When Rennsport One showed up at last year’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season opener at Daytona with three cars and nearly delivered a 1-2 finish in the ST class on its series debut, jaws collectively dropped around the paddock.
Here was a Pompano Beach, Florida-based team that arrived with little fanfare, but with good driver lineups and well-prepped cars immediately shook up the establishment.
Jon Miller handed his No. 18 Porsche Cayman off to Adam Isman, with Isman primed to bring the No. 18 car to the win after both drove flawlessly.
But the car sputtered on the final lap, and teammates Spencer Pumpelly and Luis Rodriguez Jr. snatched the win in the sister No. 17 car.
Looking back a year later, RS1 team principal Justin Bellinzoni still looks back on that BMW Performance 200 race with mixed emotions even though it was an impressive debut by any account.
“Still to this day, I think that’s the one that got away,” Bellinzoni told Sportscar365. “It was heart-wrenching looking back, seeing it was a fuel issue. That was a tough one.
“But we did a lot of on-track testing before the season came to prepare. There were 24 hours logged on the 17 chassis before we showed up. Basically, symmetrically we mocked that up onto the 18 (car).
“The 18 never turned a lap until its first lap here. We drove it onto the transporter and off the transporter. It was finished the day before.
“We had to arrive here. We were happy with its results and the job that the drivers performed.”
The dynamic arrival immediately raised the stakes and set in motion an intriguing year for the three-car team.
Pumpelly and Rodriguez consistently challenged for wins, while Greg Strelzoff and Connor Bloum banked a series of top-10 results in the third car, the No. 19 Porsche Cayman.
Despite the high points, there seemed to be more valleys during the year. Pumpelly and Rodriguez won four races but had several poor finishes or DNFs that dropped them from title contention.
The No. 18 car, meanwhile, turned into a revolving door of a driver lineup from Watkins Glen onwards.
RS1 will return with three cars in 2016, but Strelzoff and Bloum in the No. 19 Cayman are the only same lineup as last year.
Pumpelly will return with new co-driver Nick Galante in the No. 17 car, while Remo Ruscitti is set for a full season in the No. 18 car after only making occasional series starts last year. He’ll share that car with another team newcomer, Aaron Song.
Bellinzoni said an across-the-board approach to fixing each chassis’ issues will help all three chassis this year. The team’s No. 17 car is a new build after the team’s previous No. 17 car from this year was put up for sale this winter.
“What we did this offseason is we logged the flaws we had among all three chassis,” Bellinzoni explained.
“We’ll shelve some components out sooner or later for a proactive approach versus a reactive approach. We think that will pay dividends this season.”
Being the top Cayman in a Cayman-heavy ST field was no small feat for RS1, either.
Up against potential rivals from Bimmerworld-supported Next Level European, the Goldcrest Motorsports-run Strategic Wealth Racing and perennial title contenders Murillo Racing among others in 2016, Bellinzoni said the team’s tireless work ethic will help.
“We had good cars last year but in our off time we want to make good cars even better,” he said.
“I can’t take the credit for that, we have a great team behind me. I have two engineers, Scott Best and Louis Malone, who are powerhouses. And they’ve been working really hard with us to get these chassis the best we can get them.”
The small-team nature of RS1 is reflected in the fact the team has only three full-time crew members, with everyone else a race weekend fly-in. Bellinzoni himself regularly wrenches on the cars.
“We’re a very small team with a big heart,” he said. “The financial resources just aren’t there compared to the other big names in the paddock, so we have to do the best we can with our budget without compromising our equipment.”