The final event of the season for the American Endurance Racing season would be at newly built National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The event would also be the final race of the season for the endurance sports car racers at Team Sahlen. To date, the team had several successful race weekends, and hoped to end the season on a very high note.
The Friday Open Practice and Qualifying saw the Team Sahlen drivers all experience the new 3.14 mile track for the 1st time. Not only was this new track very long, but there were over 24 turns per lap to learn. After qualifying the #43 Team Sahlen Porsche Cayman on the Pole Position, Wayne Nonnamaker summarized his experience in learning the new track – “Whenever you come to a new race track, there is always a period of acclimation. With so many turns to learn, this process took a little longer than usual to learn. I think by the end of the day I had got up to speed. Yet, I don’t think after qualifying I have fully learned the nuances of this twisty circuit.”
The beautiful skies and warm weather from Friday’s Practice and Qualifying made way for heavy thunderstorm clouds, high winds and low temperatures for Saturday’s 8 hour race. The race was not even a hour in duration before the skies let loose with chilling rain. The rain continued for the next 7 hours of the race. Team Sahlen wisely choose to switch the Caymans over to Rain tires at this point in the race.
The #43 and #41 Caymans continued to set consistent lap times, without dropping a wheel of the track. This pace saw the team in the top 3 overall for the full length of the race. As the day closed in on the last hour of the race, the skies opened up with a full rain storm.
Will Nonnamaker shared his experience driving in this last hour of the race – “The last ½ hour of driving in this race has to be one of my most scariest times in a race car. With the temperatures still in the 60s, our windows were fogging up. The rain was coming down in buckets. This cause for even worse visibility. Additionally, the extra rain caused the track to flood in some areas, leading to some hydroplaning several times a lap at about 100+ mph.”
“To top it all off, the sun set at 4:30 pm, the same time the race was set to end. At 3:50 pm, even with lights the sky pure black. I was cleaning the windshield with a squeegee stick in my left hand, shifting with my right hand, then somewhere in between steering the car. Thankfully, the series made a very wise call and ended the race 30 minutes early. I couldn’t even see the starter stand, so the crew had to tell me the checkered flag had flown.”
At the conclusion to the day, Team Sahlen secured 2nd and 3rd in Class 5, and 2nd and 4th Overall. With the cars all in one piece, this made the job of the crew to re-prep the Caymans for Sunday’s 8 hour event a bit easier.
Sunday dawned beautiful blue skies, reminiscent of the wonderful Friday the team had experienced. Wayne Nonnamaker started the #43 Porsche Cayman from 2nd on the grid. By the time he made it around for lap one, he was in the lead. From that point, until the end of the race, the #43 led every lap when except for pit stops interludes. The final margin of victory was 4 laps over the #99 GTR BMW.
Joe Nonnamaker summarized the weekend – “We came to this event with high hopes of contending for Overall Victory. On Saturday and Sunday, Team Sahlen was able to finish both of our Caymans. With 16 hours of racing, that is not always an easy task. The competition keeps getting better and better in the American Endurance Racing. The #99 GTR is the series champion over the past 2 years. They were able to edge us in the rain on Saturday, and we were able to come out successful on Sunday. This was a lot of fun. We can’t wait for the 2018 season to start up again.”