Team Sahlen, presented by honeybeeBase.com, entered Bell Racing 14 Hour Fall Classic at Sebring International Raceway with great enthusiasm after their most recent OVERALL Victory in the Tire Rack – ChampCar Endurance Series at Pittsburgh International Raceway Complex. The event would be the opening event to the upcoming Sebring 12 Hours with the IMSA WeatherTech series, to be held 7 days later.
Friday saw an open Test and Tune day for all ChampCar racers. Team Sahlen took advantage of this opportunity to shake the Stuttgart racers on the 3.74 mile World War II Airport Runway Circuit. All four team drivers (Joe Sahlen, Joe Nonnamaker, Wayne Nonnamaker & Will Nonnamaker) took turns behind the wheel. The team was happy with the day, with the handling on the Boxsters being excellent. With a big day on Saturday, the Team Sahlen crew worked diligently in the afternoon to race prep the cars before 5 pm, ensuring an early dinner and good nights rest.
Saturday dawned with very sunny skies and 89 race cars on the pit road, ready to take the 14 hour Enduro. In the random draw starting line up, Team Sahlen rolled off in the 71st and 72nd starting slots. Solid driving through traffic saw both “Ketchup” and “Mustard” move forward to the Top 5 by the end of hour one.
As the race progressed into hours 2, 3, 4 and 5, the Hurricane coming through the Gulf brought in rain sheers to the central Florida circuit. This made for very treacherous conditions. Straightaways were flooding causing hydroplane conditions. Parts of the track would be wet and parts would be dry from lap to lap. Spinning cars would cause mud and grass to be randomly spewed across the track unexpectedly from turn to turn. Team Sahlen methodically moved through the traffic to slide up into 2nd and 3rd OVERALL on track.
Joe Sahlen shared his thoughts on the 1st half of the race – “Its hard to describe what its like to be on track with 89 racers, in sheering rain causing flooding and blinding mist conditions on track is like. Our crew did a great job executing excellent pit stops. Just surviving the 1st half of this race was a victory in itself.”
A brief drop off in rain at the 8 hour mark had all teams hopeful that conditions would lighten up, and make for a dry track. This false dawn though was soon squashed as a new wave of rain sheers arrived, making for the remainder of the 14 hour event to be continually wet on track. As day rolled into night, Team Sahlen bolted on their headlight bar and prepared for the final push to the finish. Typically, when a race has rain and night time mixed together in results in several incidents on track. Instead the direct opposite happened, with the final 5 ½ hour of the race run under full green flag conditions. This made for a very epic conclusion to the event. Both Team Sahlen’s “Ketchup” and “Mustard” battled to claw back onto the lead lap. With an hour to go in the race, both Boxsters made their final pit stop in the race, and started chasing down the leader. In the end, the team was just short on time to reel in the leader, netting a 2nd and 3rd OVERALL and 1st and 2nd in Class C. The margin to the leader being less than a minute, after 14 grueling hours of racing.
Wayne Nonnamaker shared his thoughts at the end of the race – “After the race, everyone on the team kept saying the same thing- what an EPIC race this was. And in all of my years of racing, I can testify that this was indeed one of the more epic events I have ever been in. To have both our Hot Dog racers on the lead lap after 14 hours is truly amazing. And the only way this occurs if our racers run perfectly all day, and that is where all the credit is due to the crew for prepping to cars that withstand the 14 hour event without one mechanical hiccup.”
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