There’s trials by fire, and there’s sticking your brand new race car baby in one of the most grueling races in the world: the National Auto Sport Association’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill. That’s exactly what Mazda did to debut its new MX-5 Cup car, and all four of the MX-5 Cups entered just crossed the finish line together.
Mazda senior vice president of U.S. Operations Robert Davis explained the shakedown/debut as such in a company press release:
For 2015, we are allowing a very select group of dealers AND employees to race alongside each other in the new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Cup car. While the development testing by Long Road Racing has been superb, nothing compares to a bunch of club racers beating on each other for 25 hours to really test the hardware.
Beat on it they did—for all 25 hours. A mix of racing drivers and Mazda dealer and corporate personnel hopped behind the wheel with one goal: keep going, and finish well. Per the live timing page, the four MX-5 Cup cars turned a combined 2,090 laps of the 3.0-mile Thunderhill Raceway Park east course and all finished the race together at the end.
The highest finishing No. 55 MX-5 Cup car finished fourth in the E0 class and 14th overall out of the 57 starters, with 591 laps logged. That may not sound like much, but for a first race ever, it’s pretty impressive.
I rag on the MX-5 in all its carnations for being so common it hurts at the track, but there’s a good reason why: they’re solid little cars.
New race car builds are tough. You expect something to fail, or to find items you should have done to make it faster or more reliable—and that applies to even shorter races. This was a full 25 hours of vehicular spanking. So, yes, all four little Mazdas merely finishing is quite the feat. Finishing that well is almost unbelievable.
The MX-5 wasn’t the only car making its racing debut at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill this year. NASA’s own racing baby, the Élan NP01, was out in full shakedown and development mode. While three cars were initially entered, only two logged laps during the race and one made it to the finish line at the end.
Mind you, the 25 Hour has a bit of a reputation for breaking purpose-built racing prototypes, which CLP Motorsports NP01 driver Marc Miller referred to on Endurance Radio’s livestream. As a driver in one of the slower cars, he always used to comfort himself with the thought that the super-fast racing prototypes passing him were going to break. Still, he admitted that he loved being in one of those ultra-quick race cars for a change, even though (surprise, surprise) it broke.
“Fast cars are cool,” said Miller on the broadcast, stating the obvious.
Despite several mechanical issues, their focus was mainly on getting data and one heck of a real-world test in. (Sounds like they may want to make the half-shaft design more robust, for one.) Sure, it got beaten on laps by an MX-5, but when the entire reason for bringing the NP01 there is to make a better race car for customers looking to get one, I can respect that. If NASA’s going to build its own purpose-built racer, they have to make sure it can survive their flagship race.
The highest-finishing No. 6 NP01 finished 32nd overall with 514 laps. At one point early on, though, it was running in eighth place. According to driver Tyler McQuarrie, that particular chassis “had not seen a race track 3 weeks ago!”
Thus, it wasn’t any prototype (new or old) that walked away from the rest of the field for the overall win, but rather, Flying Lizard Motorsports’ No. 45 Audi R8 LMS. That’s part of what makes the 25 Hour a bucket-list item for many racers: the opportunity to race alongside professional teams like Flying Lizard and other pros like Al Unser Jr., Kurt Busch, Ryan Eversley, Randy Pobst and Liam Dwyer who hop into cars to have some off-season fun.
The Lizards logged 690 laps to take an overall win that was an insane 35 laps ahead of the No. 3 Quick Racing Products Superlite SLC, which came in second place. (Now go take a nap—all of you this time!)
Screencap via Endurance Radio’s livestream.
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