The 25 Hours of Thunderhill

After an amazing year chasing the Palomar Racing ST5/E2 Challenge. The first weekend of December brings us to The 25 Hours of Thunderhill, the final event of the 2022 Season and the chance to finish a dream season with an unheard of achievement in NASA. Just as at Nationals, Palomar Racing was no longer unknown, we were again the team to beat in class E2 though we knew our challenge was not only the 25 hours and the predicted rain we would have to endure, but also racing the Moorewood Creative team who had won the race the last 2 years. We had prepped both cars as best we could. Bimmerspeed was brought in to provide mechanical services and support in an event they were very familiar with and we built a team of drivers that was bar none the class of the paddock. In the 24 car, we had Matt and Nik joined by Sonny Watanasirisuk, Lucas Weisenberg and Elliot Skeer. In the 25 car, we had Nik and Matt joined by Ryan Keeley, Ryan Bittner, Andrew Gardner. Both cars are favorites for the top spots of the podium. It cant be missed that our 2 primary drivers were scheduled from the start to be a part of the lineup for both cars.

But first we have to get the cars, spares, tires and team to the track 600 miles north of our shop. A 25 hour race for 2 cars requires a lot of spares and tires. We effectively had a 3rd car in parts from engines and transmissions to suspensions, brakes and everything else possible. Not to mention the more than 40 APEX wheels and 70+ TOYO tires. So our hauler is loaded to the gills and then we load up a second trailer with the tires and bridge, that’s right for Thunderhill you must build a bridge to cross the river between your paddock space and pit lane. This year we were prepared and our roofing crew prebuilt the 12’ wide x 14’ long bridge. Tuesday evening we began the trip north, unfortunately the second trailer had other plans and decided to not make the trip by shedding its wheel studs on one axle, never fear Mike managed to locate a Uhaul box truck at 7pm and we were reloaded and back on the road just after 8. We arrived at the track Wednesday and began the process of setting up our home for the next week. Before dinner we had the bridge built, the canopies erected and cars and tires in place ready for practice Thursday.

Thursday arrived as did a monsoonal storm leaving our paddock almost 5 inches deep in water. The morning consisted of draining lake Palomar rather than the planned on track practice for our drivers. We did eventually get some track time but nowhere near as planned, during a session we discover the 24 has a transmission issue. The boys at Bimmerspeed got busy and swapped in one of our spares as well as a new clutch and a call was made to our friends at La Jolla Independent to source the parts needed to repair the trans that came out so it could serve as the spare for the race if needed. After a raucous team dinner at the cantina all tried to get rest for the coming weekend.

Friday came and practice ensued. The team was excited and our speed on track was evident to all on the team, the cars definitely had their pace needed. Hopefully they would have the longevity as well. On the first lap of qualifying Matt came on the radio quite excited, as he brought the car to the paddock we understood his unintelligible radio call, the shifter was no longer attached to the transmission.

Again the Bimmerspeed team jumped into acton and 5 minutes later with the shift linkage replaced Matt was back on track.

Matt was back on track and after a couple warm up laps he laid down the fastest lap of the day in E2 with a 1:56.9. We would start on the pole in our class as planned. Nik’s job was to go out and put down a good lap as soon as possible and then bring in the car so that Andrew Gardner would get a chance to test in it for the first time of the weekend. Nik’s lap of 1:58.1 did just that and had the Palomar and Moorewood cars on the front 2 rows of the E2 grid.

The race started in the rain, the track was wet but not so much that we felt safe on our full wets so we elected to go with grooved toyo RR’s. Traction was low and visibility even lower, tricky doesn’t effectively describe the conditions as Nik and Matt began the race. The drivers asked for help as they were having difficulty over the blind crest. Mike Anderson bundled up and headed to the top of the hill to help guide the drivers through the blind sections at the back of the track. He would spend most of the race there, guiding the teams through the wet, the dark and then the fog. At the end of the epic first stint by Matt and Nik, the 24 was in the lead by 2 laps with the 25 second in class over the Moorewood cars. Everything is going per plan until Matt comes in to turn over the car to Elliot after 4 hours in the car, the transmission won’t reengage. After much thrashing, Bimmerspeed changed the transmission and clutch again, but it cost us precious time. The car rejoined the race with Elliot behind the wheel, but the 24 was effectively out of contention almost 40 laps down, we were in second to last place on track but it’s a long race with more than 20 hours remaining.

The tricky conditions were taking a toll and at hour 6 the 25 had fallen to 3 laps down behind the Moorewood team. The decision was made to swap drivers as the 25 was now our primary chance at a win. Through the night our drivers began to chip away at the deficit and by 5AM when the fog brought out the red flag we were back on the lead lap, but was something wrong? After the cars were parked and we were discussing the car with Elliot who had just put in an amazing 3 stint performance it was clear that the 25 was not as healthy as we had thought, the engine was rapidly losing power.

After a 4 hour delay for fog, the race went green again at 9:30AM. Sonny was behind the wheel of the 25 and his reports were not good, we were definitely in for a challenge to finish the remaining 6 hours. Lucas went in for a stint and concurred, the car was in trouble, but we still had the pace with our drivers to possibly keep 2nd place if the car could make it to the end. Next in was Matt to bring the car to the finish, but would the engine let him get there? Two hours into his final stint the car was struggling, he had fallen from a 2:04 pace to a 2:30 pace with an hour to go. There was even a lap done 1 handed with turn to turn commentary as the car was able to negotiate the circuit with the throttle wide open. Entertaining as it was, this was not good news. As fate would have it Nik was now in the 24, the Palomar drivers who had brought this team from unknowns to the team to beat were where they belonged, in the cars to finish the race. With Nik behind the wheel In hour 25, he was pulling in amazing laps and the car was now in 13th overall, they had made up close to 20 laps from where it had reentered the race in 28th after the transmission failure. There was no doubt this car was the class of the E2 field and to prove it Nik set the fast lap of the race on worn out tires in the 25th hour of the race, not only in E2 but he was faster than the E0 and E1 classes as well. What a finish it would be, forever to be known as “The Push”. The radio chatter was priceless with more than 40 minutes to go…

Blair: Nik we need your help.

Nik: Whats up?

Blair: 25 is losing the motor.

Nik: Ok?

Blair: We need you to push him

Andy: Matt, get ready, Nik is coming up behind you

Matt: What? Is this legal?

Nik: Wait you’re serious?

Andy: Yes, you are going to finish this race

Blair: Yes, Push him to the finish…

Nik’s fastest lap of 2:02 was done on lap 511, for the next 17 laps he pushed the 25 car at an average of 2:22. Despite the increase in pace, we were losing 15 seconds a lap to Moorewood’s black car. Did we had a chance? Maybe, no one knows when the checkered will fly.

Well, it almost worked, but a couple laps before the checkered flag flew the 73 car passed us for 2nd place. We finished our first 25 Hours of Thunderhill a respectable 3rd in class. The Palomar cars both finished and the heroic effort by the team will be remembered by all who were there. The course workers were cheering us on from their flag stations, the PA announcer was without words as he described the push from the team cars, even the Moorewood team was on the wall cheering us on even as they were still chasing us for 2nd place.

In the end, the motor in the 25 didn’t have enough left to even make it to pit road, it was pushed onto the pit lane by the 24. After 560 grueling laps the 25 had raced for 1680 miles and the 24 had gone for 1584 miles. Did we win, no, but we had given it everything we had and everyone at the 2022 race will remember we were there.

On the team we had David Martinez, Manny Hernandez, Grant Conley, Ryan Lindsley, Kevin Desirello, Mike Anderson,
David Morton, Dawson Morton, Pete Bush, Mark Farmer, Brad Austn, Ryan Bittner, Andrew Gardner, Ryan Keeley, Sonny
Watanasirisuk, Elliot Skeer, Lucas Weisenberg, Matt Million, Nik Romano, Blair Geil and Dwight “Andy” Anderson.

Thunder Hill Team

Thanks to our Partners for their support

Actively seeking partners in addition to our primary Palomar Solar & Roofing.

Palomar Solar and Roofing
Apex Wheels
Palomar Solar and Roofing
Palomar Solar and Roofing
Palomar Solar and Roofing
Apex Wheels
Fast Sideways
Palomar Solar and Roofing
Toyo Tires Motorsport
Palomar Solar and Roofing
Apex Wheels
Frozen Rotors
Palomar Solar and Roofing