What a weekend!!! We were invited to pit crew for Team Lotus Cup USA - PB Racing at NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Before I write about our experience, here are some facts about the race:
- Race was 11am Saturday, December 3 until 12pm Sunday, December 4.
- 66 Entries. We had 1 car out there: Lotus Elise Cup PB-R.
- 7 classes. We raced in E0 class amongst a 350Z, 370Z, 818 RSR, M3, and a 325i.
- Our team had 5 drivers, 2 of which were from Italy.
- Our crew had 7 mechanics, 3 of which only spoke Italian. 2 Fuelers, 1 Person with Fire Extinguisher, 1 English-speaker to communicate via radio to drivers and 1 Italian-speaker.
- Our best time during the race was 1:55.178, but during qualifying, we got some 1:53s in there.
- Qualifying: 2nd in class, 17th overall.
- Race: 4th in class, 36th overall.
- Most of us slept in hotels but we also had a 40' RV for making food/snacks, napping, bathroom, meetings, and for periodic warmth (it was pretty cold!).
Day 1: Testing
Trackspec crew drove to Thunderhill right after work on Wednesday (we closed the shop Thurs/Fri) and went straight to our hotel rooms in Willows, CA. Thursday morning, we arrived at the track.
We met the whole team. PB Racing is a shop in Italy and also official Lotus dealer. They shipped the Lotus Elise Cup PB-R to the states, along with some of their crew. Our main driver was Stefano d'Aste from PB Racing. We were honored to work with Stefano. His energy and enthusiasm is on another level and his knowledge was impressive. They also brought along Lorenzo Pegoraro to drive. Both were getting extremely fast times, despite just learning the track. The expertise of their mechanics was very impressive as well. Carlo Corti lead the pack and was supported by Luca Altieri and Andrea Padula.
On the American side, we had three talented drivers: Robbie Montinola, Derek Wang, and Greg Vannucci. During pit stops, our fuelers were Aidan Spraic and our very own Son Vo. Our other mechanic, Grace Hair, stood by with the fire extinguisher. Jon was assigned to communicate via radio with our American drivers, while Carlo communicated with the Italian drivers. I (Victoria) was assigned to time and coordinate the drivers, keep an eye on other teams' pit stops and times, look out for flags, and text driver changes to NASA.
We spent the night practicing fueling. Several different methods were approached, all with one thing in mind: how to minimize time spent in the hot pits. It was like the Baja 500 Challenge Son and Jon did at SEMA all over again.
Day 2: Practice & Qualifying
The first half of Friday was spent practicing, learning the track, and doing last minute adjustments to the car.
Weighing the car on-track
Practice, Practice, Practice
We had some radio issues throughout the weekend. Some drivers could hear us but we couldn't hear them. Other drivers could hear us only every now and then. When this happened, the crew had to try to flag the drivers down.
We were first in class for majority of qualifying, with 1:53.979. But then, Team Valkyrie with their 350Z, came in with a 1:53.737. End result was 2nd place in class, 17th place overall.
Day 3: Race Day(s)!
The race started on Saturday 11am and lasted until Sunday 12pm. I don't think I really thought about how long 25 hours really is until it was actually happening. Looking back now, it was kind of a blur.
It was time to get all the cars on the grid! My heart started pounding as the start of the race approached. The racetrack felt so alive today. Energy was through the roof. Everyone was antsy and excited at the same time.
11am Saturday - Start of the Race
Our drivers drove single stints (1 tank of fuel) in the beginning. So as soon as they had to come in for gas, we did a driver change. Frequent pit stops made it difficult for supporting crew to get a good long rest.
We got off to a good start. We started 2nd in class and maintained this position for a long time. Some 'minor' mistakes were made due to miscommunication between crew and drivers and this caused us to lose our position and fall to P3.
The beginning of the race was exciting. I didn't know whether to take photos or videos, and use my phone or my camera. So I'm glad our talented friend/photographer, Trevor Ryan, came by and was able to capture some of the action. He did so beautifully, as always.
Sunday - Last half of the race
Sunrise at the racetrack was beautiful!
For the last half of the race, our drivers drove double stints. So when they needed to come in for gas, they'd just stay in the car while it was refueled and serviced, as needed. Because there were five drivers on our team, they were able to get a good night's rest!
Final moments of the race
Our car ran great for majority of the race. Not only were we P3, but we were P3 with 38 laps ahead of P4. Other than the expected physical beating our car was taking and the battle wounds that started to appear, there were no mechanical issues. However, 22 hours into it, something happened which caused our little Lotus to go out of commission...not completely but definitely enough to prevent us from continuing. With the little time left, there was no way our team could've fixed it. When we realized this, the atmosphere at our camp felt a little down.
With our Lotus just sitting there in the pits, we started to watch the P4 car (325i) catch up and then it happened: they got to P3. After they got a couple laps ahead of us, they stopped driving. Not sure if that was all strategy or if their car was just barely surviving as well. With both cars pitted, we were only 8 laps behind and there wasn't much anyone could do.
BUT THEN, during the last hour, we decided to make a run for it. Stefano came out of the RV, gearing up, and got into the car. This was exciting! That small ounce of hope that we could take 3rd really got my adrenaline going again. Deep down inside, we were all hoping the other team wasn't paying attention. Maybe they were already celebrating...wouldn't that have been one hell of an ending! Our little red car, falling apart, windshield cracked, clam all duck taped together, random holes, and stickers with missing letters....went out on the track for one last push.
We only had 9 laps to get P3......but sadly, the other team was definitely paying attention (lol). They were back out probably 3 minutes after us. Darn! It just didn't happen for us. Their car withstood the end of the battle and we just couldn't get any more out of ours.
12pm Sunday - End of the race
Endings are always a little emotional. It takes a lot of work from everyone involved to participate in an endurance race like this. First in our class was taken by Team Valkyrie in the 350Z, and they were pretty much in the lead majority of the race. Second place was Rearden Racing's 370Z. Third place was taken by El Diablo's 325i, because well, they were paying attention! Good job to all the teams!
This race has taught us a couple things.
- It's not just about fast cars and fast drivers. It takes an entire army of people who are ready and willing to support each other just to finish a race like this.
- There are a lot to strategize: methods of fueling, pit stops, driver changes, paying attention to what your competition is doing, making sure all the rules are followed, what to do with colored flags, etc.
- Never give up. As you can see, we were in 3rd place until the 22nd hour. The car behind us needed 38 laps to catch us, which seemed like a lot...until our car broke! Anything could happen in an extreme endurance race like this! It's an intense mixture of strategy, skill, and luck. Just finishing is in itself a huge accomplishment. There were many cars that weren't able to cross the finish line, so at least we got that! ;) Watch out for us next year!
Please also see Trevor Ryan's Blog.