May 5, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Occasionally in racing, you’ll hear the term a car “goes the length of a football field in about a second.”
On Sunday at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship PC/GTD class race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the length of a football field – 100 yards – must have felt like a mile to Spencer Pumpelly and the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS car.
Pumpelly took over from co-driver Nelson Canache, who led the opening stint, on the team’s sole pit stop on Lap 25. But with a lack of frequent cautions – only two interrupted the two-hour race – Pumpelly ran out of fuel exiting the Corkscrew on the final lap while leading.
He had enough to carry the momentum down the hill and into Turn 11, but exiting the tight and final corner on the track, the car ran dry just within sight of the checkered flag.
What followed afterwards was a masterclass of class and attitude despite the crushing end result.
“We were trying to make an extra 10 minutes of gas out of our stint, which was an impossible task, but we got 9 minutes and 50 seconds out of it,” Pumpelly said.
“The thing we have to figure out is we got information out of the car that we should have been OK, from the first lap I turned we started saving fuel. Everything said we should have been good, and now that we missed it by that little I’m kicking myself for every little (one minute) 31 latpime could have been a 32. I’ll mull that over for a while.”
As it was, Pumpelly had done the business of putting Flying Lizard in position to score its first win with its new Audi, and the positives of the team’s first pole position with the car on Saturday and dialing the car in as well as they had were still good takeaways from the weekend.
“I’m so impressed with the effort they’ve given,” he said. “We got our first pole and we were 100 yards away from our first win.
“The good news is my flight’s not til later, there’s a concession stand up there on the hill and I can douse these flames with an ice cold beer and watch the P race.”
Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Pumpelly, Canache and Flying Lizard down the road after two soul-crushing losses in GTD this season.
The first came at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, when the pair plus co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Tim Pappas were originally declared GTD class winners following a penalty issued to Level 5 Motorsports for an on-track incident. But that penalty was later rescinded and Level 5 reinstated as class winners.
Then this made two tough ones.
On the bright side, Pumpelly was already chuckling about it because he’d been on the other side of just making it home to the finish.
“I remember at Watkins Glen a couple years ago, I crossed start/finish, got halfway through my first donut and the engine died,” he said. “It was not only the worst donut attempt ever, but it also shows how close it can be 100 yards the other way. I can only smile at how well the guys did today. Boy, am I looking forward to getting to Detroit now.”
Pumpelly and Canache ultimately ended sixth, which Pumpelly appreciated in some respects because of how the PC leaders got through the GTD traffic and meant that from sixth on back was a lap down to the class lead. That saved the result from being much worse.
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