In years past, the Toyo Tires/Flying Lizard team made taking the overall win at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill look easy, particularly in 2017 when the team led nearly the whole race and won by six laps.
Of course, we know it’s never easy to win the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, and this year was especially brutal for the three-time winning team. About 30 minutes into the race, the Flying Lizard Porsche RSR suffered a left rear axle failure, which took the team 25 minutes to repair. The team returned to competition in 41st place of 47 cars that started the race.
The Flying Lizard team faced a 13-lap gap to race leader One Motorsports/Radical/Hankook. The Porsche’s gearbox also wasn’t optimal, with upshifting and downshifting issues in most of the gears used at Thunderhill. Then, at 2 o’clock in the morning, the right rear axle failed. The team fixed that and got back out, all the while nursing the transmission along. When the team crossed the finish line with the ES class and overall wins, the only usable gear was fifth.
“That was really the hard part about the whole race, because deep down inside you want to push as hard as you can to try to make up the gap, and you know the car is beyond capable of doing so, but it’s a long race,” said cleanup driver Charlie Hayes. “We had to save, save, save at the same time. It was a very fine line to walk.”
Taking second in ES and third overall, Team Prototype Development Group had its own challenges. After one tire stop during the night, Beau Borders applied too much throttle exiting the pits on stone-cold tires and ended up facing the wrong way down the front straight. Other than that, the race went according to plan.
“I think everybody had a little contact, and everybody got a little dirty, but no real big problems,” Borders said. “We never had to go behind the wall. The car never let us down. The Hankooks never let us down. The Mendeola gearbox never let us down. It was amazing, given what this car has been through in the past, to go the full 25 hours without an unscheduled pit stop is a huge feat.”
No team suffered problems earlier than third-place finisher Three Thieves Racing, which was struck from behind on the warmup lap by a Miata. The impact launched the car off the ground, crushed the left rear quarter panel and required the removal of the rear fascia — all before the green flag flew.
The impact also caused a muffler failure in the middle of the night, but the team didn’t have a welder. It borrowed one, but it didn’t work. It borrowed another and it didn’t work, so they took parts from one to fix the other, then fixed the car. The team has taken third overall in past years with the same car, but this year, it suffered a number of small failures, from throttle actuators to alternators and a few other items.
“So, it took probably an hour or so in the pits just trying to figure out how fix it. We didn’t have the scrap metal to fix it and, clearly, we didn’t have the welders to fix it, so we had to piece all that together,” said Three Thieves’ Eddie Nakato. “That was our biggest thing. Other than that, we just had a lot of small issues that were five-, 10-minute fixes, but it just kept stacking up.”