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PUMPELLY: Daytona Debrief

Spencer Pumpelly on his new team and a character-building Rolex 24…

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

Welcome back to my Sportscar365 blog. Last year I focused on my drives in the ST class of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.

For 2016, I have been asked to write about my experiences in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driving with Corey Lewis and Change Racing in the No. 16 Lamborghini. Thanks for reading.

Daytona is cruel. I should know. I have run the race 17 times now. I can remember in vivid detail how they each and every one played out. Twice in those 17 years I was elated with the results.

That means 15 times there has been incredible disappointment. In each case a there is a moment that you can’t take back that turns a potential triumph into a bad memory that lasts forever. This year would be no exception.

The Change Racing team was new to the WeatherTech Championship and had little time working together, but they each brought a great deal of racing experience from other series and disciplines.

That’s important because each year Daytona is our biggest test, and for Change Racing and Lamborghini it comes at a time when everything is new and untested. There is no learning curve. Almost half of the pit stops we will do this season come in the 24. If you aren’t prepared it will be a long night.

Thursday came and with it torrential rains that left the track a mess. On my first trip through the West banking I felt a significant vibration so I came back in.

The crew checked it over and sent me back out. The vibration was still there. I thought the car was going to shake itself apart. It was unlike anything I had felt before. They found some loose parts. I went back out and it was still there. We made several more stops trying to fix it.

On one of those trips back to pit road I came off the oval, hit the brakes, and the car spun hard right making contact with the inside wall. Did something break? What happened? Either way the car was smashed. I was afraid our weekend might be over.

After looking at video and data it appears that I was caught out by the new paint. I went to the brake pedal with the right tires on the double yellow line and to was enough to turn the car. I had never been caught out like this before so now I felt even worse.

The damage was significant. The mounting point for the front upper and lower control arms had been ripped out of the chassis. I would estimate that nine out of ten teams there that weekend would have packed up and gone home but our guys decided to try to fix it.

After almost eight hours of welding and an all-night effort, the car was through tech first thing Friday morning. We were back in the game. Remember what I said about Daytona being a big test. Our guys were ready.

Now the question was if the vibration had gone away. Justin Marks took the car out first and reported that the vibration was still there. Justin has a significant stock car background and he immediately said it felt aero induced. We cycled our guys through but couldn’t get the vibration to go away. We were out of time. We had one shot to figure it out. The next session was the race.

The green came out Saturday afternoon and everyone had their fingers crossed. Thanks to Justin’s input and our engineer’s experience with the car in Europe the team made some changes that they confidently hoped would fix it. When Corey reported that the vibration was gone everyone cheered in the pit. We had overcome lots of adversity and now we were free to go race.

Corey drove a great stint. It was his first stint in the Rolex 24 and his first in the WeatherTech Championship but he was very calm and cool.

He brought the car from last into the top ten quickly and turned some impressive laps. Kaz Grala jumped in next as performed very well in his first real stint in the car. A few procedural penalties took us off the lead lap but we were very fast.

Because of the crash on Thursday, the car didn’t make night practice. That meant that we couldn’t qualify Corey or Kaz to do any of the night stints. Justin and I planned on doing the whole time at night triple stinting between the two of us. Justin got us a lap back and gave the car to me under caution where we made up our other lap.

In my stint I got my first real taste of the Lambo. The car was fantastic. We trimmed the car out for banking speed and I was able to draft by cars into turn one as a result. After several laps I caught the class-leading 48 car being driven by Mirko Bortolotti.

I went to pass him on the outside of the tri-oval and he began to squeeze me up to the wall. At the last second I crossed him up and dove for the bottom, only to have him move back down in front of me. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid contact.

I then tried him several times in the infield but he fought me very hard, especially given we were only ten hours into a 24-hour race.

A lap later he must have gotten the message from his team because he pulled over and pointed a finger out the window. Cooler heads prevailed and Change Racing now had the lead of the Daytona 24!

I finished my triple stint, gave the car back to Justin, and went to get some rest. The 48 car, now with Bryce Miller driving, got the lead back from us after the pit stops. Justin ran them back down and tried again to take the lead.

From my sleeping spot in the hauler I could hear Justin and our spotter on the radio discussing things. Justin was dealing with the same things I was when trying to pass the 48 car. He got moved into the grass coming out of turn 3. He was forced outside in every infield turn, and on the banking the 48 was doing everything he could to try to wreck them both.

We had a great car and so did the 48. The big picture would have been to realize this and not aggressively block a faster car with 13 hours to go in the race.

Our spotter TJ [Majors] was trying to calm Justin down but you could tell that with each dirty move from the 48, Justin was getting more and more frustrated.

Things came to a head in the tri-oval. According to TJ, as Justin moved around the outside of the 48 they were so close to each other that the side buffeting brought them together just before the brake zone. The contact caused them both to spin and both made contact with the inside wall.

Was Justin to blame of the incident? Perhaps? But had the 48 not decided to make it his mission to stay in the lead at all costs it would have been a very different story for both cars.

Remember when I mentioned, “A moment that you can’t take back that turns a potential triumph into a bad memory that lasts forever.”

True to form, our Change Racing guys did another heroic job and fixed the car.

We made it out and got points for both Corey and I thanks to their hard work and great attitude.

I wish things could have been different but I am proud to have been a part of an incredible team effort.

Spencer Pumpelly (@SpencerPumpelly) is one of America's leading GT racers, driving for Change Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Rennsport One in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

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