The NASA SoCal enduro began at Buttonwillow Raceway 4 p.m. in broad daylight and ended at 10 in the inky darkness that characterizes this empty stretch of California’s Central Valley. The only light came from the cars racing, the pit spaces lucky enough to have illumination and the faint glow of the passersby on Interstate 5.
Despite that darkness, the thick dust that kicks up when you drop a wheel off track, and the always-busy-doing-something nature of Buttonwillow Raceway, the Western Endurance Racing Championship racers went flag to flag with nary a full-course caution.
When the dust had settled, here’s how the classes played out through six hours of racing.
After the total loss of its 370Z due to a massive fire in the pits, Team Valkyrie Autosport returned to Buttonwillow as Team CDR Valkyrie with a new GT3 Acura NSX.
Starting from third on grid, Team CDR Valkyrie was up front with the Team Sigier Motorsport KTM X-Bow GTX, a Porsche GT3, a Honda-powered Norma with a GT4 Cayman and a breathed-on NP01 just behind, all of which had WERC veterans taking turns at the wheel.
At the two-hour mark, Team CDR Valkyrie had second place, two laps down from first and one lap up on Lang Racing Development. Three hours in, Lang Racing Development had taken over second place, trailing the Sigier KTM. CDR Valkyrie had dropped back to third.
As the race wore on, Lang and Valkyrie continued to trade places, but by hour five, Team CDR Valkyrie had taken the lead and never looked back. When the checkers flew, Team, CDR Valkyrie was up by seven laps over Sigier and nine laps up on Lang, notching a big win on what was really a shakedown run of the team and the car in preparation to race in the professional ranks.
“We’ve taken our homegrown NASA enduro team, and we’re trying to take the big giant step to GT3 racing and SRO, so we’re still cutting our teeth with all the equipment with the car. There’s so much to learn with it,” said team captain Brian Lock. “All the crews (are) getting new used to new pit guns and air wands and everything. So, it was a pretty flawless first event. We’re pretty stoked.”
Lock was quick to thank team owner and driver Amir Haleem, and drivers Christina Lam and Jeremy Croiset.
“It did what Buttonwillow does at night. It got dusty,” Lock said. “So, it was a little tough to see, which, you know, when you’re driving a car that’s seven seconds a lot faster than anything you’ve driven before and you can’t see, it makes it quite exciting.”
Team HM Road Racing started from fifth, gridded next to Team Rangers’ NP01 for the start, but by the two-hour mark Team HM Road Racing was second in class two laps down to Team Rangers.
By hour three, Team Rangers had extended that class lead to three laps, but there were still three more hours of racing left. By the fourth hour, Team Rangers had suffered a mechanical and Team HM Road Racing was nearly 30 laps up on Team Rangers, which never re-entered the race. With about an hour and a half left to go, Team HM Road Racing made a pit stop to correct a few items.
“We made some light adjustments for Henry. He was in the car for nearly four hours … and so we adjusted the lights. This is the first time running this light setup, so we just had to swing these lights out just a little bit to help him see through the corners,” said driver Brandon Chappell, who relished the chance to race with the GT and ESR cars.
“It’s cool to see serious cars like that out here running with the WERC series. We were playing with the KTM there toward the end. He was having trouble seeing where he was going, so I was kind of like the lantern for him for the last five or six laps,” Chappell added. “Everyone was really cordial out there giving each other room. This configuration at Buttonwillow, I feel, is pretty tricky to pass on. So, good job to all the other drivers for paying attention.”
Team Lang Racing Development has spent the last couple of years really dialing in the Honda K20-powered Norma M20FC chassis. With upward of 300 horsepower under foot in the 1,400-pound chassis, the car is seriously quick, and the team often has been a front runner for the overall win, which the team did accomplish at Willow Springs in February 2022.
The team was running in the top three all race long, and had even taken the lead at one point, till and unfortunate off-track maneuver took them out of the lead.
“Oh, it was a great race. When I got out, I was realizing that there was no full cautions. There was not much happening on the track besides racing. So that was a good race,” said driver Grant Barnett. “The most difficult part is navigating traffic. They don’t see you in that car. It’s so low, and it comes up so fast. We’ve got a little light on the top, but I don’t think it does as much as we like to believe it does.”
Team Lang Racing Development ran unopposed, so it took first in ESR and finished third overall.
Team Hippogriff Racing started from seventh overall — I was seventh! I was seventh! — and second in class behind the V8-powered Miata of Team Occupy Pit Lane. By the time two hours had passed, Team Hippogriff Racing was three laps up on Team Occupy Pit Lane.
Three hours in, Hippogriff had extended that lead to eight laps. The team had 10 laps by hour four, 15 laps by hour five and when the checkers flew, Team Hippogriff Racing had extended that class lead to 40 laps, and finished seventh overall.
“So, I started off our stints. I did an hour, came in for an hour back then switched off with my dad, which was super fun, racing with my dad,” said driver Turbo Fenton — his real name. “They wanted to put me in for the last 30 minutes of the night, let me get experience because this is my first endurance race. So they wanted me to know what it feels like to race during the night. So I just finished the last 30 minutes, and it was crazy. There was people off everywhere, but it was fun. It was a fun experience.”
Team Jirafa/Formation is no stranger to the podium in WERC racing. The team finished second in E1 at the Seaside Cup at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and third in the 4.5-hour race at Buttonwillow last October.
Starting from 11th on grid, behind E1 competitors Team Land Yacht Racing and Team NRG Racing, the team took the green and set about improving its position. Two hours in, they had advanced to sixth overall and first in class. At the four-hour mark, they were still first in class and in fifth overall. They held both those positions for the next two hours to take the E1 win and finish fifth overall.
“It was cool to have a fully green race. I haven’t had one of those in a while,” said driver Matt Powers. “We probably would’ve had one at Chuckwalla if we didn’t lose a rear hub. But, it was really good. We lost radio at the very beginning of the race, so went back to the basics.”
The Team Moorewood Creative car seems to change colors every time you see it. What doesn’t seem to change is that it usually runs at the front its class — but true to form, the E2 class win was up for grabs the entire time.
The Moorewood Creative car had to come in to make some repairs. At the second hour, the team was six laps behind the class leader Team Legacy Motorworks and three laps behind Team Four Brothers Motorsports.
At the three-hour mark, Team Moorewood Creative had taken over second in class, five laps behind Legacy Motorworks, but three laps up on Four Brothers. By hour four, Moorewood was within two laps of leader Legacy, and still three laps up on Four Brothers.
At the start of the last hour of racing, Moorewood had inched into the lead over Legacy by one lap and three laps up on the Four Brothers team. When the checkers flew, Team Moorewood Creative took the win, with Legacy Motorworks on the same lap and Four Brothers still three laps behind in third place.
“We had a power steering pump failure, early in the race. We came in and we did a swap. Andrew Clark and Marcelo Calcagnotto provided the power steering fluid. It took us about 10 minutes from pit entrance to finishing the swap,” said driver and team owner Larry Moore. “And then it was just playing catch up from there. Toward the end of the race there was a couple of off-tracks. We hit a rabbit. There was just all kinds of dust, but it’s Buttonwillow, so you never know what you’re going to get. But, you know, the Maxxis RC1 tires did really great. They handled great, stuck with us through the whole race, so we’re very happy with those.”
There was only one car competing in E3 at the six-hour race, so Team Indotech Motorsports could have done what NASCAR teams call “start and park,” and still taken first in class. But that’s not their style.
The team pounded out lap after lap in a Miata for six hours, grinding away in the dark and making way for faster traffic — which was every other car on track — till the very end. The team started from 19th overall and finished in 14th.
“We have a little bit bigger light bar, but this time we ran a little bit smaller one just because of what we had available for that car. But the field of vision was fine. Could have used a little bit more for cornering, maybe a little bit,” said driver Therese Lalouh. “We ran into a wheel bearing issue on our third driver change, so we had to kind of nurse the car for our last two-and-a-half, three hours. It’s an issue we know with the Miata. So as long as the brake function was still good, we’re happy to push it.”