hydration and, yes, the massive speed differentials among the classes.
“The penalties are really severe. Overtaking under yellow is a five-minute penalty. Going into all our stints, we were thinking about where the flag stands are, and we were looking at the flag stands while overtaking more than the actual driving,” said Dion Von Moltke, driver for the No. 45 Toyo Tires/Flying Lizard Audi R8, which scored a repeat overall win in 2016. “There wasn’t a single lap in five hours of my stints that I didn’t overtake at least one car in a lap. Most of the time you’re overtaking about five to seven cars in a lap. So, while you’re doing that, you’re looking at flag stands, and trying to do all. It’s a mentally demanding race here. It’s tough.”