Each year in Willows, Calif., there is a showdown at Thunderhill Raceway. But it isn’t two gunslingers squaring off at the 12 o’clock hour. It’s hundreds of drivers racing from 11 a.m. Saturday morning till high noon the next day. It’s long, grueling, intense and unpredictable.
The 2015 race had its share of inclement weather during the week leading up to the event and during the race itself — something you would expect in an El Niño year. Practice sessions were rainy on Thursday, giving teams insight into to wet setups and alternative racing lines. Friday’s sessions, including qualifying, were dry and so was the first half of the race. However, the second half of the race was a dark and muddy mess of spray, downpours and fogged windshields right up until the finish.
For 2015, there were a few rule changes to enhance safety, most notably the use of the Jacques Advanced Warning System, a flashing yellow light wired directly to a car’s battery. For use on vehicles stopped on or close to the racecourse, JAWS alerted drivers they were approaching a trouble spot.
NASA NorCal also mandated the use of yellow headlamps on ES and ESR cars, which would be instantly recognizable E0 through E3 cars and tell them that faster cars were closing from behind. Also, Turn 5A was lighted, which helped minimize incidents in that area.
The 2015 event drew 57 teams from all over the United States. Of those starters, 37 of them crossed the finish line at the next day. The earliest car to drop out completed just 16 laps. The winning car completed 690 laps, nearly 2,000 miles of driving.
And as though on cue, as the race drew to a close, the clouds parted and the sun came out at high noon.