No Mercy

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Or was it? “We could stay with them on the corners, but on the straights, Mercer’s GT3 Cup pulled,” said Bryce Miller (not the ALMS driver) after the race, a driver for G22 Racing/Truspeed’s second-place GT3 Cup. Miller did note, however, that his team’s car had started the race with a tired engine — the older, 420-hp 3.6-liter. So it’s a moot comparison.

While Mercer’s trick GT3 Cup got little sympathy from competitors, it did suffer one problem over the weekend (besides the scrape with the Scion). “The night before the race, a seal for the gearbox was leaking,” Castel­laccio said. “It started out small” but had grown by the end of the qualifying session. “We had a full gearbox ready” for replacement, but the crew instead chose just to replace the bad seal.

The fix worked, and, well, the rest is history. Johannes van Overbeek drove the fastest overall lap time, 1:45.036, exactly 100 laps before he finished the race. The highest one-lap average speed of 102.822 mph was also Mercer Motorsports’ to claim. In all respects, the #75 GT3 Cup was the fastest car on track.

Sky’s the Limit

In a field of cars mostly run by amateur racers, Mercer Motorsports brought another level of sophistication to the 25 Hours. As SNT Motorsports’ team manager Ed Nelson put it, “You’d be proud to put that GT3 Cup on the grid at Le Mans.”

Was it a car too far for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill? According to some racers present, perhaps. But the National Auto Sport Association doesn’t see it that way. Printed in its Endur­ance Racing Regu­lations book, after meeting certain safety requirements, “ES and ESR cars are unlimited in the range of speed modifications” that can be made to them.

This concept isn’t so distant from “run whatcha brung” racing of the 1960s and 1970s, when cars like the ballistic 917, especially in Can-Am guise, were made possible. So if you want to run a UOP Shadow at the 25, you can. Mercer Motor­sports didn’t bring the biggest gun to the 25 Hours seen thus far — that honor goes to Team Cyto­sport, which raced a Day­tona Proto­type in 2008 that dropped out early — but it brought an ideal weapon: an optimized 997 GT3 Cup run by ALMS pros and driven by top talent.

To qualify for the 25 Hours, NASA require competitors’ cars conform to its rules or rules set by at least one of many recognized sanctioning bodies, such as SCCA, FIA, ALMS, Grand-Am, etc. NASA National Event Manager Will Faules explained, “There are basic safety requirements, but as far as ES and ESR, they’re completely open [for performance modifications]… NASA has always been open to those who want to develop new things.”

That stance allows cars like Mer­cer’s GT3 Cup. NASA cared only that it met Grand-Am’s safety standards to qualify for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, and it encouraged development to increase performance. Of course, NASA performs its own tech inspections, as well, to ensure teams meet safety requirements.

As for driver talent at the 25, that’s “un­limited,” as well. The only rule NASA stipulates is that drivers in the 25-hour race may not be “rookies,” which meant each driver must have completed eight races and obtained a NASA competition license before he or she could compete. (Drivers in the six-hour event, which is run concurrently with the 25-hour race, need only a rookie permit.) And as evidenced by Mercer’s diverse pit crew, which had experience ranging from ALMS to drag racing, there was no limit on who could work in the pits. On the other end of the scale, my role as a driver changer showed that practically anyone was allowed to help.

While the level of experience gathered by Mercer was akin to that of a professional race team, enthusiast volunteers were plentiful at the 25. Hiking up the hill to his post between Turn 8 and Turn 14 just after dawn on Sunday, Victor Penner was one such volunteer. He lives in Lan­caster, California, is an equine behavior trainer, and unwinds by working on his car and volunteering at races. He’s who you’d expect to see at the 25.

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