The 2012 United States Air Force (USAF) National Auto Sport Association’s (NASA) 25 Hours of Thunderhill would mark the 10th running of this ever-growing race. Each year that passes brings faster drivers and faster cars. This year would be no different with several exotic machines taking the grid Saturday morning at 11am for the twice around the clock race (plus an hour). The weather conditions could not have been better as the green flag dropped. Anticipating another accident-riddled 25 Hour qualifying session, RJ Racing (RJR) went out early, set one fast lap and parked the car. This strategy led to a solid tenth in class starting spot, which would be mid-pack in the 68-car field. As the green flag dropped the team, hungry to defend their class win in 2011, went right to work executing their strategy of consistent lap times and clean pit stops.
Team Co-Owner and Driver Rob Gibson would strap in for the first stint. He would claw his way to seventh place before handing off the car to Team Driver Jaime Florence at the two-hour mark. Jaime would fight his way all the way up to third. Toward the end of his stint another car would go way off track but with the strange location of the incident Jaime did not see the local caution. Right after a regularly scheduled driver change when Craig Evans was put in the car for his first stint, the team was black-flagged and had to serve an unheard of 10-minute stop-and-go penalty along with several other teams that were affected by the same incident. RJR would drop from their third place position all the way back to eleventh in class.
Only being four hours into the race meant there was no reason to panic or get discouraged. Craig would fight his way back trough the field as the afternoon turned to evening. As darkness fell on the track, it was time to bring in the night-driving expertise of Team Co-Owner and Driver, John Gibson. During his two straight stints, he was on pace with the class leaders, and gaining on the rest of the class competitors by five to ten seconds per lap. His “lights out” performance, no pun intended, put the #23 RJR Mazda Miata back into fourth place, less than 20 seconds out of third. In the matter of four short hours the team was able to make up the ten minutes lost.
Up to this point there was very little sign that anything would stand between RJR continuing their multi-year podium streak in endurance races. A couple of intermittent oil pressure warnings had raised some eyebrows, but never showed signs of being a serious issue. Rob got back into the car as scheduled with around 11 hours of racing in the books. All was well until the 12.5-hour mark, on lap 308, when Rob heard a loud bang going through Turn 8. He radioed to the pit that he heard the noise and the car was over-steering heavily. He limped the car back to the pits where the crew immediately went to diagnosing the problem. It was immediately clear that the rear tires where covered in oil. The engine had somehow stayed running all the way to the pit where it finally quit. Unable to re-fire it, the car was pushed back to paddock. It was there that the crew found two holes in the oil pan.
This would mean a heart-breaking, and bittersweet, end to RJR’s 2012 season. The team would not finish the 25 Hour race that they won the year before and their endurance racing podium streak dating back to 2010 would come to an end. But the team can go into the off-season with their heads held high as the Western Endurance Racing Championship Grand Champions. The team will now look forward to 2013 with a continued focus on building endurance race-winning cars and looking for new opportunities in auto racing.
RJ Racing: firstname.lastname@example.org
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