*Taken from www.nasportscar.com
"After weeks of preparation, anxiousness, and excitement, the 2014 25 Hours of Thunderhill is in the books. This being my first 25 Hours of Thunderhill, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Many of my friends who’ve competed in this race gave me plenty of tips and ideas. I spent hours and hours watching onboard footage and playing the track on rFactor. I did everything I could to try to learn the track before I arrived.
I flew out the Wednesday before the race weekend. After a canceled flight and a four hour delay, I finally arrived in San Francisco at around midnight. My friend and teammate, Mauricio Lastres, picked me up from the airport, and after a quick stop at In-N-Out Burgers, we arrived at his apartment, where I stayed until we drove to the track on Friday. We spent Thursday sight seeing and we made a special trip to Sonoma Raceway. Even though it rained and was foggy almost the entire time I was in San Francisco, it was still great to see a city I’ve never been to!
Friday was test day and qualifying. We arrived to the track at around nine in the morning and we spent most of the morning meeting the team and other drivers, Chris More, Todd Tagget, and Mike Karpinski. We finished prepping our E3 Mazda Miata for the 4:45 PM practice / qualifying session, and since I had never driven the car or the track, I was first to drive in practice. The sun was already down by the time I turned my first lap, and on my second lap it started to down pour, so I came into the pits to change to rain tires and give the car to Mauricio. After Mauricio turned a few laps, it started to rain even harder, so the team decided to pull the car in and call it a day. We qualified 9thth in class.
Raceday: The grid opened up at 10:00 AM and the race started at 11:00. Mike started the race. He moved up a few positions before pitting and handing the car off to me. This was my first time driving the track during the day and in the dry. It didn’t take me long to get up to speed and move up a few positions. A half hour into my stint, the car started to over heat. The crew chief called me into the pits, so I came in and I went behind the wall. The team quickly found the issue and I was back out on track in about ten minutes. I rejoined the track under a full course yellow. We went back to green after three laps of full course yellow, but several minutes later the car started to over heat again. I came back into the pits and the team found the problem. If we were going to finish the race, we would need to put the back up engine in our car. After about a 3 ½ hour stint, I got out of the car and the A+ Racing crew went to work. They worked their butts off and got the new engine installed in about one hour.
By now, it was dark and we were out of contention to win. We were back in the race, however, and it was now Chris’s turn to drive. After one pitstop to check the new engine over, the car was running great and it was time for me to get some rest. My next stint would be at 1:00 AM Sunday morning. Surprisingly, I got a few hours of well needed sleep. I woke up at midnight and was back out in the pits preparing for my stint. 1 AM came fast and it was now my turn to get into the car.
Driving Thunderhill at night was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding and fun things I’ve ever done. Driving a racecar at night requires you to concentrate and focus even more so than during the day. Why? Well for one, visibility is limited, especially at Thunderhill. This is one of the darkest tracks I’ve been too. In addition to limited visibility, the lights on each of the racecars are blinding, especially when they’re in your rear view mirrors. Imagine trying to drive through a dark, twisty road, at 100+ miles per hour. On top of focusing on the road and pushing the car to the limit, you now have three blinding lights, coming from the rear view mirrors, shining in your eyes. Now add other cars to the mix, some faster and some slower, and you’ve got the 25 Hours of Thunderhill! My stint couldn’t have gone any better. Every lap I dropped a few tenths, and it wasn’t long until I was lapping just as fast as the lead cars. I drove one hour and 45 minutes before I came into the pits to hand the car to Mauricio for his night stint. The stop was clean and it was time for me to get some more rest before my next stint, which was right away in the morning.
8:00 AM came and it was time for me to get back into the car. By now, the sun was up and we made it through the night! Chris got out and I got in and immediately picked up right where I left off, turning quick lap times. I learned more and more each lap, and by the end of my stint, I had recorded the fastest lap of the race for our Mazda. I pitted after about an hour and a half and Mauricio got back in. We were now in 9th position in class and 40th overall. Mauricio ran a clean stint and handed the car to Todd, who eventually finished the race. We made it all the way to the end of the 25 hour race. We survived the 25 Hours of Thunderhill!
I can’t thank everyone at A+ Racing enough for working through the night to keep our car running. The race may not have gone the way we would have liked it, but nonetheless, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Surviving this 25 hour race is an accomplishment in itself. We finished 9th in class and 40th overall, which isn’t bad considering we were in the pits for about two hours with mechanical issues. Also, I’d like to thank Joe Koenig at Trim-Tex Drywall Products for his help through the season and advice for this race.
It’s now time to put all of my focus into my 2015 racing plans. Although I don’t know what’s in store for me next year, I will keep everyone updated. Make sure to follow me on twitter, @jbilicki51, and “like” my Facebook fan page, Josh Bilicki Racing, to keep up to date!