Buttonwillow Raceway has a myriad of configurations, depending on what you’re looking for in a race course. No. 25, the layout used for the five-hour enduro for the Western Endurance Racing Championship in June, is one of the fastest configurations available. It’s hard enough during the day. At night, well, let’s just say you better have good headlights.
As fast and as dark as things were, the field went flag to flag without a full-course caution at the NASA SoCal event. Here’s a class-by-class breakdown of the five-hour event from Buttonwillow.
The last time Team Sigier Motorsport came to Buttonwillow to race in a WERC event, the team flipped one of its KTM X-Bow GTX cars in the Sunset turn during Friday practice, then finished second in class and overall behind the Valkyrie Autosport Acura NSX.
This time the team would not be denied. Team Sigier Motorsport led the entire field from flag to flag, even while the team was in the pits for service, and eventually took the class and overall wins with an 18-lap lead over the second place E1 car, Team Palomar Racing.
“Right when I went off for my stint, I think I drove into a swarm of bees. Like, literally, all those bug splats happened at once. It didn’t happen over time. It was right in the beginning and then I kept complaining over the radio, I can’t see anything,” said driver Alex Choi.
Having the fastest car on track certainly helped, but the team had to work on it all weekend to get it synced with driver preferences. The team notched the fastest lap of the race with a 1:45.312, and despite having an off at Phil Hill, the car came through unscathed — splattered bugs notwithstanding.
“This car, it’s almost like having a cheat code in a video game. It’s so easy to drive. It’s very, very stable,” Choi added. “Sigier did a great job setting it up over the past two days. They just made gradual improvements and it just got better and better and better.”
Team Prototype Development Group finished second in GT and eighth overall.
A V8-powered Miata is a quick machine, but in the E0 class, it can be outgunned by more sophisticated equipment. That didn’t stop Team Occupy Pit Lane from moving up into third place overall in the third hour. However, the team suffered a mechanical failure, which took longer to fix than expected. Once they had the car repaired, the team ended up finishing first in E0 and sixth overall.
“We’re a little slower than a lot of these cars and, but we do a lot of endurance racing, and we figured that it really would come down to the last two hours. And we did get into third place with about an hour and a half to go and we broke an axle,” said driver and team owner Aaron Sloman. “It was kind of a mistake of mine. I should have pulled in straight away, but I was trying to work out if it was the gearbox because I missed the offshoot. And so they had to tow me the whole way around.”
The team finished 40 laps up on second place Team Chill Motorsports and 118 up on third place Team Hippogriff Racing.
Team Palomar racing won just about everything there was to win last season, and they continued their winning ways when they came to Buttonwillow. Starting from midpack, Team Palomar had worked its way into first in class and third overall by hour two and by hour four had taken over second place overall, which is where they finished.
The team battled through electrical gremlins, replacing the battery to attempt to get through the race despite a failing alternator. Then when it looked like the second battery was going to be drained fully, the alternator mysteriously fixed itself. They also battled more electrical troubles when the rear marker lights were inoperative. Driver Nik Romano drove from Willow Springs that night after the race had already started, to drive the last stint in the Palomar car.
“The parking lights in the back, they just went away also. So, I had to drive the rest of the race, left-foot braking the whole track the whole time to make sure that we had brake lights so that we were technically still legal.” Romano said. “The officials knew about it and they were fine with it, just for the record, but I was trying really, really hard to make sure that I had light so people could see me the entire way around the track. And everybody seemed fine and here we go with the class win. So, I guess it worked out OK.”
Team Honda Research West finished second and Team Land Yacht Racing finished third.
Team ZJS Racing was registered as racing a BMW M3. The team was excited to bring the car, what with its new engine and all, but the day before they were supposed to haul the car to Buttonwillow, the car would not develop oil pressure on its initial startup, so they left it at the shop and brought their other car, a Mazda Miata.
At the two-hour mark, the team was second in E2, behind Team Basic in a BMW E46. However, by hour three, Team ZJS Racing had taken the E2 lead, with both teams on the same lap 73 laps in. By the fourth hour, Team Basic had dropped out and ZJS Racing was first in class and fourth overall, where they finished. One step off the overall podium in a five-hour enduro — in a Mazda Miata. Unheard of.
“Our backup car, which is the old faithful, we call it Sparky, that’s the one that we brought here,” said driver Scott Mann. “We didn’t expect to do particularly well. We quite frankly, because of Zach’s driving and a little bit of wheeling myself, we actually did a really, really great job. The car was phenomenal. The track was good, and for all intents purposes, when you bring your B car and you’re holding a trophy, that’s a good day.”
As the only car racing in E3, Team Indotech didn’t have any competition, but they still had to run the race, which is exactly what they did, logging 117 laps during the five hours and using the race to get some of their drivers up to speed.
“We live for these night events at Buttonwillow. Luckily it rained recently, so we don’t have the dust clouds that usually make it a little more exciting,” said driver Therese Lalouh. “So we kept the excitement level a little more down, you know, especially with the smaller fields. So, we were able to just keep composure and really develop one of our drivers. So that was a great opportunity to take a provisional guy, just give him two hours in the car, nice relaxed setting, and really get him familiar with the car and the track. So, it was just a good development opportunity for us.”
Team Rangers also ran unopposed in ES and took first in class.