The 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by the U.S. Air Force is North America’s longest closed-course endurance race. During the 2013 event, its 11th year, many records were broken. These records included most laps completed by Rotek Racing at 705 laps, a record 20 cars in ES, and the first front-wheel-drive car to win overall. Ali Arsham co-founder of NASA and longtime 25 hour participant described the race’s progression from its early stages.
“In the beginning, the race was filled with a bunch of amateurs that participated and it was easy to win your class as long as you had a reliable car,” he said. “Today, there are so many professional teams with top notch drivers, so you have to be reliable and quick, which is difficult to do.”
The 25 hours of Thunderhill is not about how long the race is or how cold it is — though this year’s event was bitter cold. The 25 Hours of Thunderhill is truly a race of extremes, and the reason the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is such a memorable event is because so many different teams, cars, and people come to compete. There were teams from Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the Netherlands, with world champion drivers and Audi engineers, to teams with a Mazda Miata in E3 that was held together with duct tape, and everything in between.
The race does not begin on Friday with testing. It begins the Monday after last year’s race, when teams decide whether to compete the following year. By July, most teams are not even close, some have not started and others still think they are not going to run. November is when teams prove they are ready.
By December, the first 99 percent of the teams are ready, but if you are like TFB Performance, you wait until six days before the race to start work on the car. Finally, Friday comes, but for Achilles Motorsport and GMG Racing 2 a blown engine and a crash end the teams hopes of starting. Saturday morning is all smiles, but by nightfall, the smiles are frozen over. The happiest time is when the sun comes out to warm the survivors and taunt the wounded — when they still have six hours yet to race.
Luxury: Don’t Crash Racing won E0 at the 2013 25 Hours of Thunderhill in the only Ford Mustang in the field. The Mustang was driven by Tom Martin Sr., Tom Martin Jr., Tom Brown and Brian Zander. With a winning margin of 13 laps over Pure Performance and 48 laps ahead of El Diablo Motorsports, they enjoyed a great weekend of racing. Luxury: Don’t Crash Racing started 21st overall and third in class and stayed in third place until Pure Performance, which was running second, had problems and dropped to fourth.
It looked like a sure victory for El Diablo Motorsports in their BMW M3 until they had a problem in the night, and when the sun emerged to warm the survivors, El Diablo Motorsports was in fourth. The order looked said and done until TFB Performance had their share of problems to put them back into fourth, which allowed El Diablo Motorsports back onto the podium.
With only 40 minutes left in the race, El Diablo Motorsports and TFB Performance both were in the paddock with mechanical issues. It became a race to see which team could repair their car first to get on the last step of the podium. After 25 hours of racing, TFB Performance bested El Diablo by just 20 seconds at the finish. After the race, we caught up with Tom Martin Sr., driver of the winning Ford Mustang Boss 302S.
“We started the race pretty well,” Martin Sr. said. “We fell back a little at the beginning and we just kept a steady pace. The car was so well prepared by the team that we were able to run just a flawless race. Our competitors had a little trouble, and here we are, winners of our class. The only problem we had was a broken stud on one wheel. We were worried we would lose the others, so we replaced it and kept going.”
Achilles Motorsports, which finished third in 2012, had the hardest race of all, unable to finish the race because of so many things going wrong. On Friday the engine in their main car blew up, so they went down to Fresno to get their backup car. Once on grid for the prerace ceremonies, the team was relieved, but the problems had only begun. The untested car had many issues, but the team kept fighting and never gave up until the damage was too great to repair. The team finished fifth.
Honda Research West 1 pulled ahead of Fantasy Junction to take the E1 victory at Thunderhill. Honda Research West 1’s Acura ILX was driven by Lee Niffenegger, Matthew Staal, Sage Marie, Scott Nicol and Michael Tsay.
“It was a great run by the team,” Marie said. “We had a little bit of drama here and there, but overall our pace was really good. The BFGoodrich tires had a lot of grip. They helped to make our pace and our pit cycles very predictable. The Acura ILX is a great race car. The Honda Research West 1 team did an awesome job all weekend. The only real problem we had was a slight overheating problem under the yellows, and there were a lot cautions.”
The sister Acura ILX finished fourth. Fantasy Junction fell a lap behind early and was never able to overcome the deficit. Fantasy Junction set the fast lap of the class during the night to chase down Mazdaspeed Dealers A for second. Mazda had a huge paddock area with lots of support for the “Throwdown at Thunderhill,” as Mazda called it.
“Mazda is a small company, but what has always stood us apart from our competition is that we are a car company full of real car people,” said Robert Davis, Mazda North America Senior Vice President, U.S. Operations. “Given that we have less than 600 employees and about the same number of dealers around the country, we have a disproportionately large number of employees and dealers who have competition licenses and are real racers. These people spend their weekdays working with cars professionally, just to spend the weekend working with cars as their hobby.”
The throwdown put the factory guys against the dealers in identically prepared Mazda 6 turbodiesels. Mazda entered three cars in E1, two run by dealers and one by the factory guys. Mazdaspeed Dealers B was the fastest in qualifying and led E1 at the beginning of the race, but after dropping five laps down after six hours, Mazdaspeed Dealers B was out of the fight for the lead. Mazdaspeed Factory Guys had their own problems not six hours into the race when they went 30 laps down with mechanical issues. As the sun rose, it was Mazdaspeed Dealers A in third and on the podium behind Fantasy Junction’s Acura RSX and Honda Research West 1.
Sector Purple Racing took the E2 victory by two laps over AAF Racing at the 2013 25 Hours of Thunderhill. After starting 39th overall and fourth in class, Sector Purple Racing slowly moved up to second in class after a few hours. Team Spoon finished third, 33 laps behind AAF and captured a well-deserved podium spot. Sector Purple Racing’s Mazda Miata was driven by Kyle Watkins, Dan Williams, Glen Conser and Robert W. Ames.
“The plan was to come out and stay incident free, and not be off the track,” Conser said. “We got good gas mileage, saved the tires and we put together a solid effort. We had some contact in the middle of the night when Dan was driving, but that was about it for our trouble. We had very smooth pit stops and overall just ran a great race.”
Sector Purple Racing’s Mazda Miata was running six laps behind Team RDR entering the night, but after Team RDR had issues during the night, losing more than 50 laps, Sector Purple Racing assumed the lead. AAF Racing was not giving up easily because they came charging from 48th overall on the grid. During the night, AAF Racing set the second fastest lap of E2 to come within two laps of Sector Purple Racing after 25 Hours. Team Spoon in their Honda CR-Z, shipped from Japan specifically for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, finished on the podium in third due to consistency. Even though Team Spoon had the slowest fast lap in E2, they showed that the turtle can beat the hare.
RJ Racing took the E3 victory in their Mazda Miata with 628 laps completed, only 19 laps more than second place Spare Parts Racing 2 (also known as Dutch American Racing Team) at the 2013 25 Hours of Thunderhill. RJ Racing started in 45th overall and sixth in class. RJ Racing moved up four places in six hours. 949 Racing’s Mazda Miata was the only team close to RJ Racing, but after finishing the race in second, 949 Racing was disqualified because the car was underweight. Spare Parts Racing 2 assumed second place and A+ Racing got third.
RJ Racing was in second place when the sun rose behind 949 Racing, but after 949 Racing lost seven laps due to mechanical problems, RJ Racing assumed the lead. 949 Racing started on pole, but lost a position to Spare Parts Racing 1. Spare Parts Racing 1’s mechanical issues put them last in E3 for a while. It was then Spare Parts Racing 2’s Mazda Miata that rose to the occasion. At the beginning of the race, their goal was to finish the long, tough race, but by the end they were in second thanks to good teamwork. A+ Racing qualified out of the top five in E3 and stayed out of the top five until the morning when they emerged in fourth, but after the disqualification of 949 Racing, A+ Racing got the final step of the podium.
The Mazda Miata of RJ Racing was driven by John Gibson, Rob Gibson, Jamie Florence, Roger Eagleton and Gary Browne. After the race, the team was extremely happy with the result.
“It was a really great run,” said team representative Chris Hillebrandt. “Last year we blew a motor 12 hours in, after winning in 2011. We had some mixed emotions coming in this year. We raced our race and we won it again. We really did not have a lot of issues. We had some small issue with our dash giving us a funny fuel reading. It would give us a number then go out. Sometimes we had to wait until it coughed to come in and fuel the car. The drivers and team did a great job.”
A record 20 cars entered the unlimited ES class this year at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. With 2012 World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff behind the wheel, German team Rotek Racing won ES and gave Audi its first overall win at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Rotek Racing’s front-wheel-drive Audi TT RS not only won first place in ES and first overall, but it also broke the laps-completed record with 705 laps, and was the first front-wheel-drive car to take the overall win at the 25. Barrett Racing’s Porsche GT3 Cup car finished second in ES, 28 laps behind Rotek Racing. GMG Racing’s Audi R8 finished 43 laps behind Rotek Racing to claim third in ES and fourth overall.
The Audi of Rotek Racing lives at the Nurburgring and regularly competes in the European VLN series. Rotek Racing’s other drivers were World Touring Car and British Touring Car driver Rob Holland, ALMS, Grand Am, Trans Am and World Challenge driver Jeff Altenburg, Canadian Touring Car and Grand Am driver Kevin Gleason, and Roland Pritzker.
“It was a blast today, racing here this weekend,” Pritzker said. “We had a couple of little issues with contact that took a couple of canards off the front in the middle of the night, but we replaced them and kept going. It was smooth sailing. Really we didn’t have any big issues. We kept it on the track and out of the pits and all of the drivers ran clean laps. My stints in the car were really fun. I just had a blast driving this Audi TT RS here at Thunderhill.”
Rotek Racing started ninth overall and sixth in class. After three hours, Rotek Racing was second in class behind Award Motorsports by 45 seconds. Rotek Racing dropped to fourth because of a 12-minute penalty for a pass under yellow, but slowly climbed back up the order.
The defending four-time overall winner at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, Award Motorsports, was on track to make it five in a row until the Porsche GT3 Cup car’s transmission broke 12 hours into the race. With no spare transmission, Award Motorsports was forced to retire the car along with the hopes of five straight overall wins at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Barrett Racing’s Porsche GT3 Cup car started eighth overall and dropped to 10th in ES after six hours. Barrett Racing was consistent, and after many others had problems, they moved up to second place. They were able to hold their place and finish second overall.
Starting 55th, GMG Racing had their work cut out for them. The GMG Audi R8 crashed badly on Friday and the team had to catch a flight to Southern California to bring back parts the night before the race. After spending all night working on the car, they were ready for the race, but had to start at the back of the field for missing qualifying. The first three hours was huge for GMG Racing as they moved up 11 places and were back in the fight. In the next eight hours, GMG Racing only moved up one position, though. Through the night, GMG Racing moved up another five positions to third They had alternator issues, which slowed them down.
Prototype Development Group started 15th, and on lap three, the car caught fire while fighting for the lead. After spending more than 20 hours fixing the damage, Prototype Development Group got back out and finished the race to win the Spirit of Thunderhill award for their outstanding resolve and effort.
ESR has always been a class where competition is tough. This year’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill was no exception, with a record eight ESR cars starting the race. The ESR cars, drivers, teams and equipment had to be rock solid to have a chance. After a long battle with JFC Racing and Factory 48 for the lead, Radical West Racing edged ahead to finish first in class and third overall, and was the top under-2.0-liter car. Factory 48 finished second and CSR Performance finished third. Radical West Racing’s drivers were Scott Atchison, Randy Carpenter, Ryan Carpenter, Anthony Bullock and Todd Slusher.
“We started off with a great base car,” Carpenter said. “The car handled great, we had the balance just right and the team did a great job preparing the car. We had a little damage on the front. We threw some tape on it and kept going. The team just worked through the small issues and kept grinding. That is how you win this race. It is a first for us. We won the ESR class, and getting third overall is pretty spectacular with three of the four drivers being rookies.”
After starting fifth overall, Radical West Racing slowly moved up the order. Heading into the night, Radical West Racing was only one lap behind JFC Racing, who was leading. Radical West Racing continued charging up the order and could not be stopped. After 25 hours of racing, Radical West Racing finished with 675 laps, 17 laps ahead of second-place Factory 48.
Factory 48 started second overall and shot out of the gate to take a two-lap lead on JFC Racing in the first three hours. That lead was short lived because three hours later, at the six-hour mark, JFC Racing had not only overtaken Factory 48, but also jumped two laps ahead. JFC Racing had a fast car and a great setup, which meant that they were untouchable, doing a best lap of 1:37.789 which was four seconds faster than anyone else and nearly broke a track record. JFC Racing, Factory 48, and Radical West Racing fought for the lead in ESR throughout the night and into the morning.
Unfortunately, JFC Racing’s race ended 19 hours in. This opened the door for CSR Performance to move up the order. CSR Performance started the race in 27th overall, but fifth in class. CSR Performance slowly moved up in class by being consistent. That consistency allowed them to finish the race and move up five places overall to finish third in ESR behind Factory 48 and Radical West Racing. Despite only three ESR cars finishing, it was a strong showing of what the ESR cars are capable of accomplishing.