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PUMPELLY: Road America Debrief

Spencer Pumpelly’s latest Sportscar365 debrief follows a late-race trend of his…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

It seems like my columns for Sportscar365 this year covering my ST adventures fall into either one of two categories: elation or desperation.

Last weekend our Rennsport One team once again suffered heartbreak, but this time it had an all-too-familiar feel.

Let’s rewind a bit. Last year at Monterey, I found myself leading in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Audi R8 in the closing laps of the stint.

We knew it would be close on fuel so I began saving gas from the moment I got in the car to run the final stint. The team had telemetry so every lap the fuel usage was recorded giving the pit box a good idea of what was left in the tank. After saving the entire stint I was told we were good to race to the end.

On the final lap the team came over the radio screaming at me to save fuel. Apparently our sister car had run dry earlier than expected and they were worried I wasn’t going to make it. Now with a 15-second lead I really dialed back and tried to just idle back around.

Coming up the hill into the Corkscrew that final time the engine quit, and it quit for good. As I coasted down the hill, I watched second and third place come flying by.

After coasting all the way through Turn 11 my car came to a stop about 100 yards from the finish. The fuel counter showed we still should have had four liters (about a gallon) in the tank.

A thorough investigation afterwards revealed that because our pit box was near the end of pit lane, on a steep uphill, the fuel couldn’t flow to some areas of the tank and as a result we short-filled the car.

This was something we could repeat in the shop with the front jacked up. We learned something new about our car but it didn’t change the fact that we lost the race by running out of gas after leading with only two turns to go.

Rewind even further. In 2011 I again found myself at Road America fighting fuel issues late in a race.

I was racing a TRG Porsche in the American Le Mans Series’ GTC class and catching Sean Edwards in the closing stages. Jeroen Bleekemolen was running in third and with two laps to go I had a healthy gap to him.

Coming into the Kink for the penultimate time my car got a fuel bobble, so I went to reserve. For some reason it took forever to get fuel pressure back after switching pumps and as a result Sean was gone and Jeroen was right on my tail.

On the final lap Sean looked to have it locked up, but out of Turn 5 he ran out of gas. I caught him and looked to the inside of Turn 6, but he pushed me into the grass on the inside forcing me to lift and letting Jeroen by. Then, as Jeroen tried to pass Sean he did the same thing… only this time he hit Jeroen and flattened Jeroen’s front tire.

Sean was now completely out, so I got by him. Now all I had to do was pass Jeroen who was limping to the finish. The win was mine.

But again, it wasn’t to be for me. I ran out of reserve fuel as I came out of Canada Corner and barely made it to the line ahead of third place and not far behind Jeroen in his damaged car.

Last lap, chance to win, two turns to go, out of gas again.

But the race that stands out for me was the Grand-Am race in 2011 (go to 1:41:22).

Again I was in the lead on the final lap. My car was damaged and I was tight on fuel but I should have been good to the end.

On the final lap I came out of Canada Corner, and ran out of gas.

I had enough to sputter across the line in third, but a sure win slipped away with two turns to go. There was gas in the tank, but we couldn’t get it all out due to a pickup issue.

This weekend’s ST race was a great team effort from Rennsport One. On Friday morning the car crashed heavily in the Kink. The guys repaired it but we missed all the practice.

Our teammates Connor Bloum and Remo Ruscitti really helped us out by getting their cars working and letting us copy their setups. Thanks to their great work we had a good car despite not being able to dial it in.

The race will air this weekend so I won’t give away the end for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say this:

We had enough fuel in the tank, we had the lead coming out of Canada Corner on the final lap, and history, they say, has a way of repeating itself.

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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