Words by- Mike Bonanni
Endurance racing; in my opinion, its by far the most challenging form of motorsports in every aspect. Its a challenge for the crew, for the drivers, and most of all for the car. The approach to building an endurance racing car is completely different than that of building any other form of race car. You have to build the car not only for speed, but fuel mileage, reliability, tire wear, and much more. In order to stand a chance at even completing a race like the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, you have to commit to start preparing for it a year in advance. We did just that.
To build a car that has to take the abuse of racing for 25 hours straight, it is absolutely critical to use the right components. You may be asking yourself at this point why we would then choose a company like BC Racing Suspension over another suspension company whose products have already been proven in 24 hour plus endurance races.
To me, it was the only choice that made sense. In all my years of racing I have driven and raced many cars with many brands of suspension. I have raced entire seasons with teams that were sponsored by other brands, brands that had proven track records in endurance racing. But on my own personal cars, and any race car that I have the freedom to choose the suspension on, I choose BC Racing Suspension because theyre the only ones that I have never experienced problems with. Even though to our knowledge BC Racing Suspension has never been run through a 24+ hour endurance race, I had 100% confidence that they couldand they did.
Our BC Racing ER Series coilovers after surviving 25 Hours of abuse. Aside from being filthy, you cant even tell!
In an effort to shorten what could probably be a novel length story, lets jump straight to the race. We showed up at Thunderhill Raceway on a Wednesday with a newly built E92 M3 to take on the highest level production car class in the race, the ES class. This class is typically laden with high level sports cars ranging from factory race cars like the Porsche GT3 Cup cars and Audi R8 Cup cars to wild highly modified twin engine MINI Coopers and everything in between. In the ES class, the only rules are that it has to be based off a production model car and it has to meet the minimum safety requirements. There are no performance based rules, no tire rules, it is true run-what-you-brung racing at the highest level.
Thursday was supposed to be our big testing and setup day. Up to this point we had done a mere 77 laps of testing with a completely brand new car and by the time we had shown up at the 25 Hour we were on a drastically different setup that what we had previously tested with. Add to that, none of our three drivers had ever been to Thunderhill Raceway before but we were confident that with two days of testing and setup ahead of us we would be as ready as anyone else. Mother Nature unfortunately had other plans dumping record setting rainfall on the area keeping the track closed for safety reasons the majority of the time. On Thursday, team principle Jordan Yost was the only one who got any seat time around the very wet Thunderhill Raceway.
Once we had our final setup for the race we marked everything that could possibly move on our coilovers so we could quickly and easily inspect and spot any potential problems during tire changes. As you can see, nothing moved during the entire 25 hours.
When Friday rolled around the primary focus was to get myself and Barry Yost in the drivers seat at least long enough to learn our way around the race track and do some continued tweaking on our rain setup. Both Barry and I got about 20 minutes each in the car to get familiar with the track before handing it back over to Jordan for night practice and qualifying. We spent the majority of night practice adjusting our lights as this was our first opportunity to test the car at speed in the dark. We spent the first few minutes of qualifying adjusting the lights as well and unfortunately that turned out to be a bad call as by the time we were ready to get out there and put in our best lap the skies had opened up.
Qualifying was without a doubt the craziest and most difficult conditions I had ever driven in. There rain was so heavy that all the lights did was completely white everything out. I couldnt see anything and with the amount of water on the track I am convinced that the only reason they didnt shut the track down was because it was qualifying. Jordan Yost
The interior of the Yost Autosport M3 is all about details like high visibility marks for the driver to re-align the quick release steering wheel during midnight driver changes. Theres a tremendous amount of thought that goes into an endurance racing build.
So long story short we started in the middle of the 56 car field come race time behind a host of slower cars that were lucky enough to get a lap in before the conditions got worse. The good news is that we had 25 hours to make up for our bad qualifying and many others in our class were caught out by the same situation.
To make things even more difficult we would be starting the race in the dry, a condition we hadnt seen the entire time we were there. Because of the now dry conditions we guessed on our setup for the car. In the end was it idealno but it was a good enough guess that we were still getting good enough tire wear and performance in the dry.
Our less than ideal starting position in the race led us to come up with an aggressive and untraditional strategy for the first part of the race in an effort to make up some early ground and put us in a good position before nightfall. Jordan was to start the race and put in a hard drive for the first hour to try and pick up as many positions as possible on speed alone before coming in after just one hour for a full service pit stop nearly two hours before most other teams would do the same.
Full service stops take the longest as youre changing tires, drivers, and filling with fuel and although an early full service stop would shuffle us way back in the pack we had our reasons. One, because we didnt have any setup time in the dry, pulling off a set of tires after one hour would give us some idea on what were seeing for tire wear. Two, it set us up for the part that would catch everyone off-guard.
I got in the car on that first early driver change on a new set of tires setting out with the intent to stretch tires and fuel as far as possible because I was going to be in the car for the next 5 hours. Our plan was to leapfrog teams in the pits, while they would be battling a busy pit lane doing their full service stops we would be out there turning laps coming into the pits for fuel only as needed. By the time I was getting out of the car we had climbed over 30 positions in the overall standings and we were now up to fifth in our class.
The best news was that we were going longer on fuel and tires than some of our other competitors so over the course of the next 19 hours we mathematically could have gotten to a second or third place finish in our class. The problem with endurance racing is that its completely unpredictable for all teams.
Me in the car for one of the fuel-only pit stops I would make during my 5 hour stint. Endurance racing is as much about strategy as it is outright speed.
I handed the car over to Barry Yost just as the sun began to set behind the rolling hills of Thunderhill Raceway. About an hour into his first stint we had our first small issue, an issue that would continue to haunt us for the remainder of the race. Over the radio Barry reported a vibration coming from the car and with 18 hours left in the race we brought him in on an unscheduled pit stop to find the source of our problem to be two broken wheel studs.
Repairing a broken wheel stud is a tedious process, but when you surround that wheel stud with 500+ degree brake rotors it becomes even more daunting a task. Regardless, we fixed the wheel studs and took the opportunity to fill Barry up with fuel since we were in the pits already.
Over the course of the night Barry and Jordan swapped driving duties every three hours while I rested assuming the role of Crew Chief. We broke and replaced 7 more wheel studs in the darkness of night and as the sun came up we had dropped down to sixth in class but 5th place still in reach.
Still in the light of the morning we were experiencing broken wheel studs and by our last driver change of the race we were up to a total of 10 that we had broken and replaced. Then something magical happened. We had been getting beaten down with broken wheel studs all night and all morning when the announcer came over the PA to announce that we had just one hour remaining. Then it hit us, we had completed 24 hours of racing, one of the hardest tasks in motorsports on our first attempt.
But this isnt the 24 Hours of Thunderhill, its the 25 Hour. With just a half hour to go we found ourselves in sixth place in our class, a respectable position for a first time team. Fifth place was a few laps ahead of us and 7th and 8th place were a few laps behind. All we had to do was take care of the car and cruise it around the track for just 30 more minutes when Barrys voice came over the radio: Hey guys, I have been trying to ignore it but weve got a bad vibration on the right front again and its been getting worse.
At this point we already knew we had broken more wheel studs and we faced the difficult decision to stay out there and risk it all or come back in to fix the issue. Having run for 24 and a half hours we werent about to risk not finishing the race, damaging the car, and putting our own and other drivers in danger if that wheel came off. When Barry came in we discovered we only had two wheel studs left on the right front, we had made the right call.
Now it was just a matter of getting the wheel studs replaced in time to get back on track for the checkered flag. Fortunately by this point our crew had plenty of practice and in about 15 minutes we were back on track to take the checkered flag. Unfortunately those 15 minutes in the pits dropped us down to 8th place in class where we would ultimately finish.
There are no words to describe the emotions felt as I watched our car cross the finish line after what we had all gone through the past 25 hours. There are teams who have been racing this race for 10 years who have never seen the checkered flag. One team started testing for this race the day after last years 25 Hour and he was the first car out. Its unbelievably hard to put in perspective what we accomplished our first year at this race and it all boils down to building a car that can take 25 hours of abuse and aside from our wheel studs, we made all of the right choices. Many of the parts on our car were prototype parts or parts that had never been put through this type of abuse and although we had a weak link in the wheel studs we never once had to go behind the pit wall for any major repairs.
For 25 hours straight our BC Racing Suspension remained consistent and 100% up to the task. Nothing on them moved, failed, or even showed us any sign of wear. We had faith that their products were up to the task, but now we can move from faith to proof and you can be sure that when our BMW M3 shows up to the 2015 25 Hours of Thunderhill it will have BC Racing Suspension on it.
Race Miles Completed: 1,558.7
Race laps competed: 545
Gallons of fuel: 320
Scheduled Pit Stops: 16
Toyo RR Tires used: 16
Number of broken wheel studs: 13
Crew: 6 (3 drivers, 3 pit crew)
Tire changes: 4
Brake pad changes: 1
Hours of Sleep: 0