This was, without a doubt, the best 25 Hours of Thunderhill I’ve been to. The stars must have aligned or something. Perfect weather, awesome cars, and hanging out with great people all made 2015 one to remember.
My first time shooting the race was in 2009 and I had no idea what was going on. I don’t even know where those photos are! In 2011 I saw the Ehret Porsche GT3 win it, beating out all the much cooler looking prototypes that broke, had reliability issues, or just weren’t as fast. I climbed the Water Tower Hill for a long exposure shot of the race at dusk that made it on the cover of the 2012 Thunderhill program.
Rotek Racing brought their Audi TT in 2012, but the car had issues and retired before the halfway point and the Ehret Porsche won again. This was also the year Joe and I got to fly around the track in a Cessna during qualifying. One of my aerial shots was used for the cover of the Thunderhill program in 2013.
In 2013, Rotek brought the TT back for another attempt at the win, but GMG thought bringing not one, but THREE Audi R8s would secure the victory for them. The 25 is a cruel race though, and one of the R8’s didn’t even run, one retired early, and the last one had issues late in the race and was pushed across the finish line by the crew just to avoid the DNF. Rotek won it all.
In 2013 I was also getting bored of sunny weather during the 25. As a December race, one would expect to at least have some interesting clouds, if not rain. Well, the weather report promised rain, and I was excited. However, the race was moved back one weekend so the NASA guys could go to the PRI show. It rained during the weekend the race was usually on, but not at all during the weekend the race was actually on. What a disappointment! It was very cold in 2013, and the temperature dropped to 15º as I slept on the Water Tower Hill during my three-hour timelapse.
California’s drought was significantly worse in 2014, but finally there was rain predicted for the 25 weekend! It came a day early though, dumping during the Friday qualifying session, while I was stuck at home not shooting anything. I did get to experience the epic mud left over from the rain, under cloudless skies. There were also no big pro teams in 2014, leaving the field open for Ehret to make another go at the win. They retired early with a blown transmission and Team Quick Racing Products held the lead deep in the night in their Superlite Coupe. That car also had problems and retired, leaving Davidson Racing to win the race in their Norma. I was excited that a prototype had held together long enough to win, but overall this was my least favorite year for many personal reasons.
Flying Lizard announced that they would be bringing an R8 to the 25 in 2015, fully intending on winning the race. Rotek and GMG had both failed their first attempts, so I wasn’t going to hold my breath on Flying Lizard either, even though they were most certainly going to be better equipped for this kind of race. Ryno Racing also brought out a Ginetta LMP3, which was the coolest looking car I’d ever seen at the 25. This was also the debut race of the all-new Élan NP01. No NP01 had run more than 40 minutes up to this point, so CLP Motorsports was taking a gamble by bringing TWO to the race.
There was heavy rain in the forecast, and I wasn’t going to take any chances this time. I picked up Geoff and we made our way up to Thunderhill with plenty of time before qualifying started. I’m 100% sure us being there caused it to not rain, otherwise it would have been just like 2014. I also got a new shirt from See See that was perfect for wearing at the race.
The qualifying sunset was colorful, which was nice just in case sunset during the race was not.
Saturday morning was overcast, which is always welcome. The light was soft for the pre-race grid walk and it was dark enough for the cars’ headlights to really show up during the start of the race.
After all the pomp and circumstance, the pace car got out of the way and the green flag dropped. For the next 25 hours the drone of race car engines would be filling the valleys and bouncing off the hills of Northern California.
Once the race was underway it was lunch time. If nobody crashed on the first couple laps and if the rain stayed away, there wouldn’t be much to see in the first few hours until the teams started doing pit stops.
Once the pit stops started and the light got dimmer, the clouds got thicker and the rain got closer. The sunset was extremely underwhelming, which made me happy I’d seen it during qualifying.
Ryno Racing’s Ginetta ran wide at the exit of Turn 15, dropped a wheel into the grass, and spun across the track and hit the pit wall. They bought the car back to the paddock to see if they could fix it and determined they could not. What a bummer for the best looking car!
Geoff and I stopped by the SP racing pit, looking for our buddy Will who was one of their drivers. The crew was busy with an engine swap in the #36 car, which goes to show you can never be too prepared for the 25!
By this time, Flying Lizard had taken over the lead.
With complete darkness finally falling upon the track and rain still a few hours away, it was dinner time! After filling ourselves with delicious comida Mexicana, we headed back to the track to get some wild night shots while we waited for the rain.
With 25 hours available for shooting, one can afford to experiment a little.
…Or a lot.
I unloaded my photos while Geoff laid down for a nap. After a few hours, Geoff was still sleeping so I wandered around the paddock. Some rain started to come down just before midnight, but it was just a tease. I hung out some more, found some friends, edited photos for an hour, had a snack, and then around 4am the skies finally opened up, dumping biblical amounts of rain onto the track!
I quickly grabbed my rain gear and headed out to see Thunderhill as I’d never seen it before!
It was amazing! Difficult but absolutely worth it!
I had waited so very long for rain during the 25, and I was extremely happy to get it on a year with plenty of cool cars on track.
Flying Lizard was in the lead and no one was gaining on them. If they maintained their pace they’d have an easy win. But it ain’t over til it’s over.
The forecast called for rain through the end of the race, which meant there was unlikely to be a stunning sunrise shot as in years past, but I wasn’t the least bit upset by that. All I wanted was more of this glorious rain!
Eventually the sky did start to lighten, adding another dimension to the misty spray and roostertails.
It just kept getting better and better.
Once it was fully light, it was breakfast time. The breakfast burritos at the Thunderhill Grill are by no means the best, but no 25 would be complete without one.
Geoff and I made our way through the pits one last time to see who was still around. It was heartbreaking to see the Ginetta under a tarp. It was the car I’d wanted to shoot the most. We then headed back on track to catch the end of the race. Geoff used to brag that he’d been to every 25 but had never seen the finish, until he accidentally saw the finish in 2011. Now he doesn’t care anymore.
I was excited to see most of the coolest cars still in the race. The NP01, Davidson’s Norma, the Praga, and the SLC kept coming by lap after lap.
And against all odds, the blue and white R8 of Flying Lizard took the checkered flag on Lap 690.
Before the race, I wasn’t all that confident they could get the win, but having watched it happen, I now can’t imagine it going any other way.