After a “gap year” in 2020 due to the pandemic, the 2021 25 Hours of Thunderhill picked up where it left off, attracting the finest amateur and pro-am endurance racing teams from across the country and from across the globe.
In the opening minutes of the race, it became evident there was some rust to be knocked off. The pole-sitter, Team Crowdstrike/Mosaic Motorsports Duqueine LMP3 car spun in Turn 2 on the parade lap, which relegated it to begin the race from last. Then, on lap one in Turn 1, the Team TVI Racing Radical overheated, popped a cooling system hose loose, spun in its own fluid and came to rest at the track-out point as the rest of the field passed on both sides.
Once all that was over, the field settled in for what they thought would be 25 hours of endurance racing in the best weather the race has had in years. All that changed when a misty fog rolled in just after sunset and shut racing down until 5 a.m. the next morning. NASA officials tacked on an additional three hours at the end of the race, so it ended up being 17 hours of racing by the time the checkers flew.
What was notable about this year’s event was that there were fewer instances of contact and no major crashes. Most of the cars didn’t look any worse for wear at the end of the race than they did at the beginning.
Penalty records from race control showed only 11 incidents of contact during the entire race. The majority of the infractions stemmed from pit lane violations, such as careless handling of fuel or too many crew members over the wall. There were penalties handed out for passing under yellow flags, but the racing was remarkably clean.
“This is the most incredibly incident-free race that I’ve seen, for the length,” said NASA Executive Director and NASA NorCal Regional Director, Jerry Kunzman. “Comparing it to last year, even calculating based on less hours, it was something like four times fewer incidents. There were no “crashes” and a few minimal body contacts. Mostly fuel-handling penalties. The teams did an amazing job.”
The final standings show One Motorsports 2 winning by six laps over Crowdstrike/Mosaic Motorsports in the ESR class, but that doesn’t reflect how close the race was between the Radical and Duqene.
One Motorsports 2 led much of the race, but their car was turning lap times that weren’t as quick as Crowdstrike/Mosaic Motorsports. One Motorsports 2 was doing what it takes to win endurance races: staying out on track turning laps as quickly as possible while preserving the car. After it had regained the lead, Crowdstrike lost a rear axle with about 45 minutes left in the race, One Motorsports team owner Jeff Shafer could breathe a little easier.
“It was an exciting race, it almost went down to the wire,” said Shafer, who won his first overall victory at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. His car won its ESR class in 2019 but not the overall race.
His team had to overcome a trio of spinouts because of oil on the track and fog shortening the racing time, but the team didn’t panic. “We just stuck to the same game plan, which was, run the thing until it’s empty and try not to hurt it,” Shafer said.
Other drivers on the team included, Jordan Missig, Josh Sarchet and Anthony Bullock.
Crowdstrike/Mosaic Motorsports had retaken the lead in the closing hours of the race and its lap times were substantially quicker, so the team looked poised to build on its lead. They also had 2015 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge Champion Colin Braun driving for their team, so the team had clearly brought their best. However, at 2:15, some 45 minutes before checkers, the car began to emit smoke. Two minutes later, the car went to the back paddock for repairs. A trilobal joint on the left axle shaft had failed. The crew got the car back on track in just 20 minutes, but there wasn’t enough time left to get back on top, and they finished six laps down from One Motorsports 2.
“We we knew we probably had a chance to win when we lost that,” said team owner Bobby Golasinski. “But you know, it’s always something about finishing, right. So for the customers, we wanted to get it fixed for them and get back out and finish. If we’d had another hour, I think we would have done it. This car had the speed.”
Team TVI Racing finished third after a rather inglorious start, spinning in coolant in Turn 1 on lap one. The setback was costly and it moved them back to last place in the same car that won the event in 2019.
The team made up for lost time quickly, and by the three-hour mark, they had worked their way back up to third place, and never dropped any lower than fourth place for the rest of the race. The team used the same car recipe they used in 2019, competing in a Radical SR3 with a stock bore and stroke Hayabusa engine, which has often proved to be critical to durability.
“The fact that we didn’t have nighttime this year hurt, because we’re faster. We’ve got Victor Franzone who’s an amazing driver and he seems to kill it at night and we can always count on him to pull some time in for us,” said driver Eric Wagner. “But all the drivers did well. The team did amazing. The car was unbelievable. It felt solid the entire race. We had no issues with it whatsoever — a small overheating issue at the beginning — but that’s kind of just our only bad luck that came about. Otherwise we had a great race. But congratulations to, One Motorsports. They were awesome.”
2021 marked just the second time in the history of the 25 Hours that three ESR cars also were the top three finishing cars overall. The only other year in which that happened was 2019. It also was only the second time in event history that an under-two-liter car won the event overall.