This year I will be competing in the longest Endurance race in North America, the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill. The race is held the first weekend of December at Thunderhill Raceway just west of the town Willows, CA. Late in the year for Northern California, the race can bring a mix of weather and track conditions including clear sunshine, cold nights, rain and even dense fog that has previously stopped the race. I will be part of the CSR Performance Team in the Enduro version of the Spec Racer Ford Gen3, along with 3 other veteran Spec Racer Ford drivers. As we prepare for the race this coming weekend I thought back to the experience of my first Endurance race.
The 2015 Illgen Enduro
My first Endurance Race as a driver was a fantastic experience, one I enjoyed more than I thought I would going into it. My previous experience with Endurance racing had me helping out as a team member in the pits. Working in the pits meant car preparations to the start and then helping with the fire extinguisher, fueling, torquing lug nuts, cleaning the windows and general trackside support.
The Racing Drivers Club (RDC) Illgen Endurance race is a 4 hour event. I teamed up with fellow CSR Performance racer Rich Kenny and we ran tag team. The Spec Racer Ford can run approximately 1 hour at race speeds before needing refueling. We planed to alternate running 1 hour stints and trading off to complete the 4 hours. Prior to the race my longest sprint race was 35 minutes and I was a little nervous the night before. I wasn't sure how I would do with a full hour at speed.
The race started and there was a little shuffling of the field due to a difference in speed between some competitors. After a few laps the field had spread out and people were running their own race. An Endurance race is different from a sprint race, you are not trying to break lap records on every lap. Instead you are trying to pace yourself but keep up fast and consistent lap times. I wasn't sure how much to pace myself but managed to get into a groove and turn consistent laps close to my qualifying times.
We didn't have radios for this event so we used a pit board to communicate with the driver. I was surprised how quickly the hour mark came up. When you are driving and concentrating on your marks, laps and clean passes the time just seems to flyby. I got the pit board to come in at just the right time as I had a slight stutter cresting Turn 9 indicating I was running low on fuel.
I pulled into the pit grabbing my time slip on the way to begin our mandatory 5 minute stop. I pulled into the pits, got out of the car and handed the time slip to my partner. I let him know track conditions and where some people had recently put a few wheels off leaving debris on the track. Wished him good luck and watched him drive off for his stint.
Before the race I was worried about what I do about going to the bathroom. I like many others get a little nervous before and race. Watch any form of racing out there and you will see most drivers head to bathroom just before heading to grid. Surprisingly once you are off racing and so focused on passing cars and driving at the limit you have little time to think about going to the bathroom.
Before my next stint I headed to the bathroom, grabbed something to eat and drink and then sat and relaxed. I reflected on my lap times and where I think I could push the car more. I also found out that I push the pedals hard and tense my legs, this caused some minor cramping in my feat and legs. Between stints it is also a good idea to stretch and this helped me.
Heading into my second stint we checked the results and I was close to a few other teams and thanks to my partner had good lap times. I was more relaxed going into my second stint but I wanted to up my pace and improve my lap times. Throughout the stint I was able to increase my lap times and things were looking good. Then I made a mistake, a bad downshift, that caused me to spin. I lost a bunch of time. A momentary lapse of concentration is all it takes to have an issue. I got back on track quickly and got back down to business. Another pit board and slight stutter and it was time to pit again. After I finished the stint we were positioned well but it was clear we had lost some time from my spin.
My partner finished out the race. The last stint was slightly under 1 hour and went by quickly. The race was fantastic, we ended up 4th in class and 6th overall out of 23 starters. It was great experience, one I really enjoyed. Reflecting back I learnt a lot about myself and some of my on track faults such as over extending and pushing my legs harder than I need too. Endurance racing is fantastic for seat time, I got to do a lot of laps and improve my consistency. The difference in cars and speed meant there were lots of opportunities to practice race craft including setting up passes to minimize any time loss. If you haven't had the opportunity, I would highly recommend you try Endurance racing, it is a very different experience from a sprint race. You might even find that the Endurance racing experience helps you in sprint races.