Team MER Earns Podium in Punishing 25 Hours of Thunderhill E1 Class Victory Brightens Stormy Weekend for the Four-Car Team WILLOWS, Calif. (Dec. 8, 2010) - Team MER soldiered through challenging conditions at Thunderhill Raceway Park to claim...
Team MER Earns Podium in Punishing 25 Hours of Thunderhill
E1 Class Victory Brightens Stormy Weekend for the Four-Car Team
WILLOWS, Calif. (Dec. 8, 2010) - Team MER soldiered through challenging conditions at Thunderhill Raceway Park to claim its third E1 class win at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Though the team's three other cars each had mechanical issues during the race, MER's E1 win was complimented by a valiant comeback for the team's ES entry.
For 25 hours of racing, mother nature could not make up her mind at Thunderhill. Though the race started under dry conditions, the rain crept in as the sun went down and it would continue on and off throughout the night. The changing weather conditions resulted in an incident-filled race (including one red flag period), as teams found it difficult to make the right tire choice and find grip.
While others struggled, the drivers and crew of the No. 36 Hankook/Burger On/MER MX-5 let the race come to them. Two-time E1 Champ Tyler McQuarrie started the race and was soon in a tight battle with the No. 01 AMG car, exchanging the E1 lead several times in the night. The No. 36 ran as high as third overall in the evening, but by morning, the car had fallen to four laps down. Drivers Darin Polsley, David Cheng and Texas Rangers starting pitcher C.J. Wilson maintained their focus and steadily gained positions. When the No. 01 made contact with another car, it was clear sailing for the No. 36 to take the E1 win by a dominating 45 laps.
"Winning our E1 class made me realize that not only do racers need luck, skill and good teammates in the car, they need an awesome crew to set up the car and keep it on track when plans go out the window," Wilson said. "David Cheng, Tyler McQuarrie, Darin Polsley and I really want to thank MAZDASPEED for making such a full commitment to racing-from parts to support-as well as Team MER for providing us with a truly affordable club racer's version of a Le Mans win. We're happy to be a part of the Zoom-Zoom tradition."
While the No. 36 enjoyed a drama-free race, the other MER cars were not as lucky. This includes the No. 73 Frank's International/PaveCon/Hoosier/ MER/Sparco MX-5 ES entry, driven by Jason Saini, Jeff Mosing and Russell Walker. After enduring an unwarranted penalty early in the race, Saini managed to place the car as high as sixth overall. The team had another set back when a wheel came off just after Walker took over the helm, but the young MX-5 Cup up-and-comer rallied and put the car back to seventh overall.
Through the night, the No. 73 struggled with tire choice, seemingly one step behind the weather with each pit stop. Just as Saini had climbed to fourth overall, the engine let go, the result of the Hoosier slicks having too much grip for the oiling system. Team MER rallied, replacing the engine in short order and returning the No. 73 to the track, where, with the determination of Saini, Mosing and Russell (who all ran double stints the entire race), the car crossed the finish line sixth in the ES class.
"Thanks to Jules [Pokorny] and all the crew for giving our team a great car all weekend," Mosing said. "We were running really well into the night but the engine let go at about 3 a.m. Darin [George] and the crew got it changed out and we were back underway."
The No. 74 Hankook/AE Performance/DRAW Portfolio MX-5 E1 put the MER crew to the test. Through the demanding 25-hour race, the car required a differential and two transmission changes. Competing in his first wheel-to-wheel race, actor Paul Walker, of the Fast and Furious movie franchise, didn't let the mechanical troubles distract him, displaying the quick and consistent speed of a veteran racer. Though Walker and co-drivers Roger Rodas, Jeff Westphal and Carl Rydquist fought hard to overcome the setbacks, their bid for a comeback victory fell short when the engine let go with little more than an hour remaining.
"It was a difficult race, but there is no way to learn more about the challenges of endurance racing," Rydquist said. "Also, I'd like to extend my appreciation to National Auto Sport Association, race directors, Thunderhill track staff and rescue crews for putting on a great and safe race."
Even more frustrating than a mechanical failure, is a mechanical failure so rare, that parts cannot be sourced at the track. That is exactly what befell the No. 80 MER/Hoosier RX-8 entered in the E0 class. Early in the race, the power plant frame, which connects the engine and gearbox to the differential, broke. Unable to find a spare in the paddock (even amongst the street cars), the team attempted to weld the frame at a nearby shop. It proved to be only a quick fix. When it broke a second time, the No. 80, driven by Eric Curran, Shannon McMasters, Dan Watkins and Ward Herst was unable to continue. It was a real disappointment for a car that showed tremendous promise.
"It's the most fun I've had in a race car all year long!" Curran exclaimed on the radio.
"Thunderhill was especially grueling this year," Team MER co-owner Saini said. "The weather kept everyone guessing and with four cars, sometimes we guessed right and sometimes we guessed wrong. It's disappointing that all the cars couldn't share in the success of the No. 36, but that's just how endurance racing goes. I'm proud of our team for giving it all they had and coming away with our third E1 class win. We'll take what we learned this year and be back in 2011 looking for the overall win.
-source: team mer