A podium at one of North America’s most prestigious endurance races means quite a lot. It draws the presence of major manufacturers, the participation of international professionals like Johannes Van Overbeek, Pippa Mann, and Wolf Henzler, and grants the winner the admiration of both professional and amateur racers across the nation. With so much riding on the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, we’ve decided to stick our necks out and take a (semi-educated) guess at who will stand atop the podium.
We’re feeling confident in our cars. The GT-R’s AWD should offer us an advantage in the rain, and the 370Z’s Motec traction control and Bosch ABS should help us extend its tire life as long as possible. — Brian Lock, Valkyrie Autosport
For this year’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill, quite a few familiar faces will be returning, and some of them will be sporting even more firepower this time around. Of that group, and the likely winners of this year’s E0 class, are Valkyrie Autosport. Team owner and lead driver, Brian Lock, is a regular entrant in the 25 Hours and even managed to win it two years ago in his 350Z. This year, he’s campaigned a two-car effort: both his 370Z — a Porsche Cup Car-beater — and his newest creation: an R35 GT-R — both of which will run in E0.
The Toyo Tires-sponsored heavyweight will one day compete in ES, but for this outing, it’s been shackled slightly to run in E0. Fighting against Honda-backed Civic Type Rs and well-tuned BMW M3s, the team will have its work cut out for it. However, the four-wheel drive platform should help with the predicted rain and the off-line driving that is part of every lap in this fraught, multi-class melee.
“We’re feeling confident in our cars. The GT-R’s AWD should offer us an advantage in the rain, and the 370Z’s Motec traction control and Bosch ABS should help us extend its tire life as long as possible,” Lock remarks. These technological advantages might help Valkyrie beat another of the class favorites: El Diablo Motorsports and its successful E36 M3.
Another one of the more interesting entrants in the E0 class is the Civic Type R. In fact, Team Honda Research West (THRW) is entering two of these cars fitted with HPD dampers, an HPD differential, and Progress Group swaybars. Only benefiting from a few bolt-on modifications, these are stripped-down versions of the off-the-shelf car. “[THRW is] trying to show that the Civic Type R is a streetable race car, or a race-able street car — whichever you prefer,” says Lawrence Hwang, Design Technical Expert at Honda R&D Americas.
This year, the car has been focused even more for the grueling event. With BF Goodrich R1 tires, Pagid RSL-1 pads, some chassis stiffening from Spoon, and even more power from a few engine modifications, the 2,650-pound Civics will be very competitive. In addition, Honda Performance Division will be entering one of their Civic Si turnkey racers in E1.
As far as the fastest tin-tops are concerned, there are a few major contenders vying for supremacy. Among them will be a new Chevy Camaro, a classic BMW E46 M3 GTR, a Factory Five GTM, and a former-ALMS Porsche GT3RSR Cup car from Toyo Tires/Flying Lizard Motorsport.
However, the brightest standout from this year’s entrants is undoubtedly the Ford Mustang FP350S from Ford Performance Racing School. A turn-key racer designed for Trans Am’s TA3 class, this car will enjoy major manufacturer backing and no shortage of driving talent picked from their Utah-based racing school. Additionally, with 530-horsepower the Michelin slick-shod monster should be able to elbow its way to the front of the ES pack, though they’ll have a hard time running with the Toyo Tires/Flying Lizard Motorsport Porsche GT3 Cup.
The Pony car will have plenty of work to do — especially considering it’s twice the size of the Radicals, Normas, and Praga prototypes in ESR. Yet, as attrition plays a major role at long-distance events like this, there’s a chance the featherweights may not handle the abuse that multi-class racing entails with much larger, fendered, arguably more robust opposition. After all, visibility is an issue here — especially as the sun sets. Let’s hope the petite prototypes are able to fill the mirrors of the bigger cars as they pass or are passed.
Of the returning cars in this class, both One Motorsports and Norma’s Last Chance stand a good shot at winning. Running a Radical SR3 and a Norma F20C respectively, both teams have experience and similar lap times. The victor will be determined by who’s able to negotiate traffic and execute pit stops cleanly and quickly.
The lone entrant in this year’s GTChallenge category: the Jester & Babbitt Motorsport/Flying Lizard Motorsports/Toyo Tires Audi R8 GT4. Perhaps this appearance is little more than a very long test for their GT efforts elsewhere. In any event, they’ll still have their work cut out for them scything through a pack of 47 cars.
We’ll see how accurate these predictions are in the next couple weeks. I’ve never been called a clairvoyant before, so if my forecast is far off, I’ll try to redeem myself with an in-depth feature in which I shadow one of the top E0 teams. Stay tuned.
For more on this year’s entrants, you can see the full list here.