The longest sports car race in America is not the 24 hours of Daytona. It’s the 25 hours of Thunderhill, and two members of the Danrick Builders team enjoyed every minute last weekend.
Thunderhill is a nice little race course just north of Sacramento, famous for its annual 25-hour sports car race. They run five classes, most for vehicles based on production cars but some for all out race cars.
Our car was a 1987 Porsche 944. It was the oldest car in the field. Probably the cheapest, too.
So here is the quick and dirty on the weekend…
Our driver lineup included me, Danrick Project Manager Doug Nelson, Jim Cantrell, Shaun Coleman and Joe Catron. Barry Ellis, Kenny Scofield, Ken Sunshine and Paul Decal Kelly were our pit crew.
We practiced (well, some of us!) on Thursday and Friday. We had some mechanical issues with the car so we failed to qualify but that was probably a good thing in the long run. Since it’s a 25-hour race, where you start is purely academic although it does mean bragging rights for the fast guys (like two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr., former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta, NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge drivers like Ryan Eversley, Kyle Marcelli, Randy Pobst, Burt and Brian Frisselle, Mike Skeen, Colin Braun, etc.). Finish positions are determined by laps completed. Which meant staying out of the way of those fast guys.
We started the race on Saturday with no problems and had zero issues for the first few stints other than minor contact. I was in the car during a night shift, which was pretty interesting. Imagine only being able to see 30 feet in front of you with bright lights in your rear-view constantly. Then throw in the fact that there are none of the usual visual cues to help you with braking points, turn-in, and exit. THEN throw in never being on the racing line due to the other 57+ cars out there. And finally consider our lap times were slower than 3/4 of the field.
During my second stint Barry got a call on the radio about us dropping oil. I came in for a 30-minute repair and refuel and hit the road again. About an hour later another complaint about a fluid leak came in and I was forced to pit a second time. This time we were in for 45 minutes or so. Leaks fixed. Refuel and go again.
Other than a couple of short stops for fuel only or to check the car due to contact — yes, some of the fast guys used their chrome horns on us — we ran pretty clean. Since this was an endurance race we saved the car by shifting early (5,000 RPM!) and not revving the motor any more than we had to. The final two stints we ran a bit harder because the car was showing no signs of fatigue and we were able to catch two class competitors along the way.
Our strategy was a good one but it didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. The plan was to pit half as often as anyone else (conserve fuel and use a harder compound tire), run super safe and avoid any off-track stuff and contact and watch people blow up and/or crash to move the board. Normally that would have been be a good plan but our class (E2) was the gladiator group and every car except one finished the race.
70 cars registered, 58 took the start and we finished 39th overall.
If we didn’t have the engine troubles, we could have gotten to 35th or so at the end of the day. Everyone had a blast and the team was really happy with how it all turned out. We fared considerably better than most but my advice to anyone that wants to run this race and be competitive without spending a lot of money is simple: Get either a Miata or BMW E36. Those guys were really humping and few failed to finish for mechanical reasons. Our old 944 was a workhorse and cost us all of $20k. Bang for the buck, we got 1st place.
Thanks to everyone that supported us for this event. It was cold and not the most comfortable race but man, it sure was an unforgettable experience.
And just FYI, I don’t know if we’re going to host a twice-around-the-clock race at Attesa after its built but you can be sure we’ll run something similar for ‘the little guys’ who will never see Daytona or Le Mans.