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Spencer Pumpelly files Sportscar365 debrief after first win at VIR…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

In racing I have found there are lots of code words. For example when I hear that a track is “technical” that’s a code word for slow.

Last weekend we raced at VIR and I can say with confidence that VIR is the best track we go to. It’s the best track on the IMSA schedule. It’s the best track in the U.S. The stop we make there each year in the TUDOR and Continental cars is the one I look forward to the most.

Sure, fast old-style tracks like Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, and Mosport are “among my favorites” which is code for I really like them and we go to some “beautiful facilities” too, code for not really a favorite.

But when you hear a driver talk about a place as being the best you know they mean it. No code here, VIR is my favorite.

Why? Several reasons.

The first is the track layout. It’s the same as it was in 1957 when the track was first built and unlike today, in 1957 it was OK for racecars to go fast. Not only are there sufficient straightaways to stretch our GT cars to almost 170 mph, but there are really fast turns in the mix too. The Uphill Esses are a 155 mph slalom course with a jump in the middle. VIR flows like the type of back country road that gets people into sports cars in the first place.

The second reason is the staff. Other tracks could take note here. Everyone you come across at VIR is there to help you. They seem to go out of their way to make you feel welcome. There are no “blue shirts” watching your every move just waiting to scream at you. Yet things are always smooth, safe, and efficient proving you can be hospitable and effective.

The staff also listens to the racers. Kerrigan Smith and Connie Nyholm are always soliciting input from drivers and receptive to feedback. I’ve had more interaction with them about track issues than I have had with all the other tracks on our schedule combined, and it’s not just me. I think many other IMSA drivers would say the same thing.

Finally the track is serious about safety, something I am very appreciative of. VIR uses tiered tire walls to slow errant cars. Instead of flying across an ineffective gravel trap and into a thin barrier, cars at VIR hit several rows of tire walls that gradually dissipate the energy. Cars and drivers are much better off as a result.

Last weekend my Park Place teammate Madison Snow completely lost front brakes in his Lamborghini and flew off the road at very high speed. Thankfully this happened at VIR. Not only was he not hurt thanks to the tire wall, but the car was ready to race six hours later. Anywhere else, and a 170 mph off could have far different consequences.

There’s only one thing about VIR I don’t like, and that’s the luck I seem to have there. Since it reopened in 2001 I have raced there almost every year in some form or another, but I had never had a professional win there.

Last year our Audi R8 LMS blew a tire late in the race. In 2013 our GTC Porsche threw a serpentine belt in the race. In 2012 the car in front of me brought mud onto the track in Hog Pen, which caused me to crash and then get hit by Craig Stanton who hit the same mud. I could go on.

This weekend our Rennsport One team was looking to rebound from some bad luck at Road America and boy did we ever. Luis Rodriguez Jr. drove a brilliant opening stint pitting out of a true fifth place. When the Rennsport One guys serviced the car they were able to pick up four spots for us on pit road with a great stop.

Luck also gave us a yellow just as we were coming down pit road cycling us to the front on the re-start. I was able to get by for the lead and then watch as the field battled behind me. It ended up being a long green run and the only drama was watching my teammate Remo Ruscitti reel me in slowly over the next hour.

Finally, as I came to the white a full course yellow came out and the long VIR bad luck streak was over. It was another great team effort and I can’t say thanks enough to Luis Jr. and Rennsport One.

Next race we head to COTA, a beautiful facility and a very technical track.

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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