In just the second attempt at competing in NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance, a NASA Elan NP01 won the Under 2.0 Liter Division, their class and finished 6th overall. The event, which is considered to be the most grueling endurance race in the world, is held each year in December at the three mile course in the rolling hills of Northern California.
The first showing of an NP01 was the prior year’s event and was the first ever competitive laps turned by the new design. Despite having just been delivered a few weeks prior to the event, the 2015 Team CLP Motorsports finished a very respectable 32nd overall. For the 2016 running, Diamond Level Motorsports put together a team of “club racers” and a group of combat veterans for the pit-crew. The team’s main competition was comprised of proven cars such as Audi R8LMS, Porsche RSS, Ginetta G57, Radical SR3 and BMW M3 GTR, supported by pro-level crews and six figured budgets. A solid finish somewhere in the top 20 would be a win for the last-minute team fielding a prototype style racer with just 180 horsepower and a price tag under $75,000.
The NASA Prototype team did more than just finish in the top third. Thanks to no mechanical issues, clean driving and no mistakes in the pit-lane, The “David” went after the “Goliath” and took 6th place out of 58 cars in all, won the ENP class, and won the Under 2.0 Liter overall trophy. All totaled, the NP01 ran 701 flawless laps for a total of 2,007 race miles, 14,020 gear changes, two tire-change pit stops, 18 fuel stops and 185 gallons of fuel. They were also the highest starting and highest finishing Mazda-powered car in the field of which there were fifteen total.
The best background story of the event were the five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from the Army, Marines and the Navy recruited as the pit crew members. Despite having no experience in auto racing, they came together as a team and kept the drivers on track without incurring a single pit-stop-related penalty. As the event is held over 25 continuous hours, the pit crew members are tortured with lack of sleep for up to 36 hours, inclement weather, noise. The elements and stress of accomplishing detailed time limited tasks can be a tremendous stain where the smallest mistake by one person can end the race. The combat veterans proved that their years of training and service could be translated to any difficult task they were presented.
The team thanked Toyo Tires, Mazda, Hawk Performance, Élan Motorsports Technologies and Todd Therkildsen of Winding Road Racing for his help on their setup. They also gave their thanks to Safecraft, Advanced Clutch Technology, Motion Control Systems suspension, AiM Technologies, AEM Performance Electronics and Sampson Racing Communications.