Another year is coming to an end, but of course no racing season would be complete without spending 25 cold hours chasing race cars around the three mile course that is Thunderhill Raceway. The Ehret Porsche GT3 team would be return to defend its title, and the Rotek Audi TT team was returned, determined to give it another go after retiring last year before it was even nighttime. The biggest hype surrounded GMG’s entry to the race. An ever-present threat in World Challenge, James Sofronas and the crew decided to pit their R8’s against Thunderhill’s unforgiving December brutality.
The scene on Saturday morning was eerie to say the least. It had rained on Friday and there was still plenty of moisture in the air. Fog is the only kind of weather that can stop the race so everyone was relieved when it lifted just a few hours before the green flag was scheduled to drop.
I took the pre-race grid festivities as an opportunity to practice flying my helicopter. I definitely need to get a few extra batteries.
The Ehret Porsche was off to a good start. Many people wondered if this dynasty would ever end.
The clouds during the early part of the race were pretty spectacular, backlit by the sun.
Did I mention the clouds?
The prototypes are always fast, but they rarely last long enough to win the race. For a while it seemed like Team Quick Racing Products might do it, but they had to retire sometime early Sunday morning.
GMG had crashed the #8 R8 during Friday practice, but they flew replacement parts up from Orange County and worked on the car all night to make it to the green flag in time. On Saturday it seemed like nothing had even happened.
Those clouds though.
GMG started from the back of the pack but quickly ran up to P6 and then P4, where they then just had to catch the Rotek TT.
Sunset at Thunderhill usually isn’t too spectacular, owing the the mountains blocking the western horizon. The clouds were just right to catch some rays though, and that almost made it look like fire in the sky.
The gathering darkness meant it was time for some long exposure shots. Delicious.
Back in the paddock, we walked around looking for cool stuff happening. There was plenty of car-fixing going on.
On their second lap, the GTM caught on fire and had to be towed back to the paddock. The fire turned out to have been caused by a fuel fitting popping off one of the fuel rails, something I’ve actually seen happen before on a different LS engine.
The team pulled the LS3 and went and got an LS1 to replace it with, which meant replacing the computer and a lot of the wiring too. They also had to replace anything plastic in the engine bay.
Pit stops are always fun to watch too. It’s not Formula 1, but they still go as fast as they can.
Night time meant timelapse star trails time. I climbed up the water tower hill as usual, set up my camera, and got in my sleeping bag to wait it out. I checked my phone to see what time I was starting. 12:00. Then my phone died so I wouldn’t be able to know how long I’d been up there and I wouldn’t have an alarm to wake me up either. Luckily it was about 15˚ up there so I didn’t have much trouble waking up to listen if the shutter was still going. Finally I woke up and the camera battery had died, so I packed everything up and hiked back down the hill to find Joe and Alex asleep in the Blastfinder with the doors locked and the engine running. Well, I’m glad someone had a good sleep. I finally found someone who knew what time it was. Almost 4am, awesome. The final image is comprised of 347 exposures, shot over a span of three hours and 11 minutes.
Two hours later it was time to get ready for some sunrise shots. For a while it looked like the heavy clouds would block anything good.
But it was still good!
Dawn is a troubling time for many drivers. After the monotony of night racing, the growing daylight signals that the race is nearing its end. With the sun breaking the horizon at 7:20, it was only another four hours and forty minutes til the checkered flag would start waving.
With Team Quick Racing Products and the Ehret Porsche both retiring in the night, suddenly GMG was in second. They were slowly whittling away at Rotek’s lead but it didn’t look like there’d be enough time to catch the TT.
Meanwhile, the TT was running as strong as ever.
Could this be their year to win at Thunderhill?
In the last half hour or so, the GTM finally came back out, but GMG had a nearly catastrophic transmission oil pump failure. The car was undrivable, so they had to wait until the last lap and then push the car across the finish line. They ended up 4th overall and 3rd in ES. P2 in ES went to Barret Racing, with Rotek pulling off that elusive win.
It’s no small feat to go from DNF their first year to the overall win their second year. I’m sure everyone involved with the team was very proud.
instagram: @lifeblasters, @andrew_bohan