Category Archives: spec miata

2010 25 Hours of Thunderhill Recap

So, as you may have heard, we finally won this thing. People talk about winning the “hard way” and I love sports cliché’s as much as the next ESPN junkie, but that one doesn’t work here. What happened was, we did it the “right way” and a bunch of newbie’s disguised as a factory backed racing team tried to bugger it up for us.

When I say “newbie’s” I mean to say that I believe their experience in “racing life” is mostly different from ours. I have friends that have been fortunate to make livings in motorsports and some of them raced as children and did every job in the shop – some of them ended up getting cool automotive engineering jobs after school and grew to love the sport later in life. Some guys (I hear) show up simply because they are paid to – that’s not what’s going on at

 MC - side

Have you ever heard the idea that in battle, a man defending his home is worth many times more than men who are attacking on behalf of another? Even though we travel here from Oregon, Thunderhill is “our house”. Those Honda guys were simply mercenaries coming to take what is ours – it never occurred to them that we had the upper hand.

As a child I was taken to see the movie Grand Prix. I remember a scene in which James Garner (who plays a brash American racing driver) is meeting with Toshiro Mifune (playing a character meant to emulate Soichiro Honda) about driving his racing car. Their conversation was frank, but respectful – I would continue to observe in life that this is how Japanese companies traditionally do business.

Monday, however, the American version of Honda plainly revealed that they still have no respect for us. They name us in a post race press release as “”. Really?

If you are from Honda and reading this 11 months from now, you have finally found the best place to learn about the team.  Perhaps someone has started a business at and provided a link for you…

For those who are interested in knowing who we raced, here is the first line from the “about” page on the Honda / HPD website – this is who they are:

“Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America and is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Honda Motor Co.,…”

Having met the crew, I would presume that the press release was written by a PR lackey that wasn’t anywhere near the race track and likely knows little of racing. The crew, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were gracious men and we look forward to racing them again. PR person, whoever you are – say hello to cousin Bozo for me.


I could tell you many ways about how this race was won or lost, but to keep it simple consider this:

  • We were a minimum of 7 seconds faster per stop to fuel the car
  • We always got a full 10 gallons of fuel IN the car
  • We had no penalties (Honda had two 5 minute penalties for fuel spills)

Honda talks about mistakes in their release, but we had problems, too. Our people won the race – we actually prepared to make no mistakes so that our problems would possibly be manageable. I am told that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy – we had accounted for that, as well. Honda hadn’t been bothered to consider that they had a rival. So, we were able to beat them 3 different ways on fuel strategy, alone.

We did suffer a horrible tire wear issue. We used the same Toyo RA-1’s as last year, but for some reason they were lasting about half as long. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Billy-Bob? We’re looking into that one…

We also had two serious brake issues. We used the same Carbotech pads that lasted the entire race last year. We had a horrible shake in the front, and one rear pad had to be changed toward the end of the race requiring a stop of over 7 minutes. We absolutely had to service the rear, but took the decision to nurse the fronts. From before sunrise, I was constantly calculating the amount of time we could sacrifice per lap and we slowed accordingly.

Photos by Carrie Sutherland:

Bruce Wilson Carrie Sutherland Claire, Jonny and Sam Crew Chief Brian Clemons Crossing the Finish Line Dirty Race Car Honda HPD CRZ Jonny, Ken and Dave Jonny, Sam and Claire Josh McKinney, Dave Sutherland and Kevin Clarke Ken Sutherland MC 25 Hour Front Grey MC 25 Hour High MC 25 Hour Pit Front MC 25 Hour Refuel (2) MC 25 Hour Refuel MC 25 Hour Side Dirt MC 25 Jonny Sean Ken Dave and HPD Crews Tech Scales Tech Seal The Drivers tire failure Trophy Presentation Will Schrader

Preparation and Testing:

Mostly, it was Ken Sutherland and Will Schrader that had prepared the car that would win – that meant sacrificing speed for reliability if necessary. Despite this care we had arrived without as much of the former as we expected, but with limited resources, sometimes that happens. Our fast race lap was quite a bit slower than last year. We have led this race for long periods of time in the past only to suffer problems late – we were due some good luck.

The engine was built using lots of new Mazda parts and machine work by Kevin Hay at E & L Machine Shop in Hood River. Kevin has helped Jon Davies and me build championship winning Spec Miata motors for years, and is now the default shop for Northwest Spec Miata owners.

That motor failed for a still unknown reason, however, after just one lap during a shakedown. With Kevin’s help, Ken immediately built another using the parts that hadn’t been damaged. Then the fresh transmission started acting funky during final prep and had to be replaced. The point is that even after leaving nothing to chance and using all of the right, new parts, goofy stuff happens.

The team also had decided to test a different spring / sway bar combination on the Miata. This process had started back in the summer. The idea was to give the car better stability / drivability and it worked well enough to bring it on the race car.

I was also concerned that NASA would not be able to effectively enforce the complicated rule-set that allowed the CR-Z into our Endurance 3 (E3) class. They did put GPS units into our car (and likely the Hondas) on Friday and later took us to the dyno to do a baseline test to compare with that data – so my concerns were somewhat mitigated.

Known problems race day morning:

  • Motor down 7 horse power over expected number
  • Used transmission in the car
  • Unfamiliar (but very drivable) suspension package
  • Competition brought guns to knife fight

The Race:

Everything started predictably enough and Ken worked his way quickly to a top 3 position. The #93 CR-Z, which had started back in the field because of a very congested and shortened qualifying session, was cranking off very fast laps. Meanwhile, the eventual second place #19 CR-Z was serving penalties for sloppy pit work.

It appeared to us that the Honda strategy was to have the 93 car be the pro-driver / race winning car and the 19 would be a back-up winner (if necessary) and guest driver / press car. That plan got all turned upside-down, however, when one of the fast guys put the 93 on its roof between turns 2 and 3. We could see it from our pit box and soon would realize that the slower 19 car was now our focus. It wasn’t so slow, any longer.

We had a good-size lead and were having immediate issues with another E3 competitor that ran into us twice (laps apart) shortly after being passed each time. The car showed no signs of damage and we continued to monitor the progress of the #19 car.

It was during an early morning pit-stop to change tires when it became apparent that we had finally caught the attention of some Honda personnel. They observed as we put Ken in the car around 2am with four new dry weather tires. The rules only allow for the changing of one tire per “hot pit” stop – so to change all four, the car must go to the paddock. We were losing too much time to the CR-Z, so we decided to gamble on an early swap to the shaved Toyo tires, which would increase our pace over time. The tire / driver / fuel stop was lightening quick and were able to stabilize the gap at a happy level.

As the morning drew on we became increasingly concerned of a shake the car had under braking – it was described by the drivers as “violent”. We inspected as best we could and determined that one of the rear brake pads was nearing the end of its useful life. It was also probable, in our estimation that the rear disc rotors were part of the problem. Before day broke, we had our 7 minute stop to fuel the car and repair the rear brakes – Ken was out and Bruce into the car.

Bruce didn’t care for the transmission, but worked out a solution. The shake was still there and the tools and parts for a front brake repair were moved near the pit wall. During Bruce’s mid-stint fuel stop, we determined that the brake pads were fine and continued calculating the time-cost of the rotor solution. They were slowly gaining and there wouldn’t be time for a stop – second place was of no use to us.

Brian Clemons had been precisely calculating our fuel consumption, even during the hours of rain, full course cautions and red flag conditions. We left ¼ gallon of fuel in a jug only once. For the stop to put Jonny back in the car, Bruce had been called in as he passed the pits and the right front tire then failed on the back straight – only several hundred yards before the pit entrance. We were already waiting when we received the distress call. We later joked that Brian is so good that he was able to precisely determine the exact time of tire failures, as well.

The situation was coming into focus:

  • We had a gap
  • We had a fuel economy advantage.
  • We knew they had to stop two more times than we did.
  • If we ran laps in the 2:12 range, they couldn’t catch us.

With an hour and a half to go, Ken asked me to calculate the number of seconds per lap we could give – at that time I recall it was 8.5.  Not so bad.

Jonny chugged away, all-the-while begging to run a faster pace. Soon would come the longest hour of our racing lives.

Sean (team owner) had moved away from the pit box where we had been all night. He had gone to the bridge over the back straight to serve as a spotter in the contact prone turn 14-15 area. Sean is amongst the best on the radio I have ever heard. He stood at that bridge for hours (without a potty break, I might add) and fed clear, useful information to both Bruce and Jonny.

Back in our pits the entire crew was on call to handle the un-expected. Math continued as the Honda passed us to get onto the same lap – they were running out of time. I located the race leading Porsche, as the only chance the CR-Z now had was a full course caution that had to happen while the leader was between us on the track. Mercifully, he was just behind us when the Honda passed, and within 2 laps had gone past them, as well.

In the end we crossed the line 1:10 ahead of the factory backed car.  The car is used up.  After two years of agonizing heart break at this place, the boys were able to pull it off.  I said after our defeat last year that we race because it’s hard and that we wouldn’t want it any other way.  Thank you Honda for making this hard.  Thank you team for rising to the challenge.

Final Results

We were 8th overall, 1st in Endurance 3 (E3), ahead of all Endurance 2 (E2) cars, and would have been second place if entered in E1.


IT’S ON!!!

Jonny Davies is in the car and we are running nose-to-tail with the HPD #19 CR-Z – we have one lap in hand.

Our front end vibration (which had been violent enough to shake the cowling from the dash) has been traced to a damaged left front tire.  A tire which failed just before our scheduled pit stop.

The Honda is capable of turning laps about 3 seconds faster than our Miata.  Again, barring a disaster for us, they will need to chase us down – they had been having occasional success all through the night.

We are loaded with Aces – it’s time to see how they play…

Saturday a.m.

Access to the world wide web was interrupted just after qualifying last night – that is the reason for the lack of end of day reporting.  Service was restored overnight.

This morning the team practiced pit stops, driver changes, and did final prep on the car.  Everything looks quite good.  We start 40th overall and the cars are now moving onto the front straight for pre-race festivities, which will start at 10:30.

The temperature is 50ish, there is a light breeze and dampness (but not wetness) on the racing surface.  It will be a dry start.

Photos to follow…

Pre and Post Qualifying Photos

These are photos from just prior to qualifying and during the post-qualie dyno check:

25 Hour0028_1 25 Hour0029_1 25 Hour0030_1 25 Hour0001_1 25 Hour0002_1 25 Hour0003_1 25 Hour0005_1 25 Hour0007_1 25 Hour0009_1 25 Hour0010_1 25 Hour0011_1 25 Hour0015_1 25 Hour0025_1


Qualifying is over – ended by a crash in the bypass.  Will Schrader was in the car and was constantly balked by slower traffic – he never got anything resembling a clear lap.  It started raining during the full course caution caused by the crash.

Our time of 2:13.256 puts us 7th in E3.  Most others had just as much trouble as we did.

The car is now on the dyno to cross check against information from the data system, which officials put in the car earlier, to enforce rules that govern the hp / weight ratio allowed in our class – we’re going to be just fine.

Practice Update

Practice is about to end and after working all day to find some speed in the car, finally some is coming.  We’re not there yet, however.  The “silver car” (back-up)was 3 seconds per lap faster than the “white car” this morning.  The race car is now within a second per lap.

Qualifying will start at 4:45, this afternoon. Live Timing 

Photos by Claire

Claire has been roaming the paddock taking photos – here is some of her work.

Brian C. Bruce Claire Ed Jonny Josh Ken (2) Ken Kevin MC Side observation tower

Thursday Night Photos

Post Meal

Preparing for Data Analysis

tighter paddock spaces than usual

Our Man Will

must have light...

brakes are an important part of the Team MC strategy - we have them

calm before the storm

our friend / nemesis Dr. Dan swapping a motor in his Cinco de Mayo costume

Claire - doesn't know what she's got herself into...



Test Day – Friday a.m.

We awoke this morning to clearing skies and a damp track with temperatures in the mid 40’s.  The rain had come early evening yesterday, so this was all expected.

Crew Chief, Brian Clemons and Ed Pavone arrived at the track in time for dinner last night, and Bruce Wilson and Jeff Jenks (the only new-to-the-25 crew-member) arrived just after mid-night. 

The driver’s are currently registering for the day’s test session and Jonny Davies is now in the car first for the initial shake-down.  Ken’s race car is here as a spare and is available to ensure there is time to get all 4 driver’s quickly re-acquainted with Thunderhill.  All of them have a lot of experience here – Will and Ken are the current and previous Spec Miata lap record holders. 

The primary task of the day is to find balance in the non-Spec Miata shock and spring package we are running.  The car is more stable with this set-up, but it’s still relatively new to us. 

If we do get rain during the day (there is a chance of showers in the vicinity) we will do fuel mileage consumption tests for wet conditions.

A Fight!!!

It is two days before we leave for Thunderhill and it’s time to “switch on”.  

An important part of racing is understanding the rules we’re working with and making sure not to run afoul in any way – it’s also a good idea to be aware of what you may be up against. 

While doing the final preparations of the car, the subject of the “factory” Honda CR-Z’s entered in our class (E3) came up.  I wasn’t there and the first I heard of any concern was when I received a call from Sean Hedrick asking what I knew about this – and if I would look into HOW that bitchin’ little piece had worked it’s way into E3. 

I had seen the car at SEMA and gave it a second look (but not a third) – it is gorgeous, but surely it was nothing I had any reason to be particularly interested in.  It had a big wing, a splitter and a retro-cool graphics package that made it look to be just another hotted up corporate promo piece – which is probably truer than not, but… 

Honda CR-Z

Then, this story about how Honda is going “grassroots” racing caught one of the guy’s attention…  He thought this was one of the cars entered in E3?  Really?

Any yahoo can write a blog (duh…) so – we can’t just take this at face value – because, if we did, this car couldn’t be E3 eligible (they’re advertising too much horsepower, for example).  On the other hand, we probably shouldn’t just ignore it.  I’m most concerned that the car has a turbo and a custom built ECU, which both make the car unbelievably easy to quickly tune to higher horsepower numbers and back again in an un-detectable way.  

I’ll continue to chase down the rules (that are somewhat complicated regarding these things) and figure out where we stand.  I don’t mind a fight, but if I’ve agreed to fight with a knife (or a 20 year old chick car), I want to know the other guy isn’t packin’ a gun (or two) – well, at least I want to know what kind of gun it is. 

It IS better to win when you’re out-gunned.