Turn 3 Motorsports found joy in Mudville on Sunday when the team won its first 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance.
The Chicago-based team had a dominant performance, leading shortly after the start and never looking back. The Radical was caked with mud as driver and team principal Peter Dempsey brought the car across the finish line with an eight-lap margin of victory. It’s the first time a Radical sports racer has won the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
“I was in tears in the car there once we knew we had done it, so it took me a few laps to settle back down again and finish the race,” Dempsey said.
The team spent Friday night and Saturday morning waterproofing the open-cockpit car but it still lost an ECU during a rainstorm after the endurance race started. After that the car ran flawlessly, Dempsey said.
The team’s drivers Eric Wagner, Dempsey, Antoine Comeau and Neil Alberico drove the car 2,016 miles, good for an 8-lap margin of victory over second-place overall finisher K2R Motorsports. Team Praga Cars/Fellner Motorsports finished third in ESR and also third overall.
“I didn’t come here to race anyone else,” Dempsey said. “We came here just trying not to beat ourselves, and I think by focusing everyone in that mentality probably made a huge difference.”
The endurance race started Saturday at 11 a.m. and concluded Sunday at noon. The 25 Hours of Thunderhill is one of the most challenging auto races in the country and this year’s event proved it with drivers battling rain and wind throughout the event.
The next time anyone says a stock production car can’t win at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, introduce them to the MPACT Racing team. The group ran a stock Ford Mustang GT, and the only upgrade was the suspension. The car came out of the Ford Performance Racing School in Utah.
“We’re really excited. We’ve got some seasoned guys, we’ve got some first timers here, so it’s a great win,” said Rob Birkhead, president of MPACT Racing. “To take a school car first time out and pull something like this, we’re real excited.”
While MPACT won by 19 laps in the E0 class, the race was much closer, with DIG Motorsports and Honda Racing THRW mixing it up and making it tough sledding early in the race.
“We didn’t have the pace in the wet, but we knew we had the pace in the dry, so we were watching the changing conditions,” Birkhead said. “We just tried to keep it on track and fortunately luck was in our favor today.”
DIG Motorsports finished second in a Ford Mustang and Honda Racing THRW 2 finish third in a Honda Civic Type R.
Team FLIR Vision Racing’s Mitjet LV 02 car had trailed Team Bullet Performance early in the race, but they took over the E1 class lead shortly before 6 o’clock Saturday evening. Shortly before midnight Saturday, Team Bullet Performance suffered contact with the Toyo Tires Flying Lizard Audi R8, and had to take the car into the back paddock for extensive repairs.
“The Mitjet is a fantastic car. It’s a real solid package, a solid racecar for doing events like this,” said John Hill, a driver and team principal for FLIR Vision Racing. “It started out a as a spec car, so everything is overbuilt, and it works really well for endurance racing.”
From there FLIR Vision held the lead, and continued to hold the class lead at the 8 o’clock hour. Bullet Performance dropped back to finish third in class, with Team El Dorado Motorsports CRX in second place at the finish.
“I think Team Bullet had some troubles, so I think they were going to end up being a lot tougher competition than they ended up being,” Hill said. “But part of this race is just avoiding the troubles and luck. They had some bad luck and we were able to avoid that.”
After 14 years of trying to win his class at 25 Hours of Thunderhill, Peter Hopelain of Technik Competition can finally raise the championship trophy over his head. The team passed TAPG Motorsports in the last hour of the endurance race to earn the victory and finish sixth overall.
“We just had to claw our way back and it just worked out. It was awesome,” Hopelain said.
The win had its challenges. The top three cars in E2 collided on Saturday, bending the rear of the BMW 3 and benching the car temporarily.
“We were really coming from behind the whole time,” he said. “Hats off to Toyota. They made us work so hard.”
Team TAPG Motorsports finished second in its Toyota 86 sports coupe, and Team Slipstream-Racing.com finished third in a Mazda MX-5.
With smoke coming out of the exhaust and the radiator about to give way, driver and owner Tazio Ottis nursed the Honda Civic Hatchback across the finish line. The team had already clinched the E3 class over second-place finisher Brown/Heyer, which was the only other car in E3.
Ottis said the car started burning oil in hour six and estimates they used 7 gallons of oil during the race. The radiator gave out as Ottis pulled the car into pit row after the race. It had nothing left to give and had the race gone on for one or two laps more, they might not have finished.
“The whole point is we don’t give up. That means a lot to us,” said Ottis, who won his first 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
A team led by high school students pulled off an improbable win in E3S and gave team manager and teacher Al Angulo his first win in 17 attempts at 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
The Placer High School automotive tech teacher celebrated with the students on pit lane after they won by two laps over Lesher Motorsports in the deep field.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy for them,” said Angulo, fighting back tears. “I can’t wait to see the picture of these kids with their trophy and be able to haul that to the high school and say we kicked (butt) on some of the biggest teams in motor racing. It’s not about me, it’s about all of them.”
The students dumped a bucket of ice water on their teacher to celebrate the victory.
“They spent a lot of hours working on it, a lot of hours training,” Angulo said. “They would come in on Saturdays practicing our pit stops and to see them put it together to be here for that, it’s exciting for the school, exciting for them.”
When it comes to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, few teams have had as much success as Valkyrie Autosport. The team added to its trophy case after campaigning two cars this weekend and securing first place in its Nissan GT-R and third-place in its Nissan 370Z in the ES class. The team has six podiums in the last few years, said Giles Powell of Valkyrie Autosport. This year was the team’s first year in ES.
“It was clear we weren’t going to be able to secure position through outright pace,” Powell said. “We just had to be really conservative and wait for the luck to even out with the other teams, which luckily happened. The drivers stayed focusing on running clean and not taking chances, and we got lucky it worked out for us.”
Three Thieves Racing finished second in ES.
Frasun Racing drove to victory in the GT Challenge and picked up a $10,000 prize from Toyo Tires for the effort. The competition was reduced by one when third-place finisher Flying Lizard Motorsports was knocked out after 255 laps and class runner-up Precision Driving Tech was out after 480 laps.
Driver Jason Fraser said even with their two competitors out, it didn’t change their approach to finishing the race, but the weather did.
“The mud on the track and all the yellows. It was a war zone out there. It really was,” Fraser said. “At that point it was survival. We still ran hard. We ran mistake-free.”