As the 2023 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance celebrates its 20th anniversary, for several drivers this weekend’s race has a grassroots feel where any team could win.
Three hours after the endurance race started, Three Thieves Racing and its Audi R8 had a three-lap lead over Kleen Blast/David’s Race Products, which started on pole. Kleen Blast in the stock-car-chassis Chevrolet Camaro held the lead for the first 18 laps of the race before Three Thieves Racing took the lead from its fellow GT competitor.
On a warm and sunny day, the track conditions have been fast for the drivers. Three Thieves Racing is leading the pack with a best lap of 1:44.549, while Kleen Blast turned 1:49.634 top lap and TruSpeed Auto Sport had a best time of 1:50:439.
Track conditions have been so good, the teams are having to hold drivers back to preserve the cars over the next 20-plus hours.
“When it’s nice weather, the guys drive faster and that puts more strain on equipment,” said Martin Sarukhanyan, the motorsports director for AR Motorsports, which is running the Three Thieves Racing Audi. “When it’s wet, you can’t go that fast, so everything’s a little bit more low key.
“It’s just that the risk factor is higher,” he added. “Now we’re going faster and it’s great and the safety is there, but you’re also pushing the car harder, so wheel bearings break, stuff like that.”
Here’s the class leaders after the 2 p.m. hour.
For the first time in 25 Hour history, Doteki Auto Solutions is campaigning a 2020 Toyota Supra loaded with Doteki products and prepared specifically for this race. So far, it’s working well enough to get them out front of E0 in the earliest stages of the race.
Rich Farler, team owner and owner of Doteki Auto Solutions explained that they have removed as much weight as possible from the car, but tuned the engine specifically for an enduro like this.
“This inline six is phenomenal. If you have the proper math behind it with the intake manifold and everything else. It only makes about 358 (horsepower) for the class 353, but makes 412 foot pounds. So we short shift, and it runs like a diesel, in a sense,” Farler said. “And because of that we’re trying to conserve as much as we can. You know, it’s got prototype AST suspension system on it. Prototype oil cooling system on it. All the aero is done by Zebulon, so it’s prototype. And the car is doing well. I mean, we feel like there’s more in it. The drivers are driving in fairly conservative. But I mean, that’s what you have to do to try to make it through this.”
Doteki’s best lap time was just a hair faster than Team Honda Racing, which is currently in second on E0. Doteki ran a 1:56.002 compared with Team Honda Racing’s 1:56.611.
This was the first time Mat Briand had ever driven the Thunderhill Raceway, pulling a double shift behind the wheel, and giving the Honda Racing team a 1-lap lead over Tazio Ottis Racing in E1.
Briand served as a pit crew member for the past two 25 Hour of Thunderhill races, slipping into the driver’s seat in 2023 and turning his best time on lap 17 of 2:04.764. The club team is made up of Honda employees from around the world, who volunteer to campaign one of three cars.
“This track is amazing,” Briand said. “It’s my first time ever driving this track with all the elevation changes, off-camber changes, everything is great.”
The team is trying to preserve its equipment, knowing they have a long night ahead of them.
“You want to manage your resources, right?” Briand said. “We’re trying not to do a brake job. Typically, we’ll do a brake job in the middle of the night at some point, but if we can manage the car, the resources, and not wear the brakes, then we don’t have to do a brake job.
“We want to try and extend the tires as much as we can, so we were lifting and coasting to try and conserve fuel, light braking earlier to try and make the brakes last longer and carry more speed into the turn rather than brake hard into it.”
Tazio Ottis, who is also running a Honda Civic, has turned a better fast lap time of 2:03.589.
Spark Performance had already built up a 12-lap lead in the E2 class, and driver Hernan Palermo is responsible for putting the distance on the other teams in the class.
Palermo made the most of the sunny day, ripping his best lap of 2:04.510 on lap 32 in the Mazda MX-5. The weather is a far cry from 2022 where their racecar went off the track and got stuck in the mud because of the rain.
“I kind of wish it was colder, to be honest,” Palermo said. “We’ve probably run this race out of the last 12 years, eight, 10 times, and it’s been really cold a lot of the time. So, I’m happy with the weather today, but it always gets hot in the car.”
The team has four drivers, who are expected to drive about six hours apiece.
2023 marks Lesher Motorsports’ fourth time racing in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, and this year it’s been a bit easier for the team because they’re only running one car. In previous years, they have campaigned two cars, which required a larger crew, but they have cinched the early lead in the E3 class.
The team’s Mazda Miata runs for about an hour and 20 minutes to about an hour and a half before it needs to come in for fuel, and that’s also when the team switches drivers.
“It’s been going great. Everything’s been really smooth. Tire usage has been a little bit of a challenge, but we’ve got it all sorted out,” said race administrator Crystal Lesher. “It’s not like running a sprint rate sprint race where you’re going for the fastest lap every lap. The key is keep the car happy. Keep the tires in one piece and just keep going around. And so I’m kind of managing all the different scheduling of the pitstops and making sure that our crews ready to go when the car gets here and all of that.”
The 2023 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance will continue through noon Sunday.