Words by: Mike Bonanni /// Primary Driver
Buttonwillow California…it’s in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farms, nothing else in sight. There’s no nice hotels nearby, one decent restaurant (Willow Ranch BBQ), and a few truck stops. There’s not much reason to go there yet I find myself visiting this small truck stop city more than any other place in the world the last 10 years of my life. That’s because in the midst of the vast nothingness of California farm country sits three miles of beautiful driving road known as Buttonwillow Raceway; the place we would spend half of our 2015 racing season.
If you recall back in June, we had our first race of the season at this very race track. It was 108° ambient, the sun didn’t set until 8:30pm, and both Jordan and I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion in the car. Fortunately this race was different, much different. In fact the only thing that would remain the same is the location of the race and the length, 3 hours around Buttonwillow Raceway. Event the configuration was different this go-round however. In June, we rant the 3.1 mile Race #1 configuration in the counter-clockwise direction. This time; the popular 2.68 mile Race #13 clockwise.
With a couple of races under our belt and a lot learned, we were anxious to get back out to this race to pick up where we left off in Utah just a few months ago. When it came time for qualifying, Jordan Yost stepped into the car and went out for what would be the only daylight laps our car would see for the weekend. Already having plenty of experience with the track, Jordan went out for just three laps and clocked in an impressive 1:54.403, seconds faster than the car has ever run at this track. That qualifying effort landed us on the second row of the field for the start, 4th in class and 4th overall.
In reverse fashion from our race here in June, Jordan would be the one taking the green flag. Now dark, Jordan lined up behind the TrueSpeed Porsche GT3 Cup car, Coldcock Whiskey Silverado, and alongside the Prototype Development Group Factory Five GTM. Lights ablaze, the green flag fell and the first two rows quickly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Early on we would find out what our biggest hurdle would be at this race…dust. The dust lining the outsides of the track is like a fine silt, excellent for farming, not for racing. With no breeze or wind in the air any dust picked up by cars dropping wheels off track would kick up into the air and just simply stay there. Combine that with a pitch black atmosphere and bright race car headlights and you get complete blindness. Sometimes the dust got so bad that the pace of the entire field would drop by more than five seconds a lap.
Just when you think you’ve raced in all conditions…It was unlike anything I have experienced. Scary really, there were times you couldn’t see anything in front of you. You had to rely solely on muscle memory to find the race track. – Jordan Yost
Regardless of the tough conditions, they were conditions that had to be dealt with by everyone so they weren’t necessarily hurting our competitiveness. Jordan put in a solid hour and 15 minutes worth of consistent and fast laps before pulling in for the team’s first pit stop. As the car came to a halt in pit-lane our crew went to work filling our 22 gallon fuel cell full of fuel while Jordan and I swapped positions in the driver’s seat. After a flawless pit stop by all, I was back out onto the track for the remaining hour and 45 minutes. Having been listening to Jordan on the radio while he was in the car I went out thinking I knew what I was getting into with the visibility, but it was worse than expected.
As I settled into a rhythm the dust began to settle a bit from the start of the race. Unfortunately it didn’t last long as all it took was one car to drop a wheel off track to create a massive dust cloud. As cars had to guess where the track was traveling through that cloud, more would go off track making the situation even worse. It was only a matter of time before something bad happened.
Fortunately when that something bad did happen, it wasn’t involving us. As I came over the top of “Cotton Corners” I was blinded by a set of headlights coming straight at me, a terrifying sight for any endurance racer. Off to the right, a stranded car parked on the side of the track. With the car’s lights blinding me I had to once again rely on muscle memory to find the race track and hope there were no other cars there that I couldn’t see. The two cars had tangled up with each other in a rather heavy impact and both were stranded and out of the race. One of those cars was our class leader at the time, the Prototype Development Group Factory Five GTM. As I passed the wreck I had just moved into the lead of the race.
A full course caution flew while safety crews removed the two stranded cars from the track and we would lead the rest of the field at the re-start. We were now not only racing for a class win, but an overall win! We knew, however that unless the caution period lasted long enough, we would have to come back into the pits for a splash of fuel before the end of the race. We just hoped the rest of our competition was in the same boat. When the pace car pulled into the pits I was able to get a good jump on the field and halfway through the first lap was leading the race by a couple of corners. As I started to catch back up to slower lap traffic my crew called me in early for a splash of fuel in a strategy call to put me back out on track in clean air. I screeched to a halt in the pits where our crew put just enough fuel in the tank to finish the remaining half hour of the race.
When I got back on track we had dropped down to 3rd place overall, but still 1st place in the ES class. The two leaders were battling each other nose to tail for the overall win and all we could do was sit and hope they both had to come in for one more fuel stop. Unfortunately for us, the two leaders were able to stay out on track the remainder of the race so we ended up taking 3rd overall and securing our first win in ES class!
All-in-all it was a fantastic race. Our car was running an excellent pace and above all we ran a flawless race. With mechanical issues and on-track incidents plaguing the rest of the ES class, it just goes to show that no matter how fast your car can turn laps it has to get to the finish line in order to win. Our car may not have the pace to outgun the Porsche GT3 Cup cars, and other factory race cars, but we’re close enough to be there when their race doesn’t go without a flaw. In 37 hours of racing with our car, we are proud to say that we have started and finished every race under full power! With the pace of the car in its current state, if we can have a flawless 25 Hours of Thunderhill race this year, we’re going to be nearly impossible to beat!