NASA Enduro and GTI Cup Finale

Thunderhill Raceway Park

Shed Racing's Tom Aiken returned to Thunderhill Raceway Park November 12 to compete in the Western Endurance Racing Championship finale with Marcus of Miller Motorsports.  The weekend was also the swan song for the NASA  GTI Cup class, as NASA has decided to retire the class at the end of the season. 

Team Miller Motorsports, sponsored by Kumho Tires USA and BiggsB Enterprises entered the final enduro of the season 4th in points in the E2 class.  The race was scheduled to begin at 3PM, and with the sun setting at before5 PM the checkered flag would fly over a dark track.  Tom and Marcus would be splitting the driving duties in the #98 E2 class Spec Miata for the 3 hour enduro, with Marcus starting and driving the first half of the race, and Tom finishing out the race into the darkness.

This weekend would also serve to get a good measure of fuel consumption and tire wear for the upcoming 25 hours of Thunderhill.   Grant Conley and Robert Miller were on hand to help out, as well as the Crew Chief for the 25, GTI Cup racer Scott Neville, and special guest volunteer crew member Richard Burke.  Richard is a Southwest SCCA Spec Miata racer, and the General Manager/Controller of 600 Racing, and was in town from North Carolina to meet with the NASA management.  Richard helped out with the enduro pit stop, and offered some good suggestions with the set up of the car...notably re-routing the gas lid release and
the trunk release to the rear of the car to make pit stops easier.  Thanks again for the help Richard!

Tom arrived at the track in time to take the car out for the morning practice session, to try and get a feel for the new Kumho Tires.

Tom on Grid for Morning Practice

Morning practice was uneventful, and the final work was done on the car in for the race.  Grant and Robert set up the pit stall.  Unlike the last time, the team set up early, and got a good spot.  Thunderhill had done extensive upgrades to the pits, paving the remaining dirt areas next to the pit boxes, and building a small retaining wall.  This will really help with the flooding problems of previous years.  The only problem is they hadn't got it all finished yet, and the area where the team would pit for the 25 would not be done in time.

Improvements, for almost everyone.

The Enduro was the last event of the day, so the team got to watch the last GTI Cup race ever.  Scott Neville sat on the pole,  followed by Carlos Suarez, and Chris Gonzalez.  Chris earned his provisional competition license Saturday afternoon, and was racing in Joe Craven's car.   Scott held the lead for the first half of the lap, when he was passed by Carlos in turn 3, while they were trying to get around a slower Thunder Roadster.  Scott hung was on Carlos's tail until Turn 6 when his car got loose.  Scott prevented the car from spinning, but Carlos stretched his lead.  Later the same lap, Scotts car again got loose and he was forced to go off into the dirt outside the exit of turn 9 to save it.  At this point Carlos was too far ahead for Scott to catch, and the running order would not change for the remainder of the race.   Fastest laps were Carlos 2:12.2, Scott, 2:12.7 and Chris 2:15.2.

Scott Neville, Carlos Suarez, Chris Gonzales

With his second place finish, Scott Neville earned the final GTI Cup championship.

GTI Cup National Champion Scott Neville. Congratulations Scott!

The weather report for Sunday was dry, so Scott Miller took home the rain tires.   Mother Nature apparently didn't get the message, as the sky became more overcast as the day wore on.  By the start of the race, it was completely overcast.

When you paint your fuel drum to match your car, you take things too seriously.

Starting order was random, and Marcus took the green flag in 9th place, directly in front of a number of much faster cars.  It took a few laps for the running order to sort itself out, in which Marcus slid back to 18th place, of 20 starters.  Every few laps, Marcus would move up the running order, finally hitting pit road back in 9th place overall, second in class, on lap 38.  Marcus turned his best lap of 2:12.9 in lap 36, just before his pit stop.

Grant acts as timekeeper from his scoring stand.

Scott Neville added 9.5 gallons of fuel, and with help from Grant, Tom strapped on the car for his half of the race while Richard cleaned the windshield.  With the order shuffled by the pit stops, Tom reentered the race 13th overall, 4th in class.  Tom was not very fast, but consistent for the beginning of his stint, feeling out the car in the changing conditions, as the sun went down behind ominous looking clouds.  In lap 48, twelve laps in to his stint, it started to rain.  The rain was never heavy, but it was enough to make the track slick, and enough to slow everyone down significantly.  It continued to drizzle as dusk turned to darkness, and with no rain tires.  Tom continued to churn out laps in the deteriorating conditions.

L-R Grant Conley, Scott Neville, Robert Miller, Marcus Miller, guest crewman Richard Burke

Tom came into the pits on lap 58, to talk to the team to see if they should continue.  One of the main reasons for entering the race was to determine the wear rate of the tires for the upcoming 25 hour race, but the wet track meant the end of meaningful data, and ending early saved time on the engine for the 25, plus reduced the risk of anything bad happening on the wet track.  Marcus decided it was up to Tom, as he was driving.  Tom opted to go back out and run a few more laps, then retire and get a head start on loading up for the trip back home.   The team was not aware of it, but Tom was in 9th place overall, third in class.  He went back out to turn a few more laps of practice, when Scott Neville popped in to Timing and Scoring and found out the team was currently in a podium position, and passed the word to Marcus.  Marcus spent the next 10 minutes screaming in to the radio "Stay out!  Don't come in!  We are in THIRD!". 

Naturally Tom heard nothing on the radio, and hit pit road on lap 61.  Marcus intercepted him before he could make the turn into the paddock, and sent him back out to finish the race.  The rest of the race was as uneventful as racing on a wet track on slicks in the dark can be expected to be, but Tom brought the car home in one piece, 9th place overall, third in class.

The third place finish moved Miller Motorsports to third place overall in the Western Endurance Racing Championship in E2 class.

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