28 January, 2015

On-Track Prep (Rhythm of Racing, Part 2)

The rhythm of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill ebbs and flows throughout the year. But race-day prep is generally split into two phases: the paddock phase, and the on-track phase. The "Morning" post covered the first phase — the cars sleep in the paddock, and on race day morning, they wake up and warm up for the last time before they have to stretch those legs for real.

Afterwards, the teams roll the vehicles out into the hot pits, where the team members focus on pit stop strategy, camera mounts, race tire changes, or whatever else it may be. In the photo, a member of the Crowd Strike / One Motorsports race team pressurizes the air jack system on their #48 Radical SR3 before swapping the car's wet-weather tires for dry-weather race slicks.
And after the hot pits, it's out onto the starting grid. The 25 is one of a class of races where anyone can walk out on track before the start of the race; drivers, crew, and spectators alike.

Many of the teams push their cars out onto the grid. For one, it's a way to conserve fuel — endurance races are all about going as far as possible with as few pit stops as possible, and the more fuel spent not moving at race pace, the fewer laps you can make between stops. And as would be demonstrated later in the race, running out of fuel can be a recipe for actual disaster.

In addition to the fuel considerations, keeping the engine off is a way to keep some of the cars from overheating — many race cars get rid of the fans that keep street cars cool while at a stop, which means that those race cars build up heat unless they're in motion.
The grid walk is a time of rejoicing. It's a going-away party, of sorts. For crew-members who are friends and family, even though they may be physically present between pit stops, they're often mentally absent — keeping an ear on the radio to make sure everything's okay; keeping an eye on the track so they can head back to the pits if their car goes too long without an appearance.

This is the most present they'll be until the checkered flag flies, 25 hours after the start. So people enjoy that presence while they can.
But even during the grid walk, final preparations continue. Here, a team-member for the #67 Sparta Evo Brakes / Maxxis Tire / Bullet Performance team makes some last-minute adjustments to the car's race harness.
The US Air Force has been a long-time sponsor of the event, and the pre-race ceremony had featured flyovers since the race's first running in 2003, through the national reduction in flight demonstrations in 2012. Even so, the ceremony continues to feature demonstrations by members of the USAF Color Guard, as well as songs performed by a bagpiper. Here, a man salutes as the piper performs the national anthem.
After the national anthem, the race stewards start to clear the spectators from the track, the teams make sure everything is as set to race as it's gonna get, and the drivers suit up, sit down, and get ready to race. I've seen a lot of drivers experience this same kind of moment before the race — calm, focused, starting to block out everything that isn't part of the race.
The safety crew has the unique privilege of standing at the center of the track, in double-file, as the cars move forward from the grid and begin their slow parade laps, leading up to the rolling start. In the photo, members of the safety crew jog over to their vehicles after all the cars had cleared the grid.
And then, the green. 25 hours to go.
The full Rhythm of Racing sequence:

20 January, 2015

Morning (Rhythm of Racing, Part 1)

Annual car races have a certain kind of rhythm to them. A fundamental identity that defines them, even as they evolve over time. Certainly, from year to year, things always change — different conditions, different competitors, different tactics. But every December that I make the almost 200-mile trek to Thunderhill Raceway, I find a race that's familiar, even though it's always a little bit unique. Annual car races have a certain kind of rhythm to them, and the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is no exception.

After driving overnight through a torrential (by California's standards) downpour, I arrived to a clear morning that was free of the particulate haze that sometimes develops in the farmland surrounding the track. As twilight turned to dawn, Thunderhill's characteristic trio of windmills stood still before a lightening sky, and above a paddock that was still wet from the night's rains.
The air was cool and calm. Not as frigid as the prior year, when I arrived to see Hoosiers covered in ice, but the wet still made things a bit uncomfortable. At the cusp of dawn, many of the teams began pulling back the covers that they had lashed to keep the water out overnight. It was the beginning of the last preparations before they would do battle against the clock, against each other, and against themselves.
The safety crew also had final preparations, and they huddled as the sun had just crested the horizon. It would take a little while, yet, for the day to warm. In the photo, Mike Easton (second from right) addresses the group, with coffee in hand, as his breath leaves a faint trail of condensation in the air.
As time counts down toward the start, teams snap into their morning routines and pick up steam. In the photo, the JFC (Just Fast Cars) racing team adds a calculated initial load of fuel to their car.
Clarity of vision is a constant focus in motorsports — the easier it is to see well, the easier it becomes for the driver to stay relaxed, avoid fatigue, and avoid making mistakes. Many teams run Lexan windshields and windows rather than glass because Lexan is lighter and won't shatter in the event of a crash. Then they polish and protect those pieces incessantly.

Here, a crew member for Team Quick Racing Products wipes off overnight condensation as he cleans the right-hand window of the team's Superlight SLC racecar. The team retired from the prior year's race with a broken steering mechanism, and hoped to better on that result during this race.
Likewise, the paramedics also need to see. Here "B.C.", an emergency medical technician, wipes raindrops from the windshield of one of the Side Trax EMS vehicles as they prepare for the race. You may also remember B.C. as the blue-clad patriarch in the "Safety in Numbers" post from last year's 25 Hours of Camaraderie series.
After all is clean and dry, the teams do final vinyl applications, typically including driver name touchups and sponsor decals. In the photo, a member of the Honda factory race team adds a remembrance for Joe McCarthy, a fabricator who specialized in Honda engine work.
The full Rhythm of Racing sequence: