The 2022 schedule for the Western Endurance Racing Championship was a little late in coming out, but it was worth the wait.
There are six events for 2022, only one of which is a three-hour event. This year’s WERC calendar includes events in the following hour lengths: 3.5, 3, 4, 6, 6.5 and 5. The first event of the season took place at Willow Springs International Raceway, “The Fastest Road in the West.” It was scheduled for 3.5 hours, but a late start and an early finish cut it a bit short.
One critical point for teams starting enduros at Willow Springs in the late afternoon during winter is surviving sunset. As the sun dips near the horizon, it essentially blinds drivers as they round turns 1, 2 and 9, three of the four fastest turns on the track.
“The worst is turning into 2, because you can’t see the turn-in at all. So you’re like, ‘Where’s the turn-in point? I can’t see,’” said Team BMW Z4 driver Dean Mansour. “There were probably about five laps where it was just really bad, and you just guess where it is and then correct once you’re in.”
Once darkness fell, teams settled into a rhythm and ran the race with no major yellows, a few dust clouds from offs, and lots of tire degradation. Here’s how the racing in each class unfolded.
Team Lang Racing Development had a 2021 season that started out a bit bumpy, but finished on a high note, with class and overall wins at Buttonwillow and the last round at Thunderhill in November. The team’s Honda K20-powered Norma chassis always had plenty of pace, but reliability had eluded them.
“It’s work to keep that car together,” said driver and team owner Andrew Lang. “It’s a lot harder than the BMWs and Porsches that we also support, but it’s worth it when it works.”
For 2022, the team is starting out the way it finished the previous season. Team Lang Racing Development started from second on grid and took the lead shortly thereafter. By the end of the first hour of racing, they were up by three laps, a lead they increased to four laps by the end of hour three, and at the finish, they maintained that four-lap lead over Team InterMedia Racing.
“Over the winter, we rebuilt that Honda K20. This time we did it ourselves instead of sending it out, and we learned a little bit about it. Seems like the engine is running great,” Lang said. “We’re turning our best times here at Willow Springs that we’ve ever done. Yesterday, we ran a 1:17.7, which is my best by far. We were just cruising. We put the car in P1 on the third lap. We just had to do one fuel stop. We’ve got that 20-gallon fuel cell, so we can do about two hours.”
Team InterMedia Racing finished second, with Team PMG Awareness in third. That was also the order of the overall podium at Willow Springs.
Team Chill Motorsports by Strom’s 2019 Porsche Cayman GT4 posted a qualifying time quick enough to start from eighth on grid, second in ES behind Team PREMAT in a 2018 Audi R8.
Contact early on in the middle of Turn 2 meant Team Chill would have to pit to change a front tire, and by the end of the first hour, Team PREMAT was first in class and Team Chill Motorsports by Strom was in second, six spots back overall, but still on the same lap. By hour two, Team Chill Motorsports by Strom had caught back up and was back on the bumper of Team PREMAT. By hour three, Team Chill Motorsports by Strom had the class lead and was fourth overall, a spot it would hold till the finish.
“Pit stops I thought were really flawless. You know, we have a strong team. They practice the pit stops. They practice everything, and that’s what it takes to be a winning team, for sure,” said driver and team owner Chris Hill. “We recovered from that little incident out there, so first in class is good. It’s not an overall like last year, which is pretty rare for that little car.”
Team PREMAT finished second in ES, with Team Lang Racing Development – a different car from the ESR and overall winner – finished third.
Team BMW Z4 driver Dean Mansour typically drives three-hour enduros all on his own, pulling “iron man” duty and driving the whole race. After the Willow Springs event, we know he’s up for 3.5-hour events, so the four-, five-, six- and six-and-a-half-hour events are going to be interesting.
Team BMW Z4 qualified in 10th overall and first in E0, a class in which there were two cars.
By the end of the first hour, Team BMW Z4 had improved his position to eighth overall, and had advanced to seventh overall by the end of hour two. Faster class cars pitting might have helped because by hour three, Team BMW Z4 maintained the class lead it had held all along, but dropped to ninth. At the finish, Team BMW Z4 took the class win and finished 11th overall, despite having to make an unplanned stop to change tires.
“The track is back to being the cheese grater it used to be, and it was going through my tires like anything, so the last hour I had no tire and had to put on a couple of spares, and they weren’t much better, so it was quite challenging for the last hour or so. It was a fun race,” said driver Dean Mansour. “In the beginning, I think I was pretty competitive. The end was just survival.”
Team AR-G Motorsports finished second in E0.
In all forms of racing, the action most spectators see is on the track, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story, which was the case with Team Evoq Motorsport. A spin in practice by driver Mike Donick took out the car’s splitter, oil cooler and lines and the power steering pump. The team got to work putting the car back together, but they had so much work to do, the team didn’t even post a qualifying time.
With five minutes before the race was to begin, Team Evoq got the car out to the grid where they had to start from the back.
By the end of the first hour, they were second in class behind Team Hemisphere Endurance, and seventh overall. By hour two, Team Edge Motorworks No. 37 had taken the class lead and fourth overall, two spots up on Team Evoq Motorsports. When the clock hit the three-hour mark, Team Evoq Motorsports had the E1 class lead and sixth overall, and when the checkers flew, it had advanced to fifth overall and secured the E1 class win.
“Everybody worked their ass off. Eric Davis drove the first two stints and absolutely killed it. It was a close race till the last 45 minutes,” Donick said. “We were within 5 seconds of the lead, for most of the race. Then we took the lead when other people had some problems. It was fantastic.”
When it comes to racing in E2, you are going to have plenty of competition. E2 is often the largest and most competitive class in WERC racing, and at six cars, it was the second largest behind E1, with seven.
Team Palomar Racing qualified in P1 in front of E2 standout Team MooreWood Creative, which took first and second at the 2021 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance.
MooreWood trailed Palomar at the end of the first hour, but by hour two, MooreWood had advanced to first and had a one-lap lead over Palomar. A slow tire change during Palomar’s first pit stop might have contributed to it dropping down the order, which remained till hour three, with MooreWood still one lap up on Palomar and holding the class lead. But when the checkers flew, it was Team Palomar Racing with the E2 class win and sixth overall. Team MooreWood Creative finished second and Team HQ Autosport was third.
“We were together, racing hard with about 30 minutes to go and ultimately I got into the lead from a mistake from the MooreWood car,” said driver Matt Million, a former Teen Mazda Challenge driver. “I believe they had to change a tire at the end, and we kind of inherited the lead based on that, but I’m super excited because this is huge for this program, so early in development for Team Palomar Racing in our NASA WERC program and we’re super excited to be here. I want to thank Andy Anderson and Nik Romano for bringing me into this program, and I’m really excited to see where it goes.”
For all of 2021, Team Thundercock was the team to beat in E3S. Still is.
Team Black Swan Search also campaigns a Spec E30, but couldn’t match the pace of Team Thundercock. The only two teams in E3S ran one-two for 61 laps when Black Swan had mechanical problems and dropped out.
Eight laps later, Team Thundercock Racing suffered a suspension failure, bringing out the race’s only full-course yellow. The team repaired the car before the race was over, but didn’t have enough time to go back out.
“The control arm ball joint literally snapped in half and the control arm came off, pushed the tire back into the fender and it had no steering, no drive, no nothing,” said driver and team owner Andrew Clark. “We were about five minutes away from being able to get back on track and taking the checkers. But it didn’t happen. We still won, though.”
Team Black Swan search finished second in E3S.