Kazunori Yamauchi completes the "25 Hours of Thunder Hill"
"Gran Turismo" series creator and producer Kazunori Yamauchi competed in and successfully completed the "25 Hours of Thunder Hill" 25-hour endurance race, the longest in the world. The race was held on December 5th and 6th at the Thunder Hill Raceway (3 miles/4.8km per lap) near Sacramento, California.
Mr. Yamauchi drove for the world famous "Spoon Sports" team, renowned for their tuning of Honda vehicles. His teammates were professional race drivers Tatsuru Ichishima, Naoki Hattori, and motor journalist Sam Mitani. Their machine was the Group N spec Civic Type R 4 door race 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 similar to the Suzuka Circuit with more hills. 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 mid corner, making this course extremely difficult. Because of these factors, this track requires drivers to control the car not just horizontally as on a normal track, but three-dimensionally as well.
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, the team was 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.
"Thunder Hill was a completely new circuit for me, having had no experience on it 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 I was able to reduce the 20-second gap between my laptimes and my teammates' at the beginning of the practice to almost zero at the start of the final race. It was a great feeling to confirm first hand that "Gran Turismo" has a positive effect in not just learning specific tracks, but also in raising the level of driving technique in the drivers themselves.
And racing as part of 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.