Last weekend, I was part of Team Bimmerworld entering a 1990 BMW M3 in NASA's 25 Hours of Thunderhill enduro. Drivers were car owner Lance Boicelli, Scott Smith, SPEED World Challenge pilot James Clay and myself.
While many of the people involved in this team have either crewed or driven in the 25 hour race previously, this was the first entry for this car and this team. And for a first-time team with zero pre-race practice, Team Bimmerworld did great. Friday morning started out tough when Lance's fresh 4-cylinder S14 engine measured 20HP too high on the dyno for our GTS class. Lance swapped back to stock cams but 1pm Friday the car registered only 149HP. Target was 185HP. Yikes. So, one final intake cam swap and Saturday morning, one hour before we had to be on the grid, we came up with 183HP. Close enough!
Lance started the race and having qualified on low power, started making his way through the field. He was dive bombed and hit hard on the left B-pillar but the car was still straight and running quickly. We qualified 39th and bounced between 26th and 34th in the opening hours as we cycled through pit stops every hour on the stock gas tank. For the first time ever, the race was red flagged around 8pm due to incredibly thick fog. I knew it was bad when I came over turn 5 and I could no longer see the stadium lights across the infield I was using as a reference! I think we were listed at 20th at that point when the field parked their cars on the front straight and the track stayed closed until 5am the next morning when I finished my double stint with a fast lap of 2:02.2.
We ran until 10am Saturday with an increasingly bad left pull under braking. As we approached left hand corners and hit the brakes we had to use about 2 o'clock right-hand input to keep the car straight. As we transitioned off the brakes the car would jerk left at the same time we needed to start adding left-hand input to make the corner! It was challenging to say the least and turns out that loose rear toe adjusters were resulting in dynamic toe under squat (skillfully assessed by James Clay during his stint). There are some benefits to having a professional on your team and beyond James' calm attitude and obvious driving talent, his suggestion led to a quick fix at the next stop.
Then things got even trickier. The transmission started to tighten up during Scott's morning stint so he was running only in 4th gear but still making passes and running 2:06s. We had glancing contact with a Corvette that resulted in a bent right rear trailing arm and broken CV joint. I have seen it in the Spec Miata paddock before (more than once...) but when mechanic Nate Walton suggested we use two trucks to tweak the car back into shape, there were a lot of wide-eyed people in our pits. But it worked! While not ideal, I jumped in with 1" of toe out in the right rear and we were back on track. It was terrifying at turn-in, especially at high-speed corners T1 and T8 but kind of fun drifting the car around. Lance took the final shift and brought his baby home to the checkered flag.
Ultimately in our class, E1, we were racing against two MX-5 Cup Pro Racing teams (our local HooverSpeed and Team MER fielding a total of 6 cars) who were better prepared, had top drivers with tons of Miata seat time and ran Hoosiers. Even without our mechanicals, our RA1s simply weren't going to match their pace.
At the end of the day though, what I like about endurance racing is the team and strategic component that you don't have in sprint racing. We finished the race, with an S14 no less, and had fun doing it. Thanks to everyone who showed up and hung out all weekend keeping us fed, rested, hydrated and entertained before, during and after our drives, particularly Tom Bell with his warm RV and great cooking and crew chief Peter Guagenti for keeping us organized and on cue.
Until next year...