In the 34 year history of Team Sahlen, never before has the team raced so late into the season as this year. Team Sahlen entered the ChampCar Endurance Series “New Year’s Eve Celebration” event at Sebring International Raceway. The event was to be held over the December 29th and 30th weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday’s races would be 7 hour+ enduros, testing both the drivers and the machines.
For this event, Team Sahlen entered, for the 1st time ever, their #249 Porsche Cayman “Salt” in the EC Class. Additionally, Team Sahlen would be entering their #943 Mazda RX7 “Mustard” in the B Class. “Mustard” was fresh off of securing the Class B and OVERALL Victory at the most recent ChampCar Pittsburgh Grand Prix. This victory was by an amazing 4 feet after 7 hours of racing.
As Team Sahlen arrived in Sebring, they were greeted with beautiful sunny skies and 75 degree weather. This was a fresh reprise from the cloudy and cool December weather of the Midwest. The Team Sahlen driver line up of Joe Sahlen, Joe Nonnamaker, Wayne Nonnamaker and Will Nonnamaker were ready to go on this classic road course. Will shared his fondness for Sebring – “There is just something special about driving around Sebring. Not only is there so much history and heritage to the track, but it truly is a fun track to drive. Each turn is so unique, and you really get into a groove when you get the flow of the track.”
Saturday’s 7 hour enduro saw 80 ChampCar racers roll to the green flag. A cloudy Florida fog covered the track, offering a rather ominous start to the last race of the year. In a very competitive field Team Sahlen’s “Mustard” fought hard all day. During the day, “Mustard” encountered a door handle to door handle incident with another competitor that resulted in a visit to the pits for a flat right rear tire. The incident also caused the right rear to be towed out.
Additionally, an unscheduled pit stop for additional oil delayed progress. But as the race wound down, the Rotary Rocket had risen up to 1st in B Class and 7th in the ChampCar Classification. At the checkered flag flew though, the drama was far from over, as the right front tire went flat, and Wayne Nonnamaker limped “Mustard” across the finish line. Wayne shared this unusual experience – “In my 20+ years of racing, I never had a tire go flat on the last lap of the race,,,but there I was coming through the last turn, and the tire went flat. Fortunately, it was a right hand turn, and caused no major squibbles, and we crossed the line just fine.”
The #249 Porsche Cayman faced stiff competition amongst the 20 EC Class car for Overall Victory. Up through the 5 hour mark, Team Sahlen was racing head to head with the #223 Nissan for top honors. Excellent pit strategy and quick laps in open track saw “Salt” gain momentum and edge out a 2 lap victory at the checkered flag.
Joe Sahlen shared his thoughts at the end of Saturday’s 7 hour endure – “Wow, the Team Sahlen Cayman was just fantastic today. Salt was really stuck to the track all day. I could place it anywhere on track and it just handled great.”
For Sunday’s 7 hour enduro, the ChampCar field rolled out with similar morning fog as the previous day. And just like Saturday, the fog rolled away to beautiful blue skies and 75-degree weather.
The #249 Porsche Cayman “Salt” took up where it left off on Sunday and continued leading the charge at the sharp end of the pack. The #133 Nissan provided stiff competition all day, forcing “Salt” to chase for the lead all day. As the race neared the final hours, a miscue by the Nissan saw Team Sahlen edge forward and secure the Overall victory by 3 laps at the checkered flag.
Unfortunately, #943 Mazda RX7 “Mustard”’s luck ran out on Sunday, and ended behind the wall with mechanical issues. Still a very fine year for a racer that secured 4 Class B victories in 2018.
Joe Nonnamaker summed up the weekend – “It just doesn’t get any better than this. We are in Florida at the end of December, with gorgeous weather and we withstood some very stiff competition to win outright on both Saturday and Sunday’s 7 hour races.”
Team Sahlen now heads home, preparing for the soon to be upcoming new season. The 2019 season will be another exciting year for the team as they continue to strive to secure Overall Victories in the Endurance Sports Car races they have contested in since 1984.