So you think you want to go racing. Two words: do it. Do it on a grand scale. Heck - throw caution and better judgment to the wind and enter the world's longest closed-circuit endurance sports car race. You won't need much more than a car (really, any car), some supplies, and a metric shitload of patience, perseverance, and resilience.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is an event sanctioned by the National Auto Sports Association (NASA), which means it's club racing (like the Sports Car Club of America - the SCCA) as opposed to professional racing (like IndyCar, F1, and the WRC, for example). The good thing is that it doesn't cost millions of dollars to go racing. The bad thing is that you won't find any sponsors to give you millions of dollars to go racing. It also means that, unlike the professional ranks' one or two classes per race, or their chassis/engine/tire mandates, there are classes for competitors of nearly any imaginable production, prototype, or formula car imaginable in NASA's national network of competition regions.
Also important to keep in mind is that the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is a standalone event, meaning you don't have to be champion or even regular competitor in any of NASA's regions. All you need is a recognized racing license (NASA, SCCA, FIA, etc.), the registration fee, and a car/pit crew/strategy that adheres to the rules posted on the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill website. And as luck would have it, the best way to get that racing license is through NASA's High-Performance Driver Education program (HPDE), which basically consists of fun track days and professional instruction.
Competing machines at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill are divided into seven classes that each groups together several typical NASA classes. This year's race saw dozens of production cars in various states of modification, GT-class race machines, racing prototypes in a wide range of chassis/engine configuration, and even a NASCAR Camaro.
Historically the biggest competition threats - GT-class Porsches and Audis - fall into the ES class at Thunderhill. Four of the top five finishers in this year's race came from the ES class, including the overall winner: Flying Lizard's no. 45 Audi R8 LMS. You might recognize these guys from Tudor competition and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) before that, where they podiumed in some part of every national championship from 2004 to 2011.
While more overall race winners have hailed from ES class, the fastest cars are typically in the ESR class, which can be thought of as a racing prototype class. The four fastest cars around the track this year were in ESR, lead by Davidson Racing's no. 17 BMW-powered Norma M20F, clocking a 1:39.937 around the three-mile, 15-turn circuit. Second-fastest, and qualifying in the front of the pack for the start of the race, was ONE Motorsports' no. 67 Radical SR3, clocking a 1:41.410 best lap. Flying Lizard's ES-class Audi R8 LMS' best: 1:44.167.
And that brings us to strategy. There are many ways to win an endurance race, but in any, balance is key. A good car should balance speed with fuel efficiency, power with reliability, and optimum dry-track grip with wet-track performance. Some of the fastest cars at Thunderhill this year couldn't take full advantage of their aero packages because they couldn't reach the necessary speeds once the rain started to fall. Some of the most powerful cars retired early due to mechanical failure. And some of the most reliable, fuel-efficient cars didn't place higher simply because they lacked power and speed.
In 2008, a lowly Mazda MX-5 Miata took the overall win at Thunderhill, against a barrage of prototype and GT-class entrants, and highly modified Porsches, BMWs and more, simply because it struck that balance where its competitors failed. History didn't repeat itself to that extent this year, but we did see some impressive underdog stories, beginning in the top five overall, where Stammer Inc./Bavarian Performance wedged their no. 06 BMW M3 in between a grip of prototype and GT-class cars to take Fourth in class and overall.
Similarly, among ESR-class' exotic prototypes was Jackson Racing/CRE/AIM's no. 10 CATFISH CRE-01R, which looks like a fiberglass ND Mazda MX-5 Miata body dropped over a tube frame, powered by a Rotrex-supercharged BP Miata engine. Despite a drastic disadvantage in terms of aero and power compared to its classmates, this little thing soldiered on with near flawless performance for 25 hours to steal second in class.
Traditionally known as "the Miata class" (although differently modified Miatas race in almost every class at Thunderhill), E3 saw Miatas account for eight of the 10 spots on this year's starting grid, and while one of them - RAMotorsports' no. 40 MX-5 Miata - took the class win, it was very nearly almost beaten by the only Integra in the race: Augersmiles.com/New York Rock Exchange's no. 7 DA Integra, which finished a mere five laps behind.
E2 class saw Team RDR - the recreational racing team of Mazda USA's VP Robert Davis - take the class win by 35 laps in their no. 34 Mazda RX-8, the only rotary-powered car in the field. E2 also saw the shortest performance of the race, by rbankracing.com's no. 84 Saab 9-3, which retired from competition in the first 45 minutes. Don't laugh, though. It won ChumpCar's insane 37-hour enduro last year, outright. It's a beast ... on some days.
E1 class (AKA "the BMW class") saw another Honda upset when the relatively stock, no. 42 eighth-gen Civic of THRW/Honda Racing crashed a party of five BMW M3s and 330s to take third in class. This team also competed a pair of supercharged, 400hp K24/VTEC Acura ILXs in ES class, but withdrew from competition early from what we hear was transmission failure. We'll be hoping to see more from this team in the future!
And in E0 class, BMWs swept the podium, led by El Diablo Motorsports and their no. 30 325, which logged 10- and 14-lap leads over its second and third-place competitors. E0 also saw two Nissan 370Zs and a 350Z compete, as well as four 2016 ND Mazda "Global MX-5 Cup" Miatas, entered by Mazda USA. All four of the new MX-5s technically finished, but two retired early and were limped back out of the pits for the last lap, also said to have been taken out by transmission failure.
Now, if you're looking through these results and seeing a way you and your project car might squeeze in and make life a little harder for the competition, and you're unafraid (or even sadistically encouraged!) at the prospect of racing for 25 straight hours mostly at night, and most likely in NorCal's near-freezing December rain, good - you're exactly who this race was made for! You'll find friends here. All that's left to do is get started, and flag us down when you arrive!