With eight consecutive appearances in the around-the-clock endurance classic, Flying Lizard Motorsports had been a fixture at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
However, that all changed last year when the multi-time ALMS championship-winning squad switched from Porsche GTE to GTC machinery in the U.S., which led the American favorites to put a pause on its annual pilgrimage to La Sarthe.
While the entire California-based squad has not made the trip this year, a handful of management and drivers, including team principal Seth Neiman and co-driver Spencer Pumpelly, have joined forces with JMW Motorsport for another crack at an elusive class win.
“We have have some familiar faces with Seth, Thomas [Blam, team strategist] and Eric [Ingraham, team manager],” Pumpelly told Sportscar365. “It’s the best of both worlds.
“[Le Mans] is such a cool event and fun thing to do. I’m like a kid every time I go over there. To me, it will be the highlight of the season, win or lose.”
Pumpelly returns for his third appearance at Le Mans, all having come with Neiman. The duo, along with Darren Law, nearly pulled off the GTE-Am class victory in 2011 but retired with engine failure in the 18th hour.
An early race accident, meanwhile, dashed Pumpelly’s hopes in 2012, after also leading the class.
This time around, Pumpelly and Neiman are joined by Saudi driver Abdulaziz Al-Faisal at the wheel of the British squad’s Michelin-shod Ferrari F458 Italia, a proven winner in European Le Mans Series competition with the Jim McWhirter-led JMW squad.
For Pumpelly, who had predominately driven Porsches up until this year when the Lizards switched to Audi R8 LMS cars in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, adjusting to the GTE-spec Prancing Horse hasn’t been as big of a challenge as originally anticipated.
“I think getting familiar with the Audi has changed the way how I’ve approached things,” he said. “The Audi and the Porsche are similar to what they want but they’re not similar on how you get them there.
“I don’t think the fans realize how different the [GTE] cars really are. It’s not like you hop into one and the other. The grip level is much, much higher. The power, relative to the grip, is fairly low.
“I’m using some of what I’ve learned this year to be adaptable to help with the Ferrari. But going over to Le Mans in the [Porsche 911 GT3] RSR was, at least initially, a big change as well.
“Hopefully the experience I’ve had at Le Mans and the experience with the Flying Lizard RSR and the testing we did, as well as learning this new Audi, will give me the proper tools.”
With 19 entries in GTE-Am, the production-based category could end up being the most competitive class in this year’s race.
And while the Lizards haven’t been on the podium since its race debut in 2005, Pumpelly is hoping to help re-kindle some of that magic, but with a new environment.
“Everyone wants to win here,” Pumpelly said. “A podium for sure would be awesome. We’ve been fourth and I know Seth has been [on the podium] once, but it’s been a while and he desperately wants to get there.
“I just think going on top of that podium to see the sea of people, and not packing up and hanging your head at the end of it like what’s happened before, would be a lot of fun.”