How I Drove New Zealand’s Very First 24 Hour Race (And Lived to Tell the Tale)

24 hour endurance races are quite simply the pinnacle of circuit racing. Man and machine are pushed to their very limit in the ultimate test of finding the perfect balance of speed and staying power. Braving the daylight cycle, the elements, and the opposition, the racing is fierce and the stakes high; surviving the entire 24 hours is the sweetest success for most of the competitors.

The 24 Hours of Lemons New Zealand was a history making race. It would be the first full 24 hour race in the country, meaning pretty much everybody in attendance had no idea what they were getting themselves into. I say pretty much everybody because Randy Pobst was there, and he’s done a few 24 hour races in his life. Think he’s won some too…

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Nathan’s first article on the front page, but he shouldn’t be a stranger to our readers. You can read all about the team’s pre-race plans here, and Nathan’s own dirt track experiences here. He’s now a member of the writing team itself — welcome aboard, Nathan!

The Team Hooncorp Lineup

Team Hooncorp entered this historic race with a two car squad. The original Commodore that debuted at the previous Lemons event in 2017, and an all-new entry, the Hooncorp Autech Pulsar. Hooncorp wasn’t the only team to be entering two cars; Top Gun brought along an all-new Honda Prelude to accompany its current Lemons veteran, an older Prelude, and new team Real Life Racing entered both an EG Civic and ’80s shape CR-X.

Team Hooncorp consisted of:

In the Commodore:

  • Mike Howe
  • Rob Allen
  • Noel Williams
  • Robbie Poharama
  • Brad McClaren (McClarenDeisgn)

In the Pulsar:

  • Nathan Howe (Nismonath5 — y’know, the guy telling the story!)
  • Trevor Rooderkerk
  • Shaun Stewart
  • Craig Coffey
  • Peter Van Breugel

In addition, Carl “Muntar” Van Dam served as our backup driver. While being there to cover for someone in the event of injury or other unforeseen circumstances, he would do stints in both cars over the course of the race.

Pre-Race Jitters

The Friday was rather quiet, as it was simply scrutineering and paperwork. The sense of anticipation was strong in the pits though, with teams eyeing up each other’s cars and mutually brimming with excitement as the race day loomed near.

One thing was for certain though. The thick gray clouds were pretty set in for the weekend, and the rain would be extremely inconsistent. Showers came and went, so too did sprinkles and full on downpours. This meant teams and drivers prepared for slippery, treacherous conditions, and the track wouldn’t exactly heat up either. Oh well. At least tire wear wouldn’t be a problem.

Saturday morning was practice. For the first time, drivers were allowed to head out and get a feel for the conditions. Each Hooncorp driver only got about 15 minutes or so each, but it was enough to make one thing perfectly clear: this was going to be a demanding race. Drivers took turns taking their respective cars out and getting a feel for the conditions, and once practice had been wrapped up, and driver’s briefing done and dusted, the 53-strong field lined up on the grid, ready to kick off.

My Dad (Mike Howe) and I started off in the Commodore and Pulsar respectively, and although the Pulsar started 41st, the Commodore started 53rd, dead last. On leaving the pits to do the formation lap, Mike noticed the gear stick was severely loose, and came straight back in to get it dealt with. By the time the bolts were tightened, the rest of the field had lined up, meaning the only space for him was right at the back. With the cars on the grid 3 wide, teams and crews entered the track for group photos and general pre-race hype.

The Main Event

Finally, the race began. The Pulsar started off fairly easily, and I opted to keep a pretty smooth pace and just let the field spread out a little, but Mike went straight to work, and in the first lap alone passed 14 cars to be classified 39th. The entire first leg of the race was surprisingly uneventful considering the less than ideal conditions. Nobody wanted to be “that guy”, the first one to stick it in the wall or be penalized. Eventually, bumps and bashes did begin to happen, and with rain coming and going, drivers were well and truly kept on their toes! After an hour, the Commodore came in for its first driver change, and the Pulsar came in shortly after.

Darkness enveloped the track at 6PM, only three hours into the race. Despite everybody’s fears, racing was actually significantly easier than anticipated. Until the rain rolled in again. With heavy rainfall, windscreen wipers working overtime, and windshields fogging up, visibility became a top priority. Heaters and de-misters were cranked up to full, which cured the window fogging problem but made the cabins unbearably stuffy. Without daylight, sparks could be seen exploding out of the Pulsar’s front brake pads on braking, simply due to the metallic pads we were using. Before long race control pulled in the Pulsar due to fears from other drivers that the sparks hinted at something catastrophically wrong with the car, but in truth the sparks were no more harmful than glowing hot brake discs.

Not long after, at 9:15PM, the Commodore came to a sudden and unexpected stop on track, and it got roped in by the recovery team. It had suffered an electrical failure, which was soon sorted and it was back in business. As far as lap times, both cars were sitting around the 1:35 mark, with the Pulsar dipping into the low 1:30s, and the Commodore sometimes sitting in the low 1:40s. The rain was getting really bad though, so bad that visibility was down to only a few car lengths.

A few more hours passed rather uneventfully before team Terrorists, in an E46-shape BMW 320i stuck their car in the wall backwards, blowing out the rear window and showering the track with glass. A red flag halted the action while the mess was cleaned up. This effectively gave teams a free stop, with driver changes, fuelling and other maintenance all allowed during the red flag period. Both cars got their tanks filled, and some fresh brake pads to be on the safe side. The track was so wet that tyre wear was never an issue, so the same rubber was kept on both cars.

Morning Comes

By the time light began to reappear — I won’t say sunrise because there wasn’t one. It was still very gloomy — the Pulsar was 16th, and the Commodore was sitting around 25th, though it was moving and shaking far more than the Pulsar. Not long after the Commodore had more reason to shake and rattle after a tired calculation error from one of our drivers. The old girl ended up buried in the gravel, and extraction was a bit violent, which bent the front bumper support bar to look something like an old steam train “Cow Catcher”.

Nonetheless she was quickly checked over, deemed to be fit, and sent off again.

Brad finally got his time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint. Aside from putting one small mark on the Commodore in an exchange that didn’t attract any penalties or other ill-effects, he managed to keep his nose clean, stay on the pace and keep the team in the Commodore in the running for a placing in the top half of the field! All without any prior racing experience or training aside from the 15 minutes he’d had to practice the day before!

The Pulsar was climbing through the results slowly and surely, and eventually broke into 11th place, just one spot from being in the top 10. But the charmed run was about to come undone. The rain had stopped, the sun had come out and the track dried out, so of course the pace picked up substantially. However, what was a blessing for some was a curse for others.

The brake compound we had for the Pulsar was brilliant at the start in the cooler temperatures and wet weather, however in the heat of a fine day, for some reason they were wearing out at a substantially quicker rate. Suddenly the six spare sets of standard, roadworthy brake pads we had confidently thought was enough to last the 24 hours and maybe more, were now looking to be woefully inadequate, and quite frankly, with 6 hours to go, we were beginning to get worried. Of course, anyone else would say all we had to do was slow down, but that thought hadn’t quite crossed our minds in the heat of the battle.

The Final Stretch

With two hours to go the last set of road pads had lasted barely one single hour before wearing alarmingly thin, and if we didn’t get some extra pads soon, it was game over agonizingly close to the finish! We put the Pulsar up on axle stands and took the brakes out. An S.O.S had been sent to NZ brake specialists Race Brakes which thankfully had a stand on site, AND it had a set of racing pads perfect for the Pulsar.

Disaster averted, the Pulsar was back on track! Even though the team was gutted our hard-fought 11th had been reduced to 16th, at least we knew brakes would no longer be an issue.

The most spectacular moment of the race had to go to Jeff Bloch (aka Speedycop) and his gang of outlaws. After a bit of contact had pried their hood up just a bit, the team’s “Mutt-Stang” (A Lincon Mk VIII with a Mach 1 body) came flying down the front straight at well over 150kph when all four hood pins sheared off and the hood went flipping into the air, slamming back onto the ground! Needless to say, the team was penalized.

The Commodore at this point was running perfectly and clawing its way back from 27th position post gravel-beaching, and was now 24th. Things were starting to look like we could actually finish this thing with two running cars. Dare we even dream?

With every passing minute, it seemed increasingly likely. Twenty four hours of nonstop motor racing had all come down to this final hour. And in this final hour, about three teams broke down. The message was clear to everyone: “Don’t cock it up now!!!”

Some cars were even being extremely passive on track, aiming simply to cross the finish line. At long last, the last lap call was made from race control and both Hooncorp cars crossed the finish intact and in very respectable placings, 16th for the Pulsar and 23rd for the Commodore!

The good result for the team only got better when, post race, it was discovered that a team ahead of us had actually broken down before the finish, meaning they were out. This bumped both cars up a spot, to 15th and 22nd respectively! And so, after 24 hours of gruelling racing including pitch darkness, cruel rainstorms, and extreme endurance, team Hooncorp made it to the end in a NZ motorsport history-making race!

End Of Race Figures

  • Race winner – 792 laps (1st)
  • Pulsar – 680 laps (15th)
  • Commodore – 643 laps (22nd)
  • Race starters: 53
  • DNF’s: 12

It Wouldn’t Have Been Possible Without…

Of course there were a lot of behind-the-scenes folks involved with making this happen, so now for some acknowledgements. Parts were supplied for both cars largely from BNT in Manukau from Bryan, Graham and the awesome team, so cheers beyond words.

The help, advice and keen-ness from Davie Motors for the Holden was just so brilliant. The time they gave to help us on an old pile when they work on brand new cars was humbling. If you have any Holden needs, contact Peter or the team for help.

The little Pulsar was top to bottom transformed by Glenn at Gibbs Signs in Takanini in hours, and he REALLY saw the retro picture we had in mind, managing to pull it off and make the Pulsar look fantastic!

Thanks to Craig for the hard work on the Pulsar (awesome), Muntar for generally doing anything above and beyond. Shaun (Way 2 Easy Transport) was our transport and logistics man, if you need something transported contact Way2ez! Noel did a ton of little odd jobs that made our lives easier, thanks mate!

The drivers, you all did so very well, barely a foot placed wrong, our penalties were received with happiness, but the results were staggering.

Now, where to from here? If you’re keen to get involved with the next Lemons, either as your own team or if you want to join us, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you, and as shown by Brad’s journey across the globe, the offer is open to anyone in the world.

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