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25 Hours of Thunder Hill 2009


Event Report

Kazunori Yamauchi completes the "25 Hours of Thunder Hill"

At the Thunder Hill Raceway (3 miles/4.8km per lap) near Sacramento California, the longest endurance race in the world; the "25 Hours of Thunder Hill", was held from December 5th to the 6th. "Gran Turismo" series producer Kazunori Yamauchi drove and successfully completed this 25 hour endurance race.

The team Mr. Yamauchi drove for was the world famous "Spoon Sports", who are renowned for tuning of Honda cars. His team mates were professional racing drivers Tatsuru Ichishima, Naoki Hattori, and motor journalist, Sam Mitani.
Their machine was the Group N spec Civic Type R 4 door racing car, in the yellow and blue livery of Spoon Sports. The car was powered by a K20A engine tuned to 250ps, mounted in a 1120kg body and combined with a 6 speed manual transmission.

The course layout of Thunder Hill, is comparable to the Suzuka Circuit but located in a hilly area. It is a mid to high speed track with corners that can be cleared in 3rd to 5th gear, with lots of ups and downs. In a single lap there are 3 blind jumping spots, all of which are in mid corner and making this course extremely difficult. Because of these factors, this track requires you to control the car not just horizontally as on a normal track, but three dimensionally.

Plagued by several penalties during the race such as having to modify the exhaust tip due to exceeding exhaust noise regulations, and a penalty for improper fueling, they were forced into the pit for almost an hour. But the car itself had no problems at all, and finished the race in 23rd place overall out of 66 cars, 7th in its class.

Comment from Mr. Yamauchi:

"Thunder Hill was a totally new circuit for me and I had no experience here virtually or otherwise. Its extreme ups and downs and reverse banked corners are unimaginable in Japanese and European circuits, and is quite characteristic to North America.

Driving with Mr. Ichishima of the legendary Spoon team, and with Mr. Naoki Hattori who has experience in both F1 and CART, I was very careful to be smooth and constant when driving, so that I wouldn't be a handicap to the team.

Not having a lot of experience in circuit driving, and not knowing what to expect in a 25 hour race, I was very relieved to find that the 20 second gap in my laptimes with my teammates at the beginning of the practice day, was reduced to be almost zero at the start of the final race. It proves that "Gran Turismo" has a positive effect in not just learning tracks, but to raise the level of driving technique in the drivers themselves, and that's good to know.

And racing in a team like Spoon with its long celebrated history, led by true professional drivers like Mr. Ichishima and Mr. Hattori gave me a lot of insight and experience that will be useful for creating future editions of Gran Turismo.