Strong Driver Rosters Inspire Teams’ Hopes for Victory
The 15th running of the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance is attracting a new crop of drivers, veterans and professionals alike, all taking aim at a class or overall win in what has become the country’s preeminent Pro-Am endurance race. The twice-around-the-clock-plus-one-hour race is set to run Dec. 2-3, 2017.
Team RK Motorsports had TC Design build two new E46 chassis for competition in sprints and enduros at the beginning of 2017. One car won the NASA ST2 Championship this year at Thunderhill Raceway. The other car competed in ST3, and is entered in the E0 class at the 2017 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
“When they approached us to build these cars, this was always the idea, to run one of them in the 25 Hour together,” said TC Design co-owner Tony Colicchio. “We built the two cars and developed them over the year and helped them both develop as drivers, and so here we are culminating that whole effort.”
Colicchio, who holds the NASA GTS3 track record at Thunderhill, will be one of the drivers, along with team owners Andy Kwitowski and Skip Rebozzi, and 2017 NASA Spec Miata Champion Tristan Littlehale.
Team RK Motorsports TC Design has been developing the car on Hoosier tires and with Race Technologies, the U.S. importer for Brembo brakes. Initially set up for sprint racing, the team has developed a “kit” to transform it into an enduro car. Key components of the kit include a high-power lighting system and a differential cooler with a pump, and heat exchanger. What’s more, the car was built with a power-distribution module, which makes the driver’s job easier.
“We can program certain functions to turn on and off automatically, whether it be temperature or speed,” Colicchio said. “So, things like diff coolers, driver cooling, and headlights, all those can be turned on how we want them to without any input from the driver. We try to take as many functions away from the driver as we can so he can concentrate more on driving the car.”
After testing at Thermal Raceway in Thermal, Calif., in the days before the 2017 25 Hours of Thunderhill, Rearden Racing team owner Lara Tallman was as excited as ever to be headed to Thunderhill.
Her team’s entries shuffled around just before the team shipped out. Two cars that were entered in the GT Challenge class changed at the last minute, but Rearden Racing had three cars ready to go. Tallman said her team will be running a Nissan 370Z in E0 class and a Porsche Cayman GT4 in ES. She has a second Cayman entered and ready to run, but it is a backup car. In 2016, Rearden’s cars finished second in E0, and 14th and 16th overall. Tallman is looking to improve that in 2017.
“The game plan is to win. Isn’t that always the game plan?” she said. “There are always small tweaks that we make, for sure, as we learn and think about, and analyze data. But with a race like this, it comes down to finishing, to being consistent, to having good pit stops and just making it to the end.
“That’s one of the things that we love about it,” Tallman continued. “So much can go wrong with the cars, with the drivers, with the weather, with whatever it is. The trick really is just being able to finish.”
Only one team has three consecutive overall wins at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill since the race began in 2002. Team Mercer Motorsports won overall in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
For 2017, Flying Lizard Motorsports, returns to Thunderhill looking for that elusive three-peat. In 2015 and 2016, Flying Lizard Motorsports won the 25 with the Toyo Tires Audi R8 LMS. This year, the Lizards again will partner with Toyo Tires to defend its wins, running the same Audi R8 LMS, as well as a Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 in the new GT Challenge class at Thunderhill.
“We really enjoyed competing in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill these last two years,” said Flying Lizard program manager and driver Darren Law. “We’re thrilled to be coming back for a third time in hopes of defending our title. It’s such a fun event to do as a competitor, and our effort is an important part of development with the Toyo® Proxes® Slicks.”
The driver roster includes Darren Law, 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GTS driver Nate Stacy, Charlie Hayes and Tom Haacker.
Team Ryno Racing brought two Ginetta G57 prototypes to last year’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance with the intent to race one and use the other for spares or as a backup. They ended up racing both.
Last year, with just 2.5 hours left to race, Ryno Racing’s main car had a seven-lap lead when they suffered a right rear sub axle failure, which caused a lengthy pit stop for repairs. Half an hour later, the same failure occurred on the sister car, and the team finished first and second in ESR, and second and fourth overall.
This year, the team has been working with Ginetta, which redesigned the sub axles and other components to ensure the same failure doesn’t happen again. Once again, they’re bringing both cars, but with the intent to race both of them.
“We’re coming to the race far more ready for the 25 Hours than we’ve ever been,” said team owner and driver Randy Carpenter.
They’re also bringing a driver lineup balanced among professionals and accomplished gentleman drivers. Carpenter said most of them are personal friends, which is the way he likes it.
“I’ve been asked this one question over and over again. We come with pretty good equipment, so why don’t we just put five pros in the car and see what the cars will do?” Carpenter said. “We intentionally are not running an all-pro lineup because we really are coming to have fun. We may have really good equipment, but that’s just because we like good equipment.”
The entire team’s driver roster includes Colin Braun, Jonathan Bennett, Ryan Carpenter, Najaf Husain, Ethan Stone, Ross Bentley, Jon Van Caneghem, John Falb and Sean Rayhall.
The Flying Lizard Motorsports team also will enter a second car in the Toyo Tires GT Challenge, a spec class with uniformly prepared Porsches, each competing on 18-inch Toyo® Proxes® RR DOT competition tires.
“After our win last year, we thought our effort at this event had come to an end,” said Flying Lizard program manager and driver Darren Law. “However, Toyo Tires has been an excellent partner, and when they asked us to run the event again, we were happy to oblige. We’re looking forward to what we can accomplish for Toyo this time around.”
Driving the No. 75 Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 will be Johannes van Overbeek, Mike Hedlund, Craig Watkins and Ross Thompson.