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PUMPELLY: Monterey Debrief

Spencer Pumpelly files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

After two tough events to start the season, last week’s race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca offered our Change Racing team a chance to turn things around.

The opening two races in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are both unique. They are the two longest races of the season and they require us to bring on additional drivers.

Laguna was the first “normal” round of the championship where it would just be Corey [Lewis] and me and we could focus on speed over endurance.

Laguna Seca is one of the great tracks in the U.S. It’s always fun to race there and spend time in the Monterey area but as time has gone on the track has gotten slipperier and slipperier.

The grip levels in the asphalt are probably the lowest of anywhere we race. On top of that the dust on the side of the track is fine and easily brought onto the track when competitors go off.

Laguna requires a different approach. Instead of attacking the track like we are used to we find ourselves tip-toeing around trying not to overdrove the cars.

Lap time comes from being very patient and not allowing the car to slide in the least.

The low grip also makes it hard to dial in the car. The line between tight and loose is so fine on such a low grip surface that you have a small setup window.

We spent most of the practice trying to fine tune small things as little changes on the car made big changes on the track.

We were still chasing the track up to the pre race warm up but in the end, thanks to the help of everyone on the team and the Lamborghini Squadra Corse guys, our car was good.

Corey started the race from 6th on the grid and held the spot for his entire stint. He was all over the the BMW M6 of Bret Curtis for an hour but he just couldn’t get by.

Another downside to the low grip track is that digging a little extra to make a pass stick just isn’t possible. You end up backing yourself away from the driver ahead and it takes a lot off of your tires.

Add to the mix that the new GT3-spec cars are more reliant on front aerodynamics so following a slower car takes grip off the nose in the med to high speeds corners and passing is near impossible.

In the brilliant podcast “Dinner with Racers” that Ryan Eversley and Sean Heckman did with help from Continental Tire, engineer Jeff Braun talked about things he would change in racing if he could wave a magic wand.

He would reduce downforce, across the board, by at least 50 percent, preferably 70 percent to preserve racing. Our GT3-spec has gone the other way.

With passing on track out of the question, passing in the pits was the only option. Knowing this Corey was a little over zealous and he stopped long in the pit box.

We couldn’t reach the car with the fuel hose so we had to push him back and that was the difference between going back out in 6th or better and ending up on the tail of the lead lap.

A lap later I learned that an industry representative had jumped over the wall (in street clothes no less) to help push the car and we were hit with a drive through penalty.

I appreciate the enthusiasm but this would prove to be the proverbial nail in the coffin.

Without another yellow it was an uneventful drive home to a tenth place finish.

Detroit is yet another chance to turn things around and I know the team is working harder and better than ever.

I’m optimistic about the rest of the season but the frustration up to this point has been pretty tough.

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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