One of the best things about endurance racing (compared to "sprint racing" like time-attack and short wheel-to-wheel road-racing) is that competing successfully involves more than just being faster than the other guy. It's called "endurance" racing not only because of what it demands of cars, but also of drivers, crew, team members, and fans/family. It also demands an enduring strategy of fuel efficiency, reliability, foresight, speed, luck, and resilience. Add all this up and many times the cars that come through most successfully in the end aren't the fastest, nor their teams the most well funded.
Fun fact: Only four times in the 13-year history of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill has the fastest car around the track also won the race. And once, in 2008, a lowly Mazda MX-5 won the race overall, despite being as much as 10 seconds per lap slower than other challengers—in a race in which that car logged 477 laps for the win. Needless to say: slow not-necessarily-fast and steady can win this race.
It should've come as no surprise this year when team THRW/Acura Motorsports announced that their two (nos. 27 and 28) 400-whp, supercharged, K24/VTEC-powered Acura ILXs would be competing for the overall win among GT2-class Porsche and Audi race machines, and a grip of very fast sports prototypes. Fuel-efficiency strategy: check. Foresight: check—this year's race was run largely in wet conditions, and the Acuras excelled in wet traction. Speed: check—clocking lap times as fast as 1:58.183 around the 3-mile, 15-turn circuit, their speed was faster than that MX-5 overall winner. Luck: a little—Award Motorsports' two-time race-winning Porsche GT3 Cup car (deemed a safe bet to win again this year) retired early, paving the way for mere mortal challengers. Reliability: Both cars ran strong for a time, but retired early with apparent failures in their stock 6-speed transmissions, almost certainly the weak links in these cars' setups. Resilience: yet to be seen. We'll be hoping these two challengers return with renewed resolve next year … along with a pair of straight-cut, dog-engagement, hardened steel gearboxes.
But what THRW lost with their Acura Motorsports effort, they recouped with their Honda Racing effort. Their largely factory-stock no. 42 eighth-gen Honda Civic nabbed third place in E1-class competition, ahead of a pack of BMW M3s and 330s and only 14 laps off the lead after a full 25 hours of racing. There's that fuel efficiency/reliability strategy for you.
A similar upset story occurred in E3 class, where Augersmiles.com/New York Rock Exchange's no. 7 DA Acura Integra stole second place from a pack of eight MX-5 Miatas, a mere five laps from the lead. Five laps. DA Integra. Bunch of "the best budget track cars in the world." Let how awesome that is sink in for a minute.
Also in E1 was a true Honda underdog challenger: the no. 92 EF Civic hatch of rbankracing.com. A midnight engine failure and subsequent swap (outside, in the rain, in near-freezing NorCal December temps) set it back a bit, but by race's end co-driver Mark Connolly was able to cross the line ahead of two Mazda MX-5s to take eighth in class. And he drove all the way from Pittsburgh, Pa. to do it.
But perhaps the most impressive Honda performance was also the most atypical to a lot of us: the no. 52 JFC Racing Wolf GB08MJ-K20, a near-open-wheel P1-class sports prototype made by Wolf Racing Cars, powered by a built Honda K20 VTEC engine. With driving legends Al Unser Jr., Ryan Eversley, Todd Harris, and Miles Wolf behind the wheel in this year's race, it clinched third in ESR-class (AKA "the fast class") and posted the third-fastest lap of the event, with a 1:41.819—faster than the first 35 race finishers. Reliability, strategy and pace might win this race … but sometimes you just want to go really, really fast. In a Honda.
Other notable performances were laid down by the no. 12 Honda Racing Fit and the no. 22 El Dorado Motorsports Honda Prelude, and you can see more from them and the rest of the Honda field at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in the gallery.