PETALUMA, CA (October 22) - Season finales are always memorable, and the 15th Annual Petit Le Mans event at Road Atlanta was no different. Cast the 1,000-mile contest as one of sportscar's iconic and memorable races that always draws significant crowds and media coverage, and the stage becomes set. For TRG, that stage resulted in two hard-fought podiums with its pair of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars claiming a second and third by the time night had fallen.
Testing and practice earlier in the week had its share of surprises and challenges that kept the suspense running high. The No. 66 Venezuela / Avior Airlines/ Breast Cancer Awareness Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car featured Venezuelan newcomer Nelson Canache, Jr, regular season teammate Emilio DiGuida and TRG team driver Spencer Pumpelly. TRG's No. 68 grupogume.com/ Adobe Road Winery Porsche was driven by former Porsche factory driver Emmanuel Collard, series newcomer Manuel Gutierrez, Jr. of Mexico, and California native Mike Hedlund.
Qualifying introduced a series of challenges that would follow during the race. Pumpelly qualified P3, while Collard in No. 68 qualified P7 after its aero was compromised with a damaged splitter. A power steering issue surfaced in Pumpelly's car during race morning warm-up, necessitating an immediate repair. By rule, any work done to a car after qualifying loses its qualifying position. Despite starting at the back of the field, Pumpelly gave TRG a great performance at the start. Moving from eight to fourth within the first 30 minutes, he eventually positioned himself in first by the first full-course caution.
Once the course returned to green, driver changes ensued and Emilio DiGuida took over the controls and maintained good position during his stint while Collard did a great job making solid gains along the way.
Keeping up with the class leader was a challenge as minor technical issues kept appearing throughout the race after an earlier off-track and recovery. Pumpelly continuously experienced issues with the throttle when a broken rear sway bar sent him in to a gravel-trap just over four hours into the race.
Canache in the No. 66, as well as Collard and Gutierrez in the No. 68, ran great times all throughout their stints. Consistency and patience brought them both up through the field as attrition also began to occur. For his first ever Petit Le Mans, Hedlund put in a super solid performance doing a double stint and maintained the No. 68 in third as Canache moved the No. 66 up to fifth.
Pumpelly and Gutierrez ran the last stint of the race in the No. 66 and No. 68 respectively. As is often the case in premier endurance racing, the last laps are almost always the most exciting part of the event. In the last hour, accident avoidance and fuel strategy brought TRG a fantastic finish with Pumpelly finishing second in the No. 66 and Gutierrez earning third in No. 68.
"This was certainly a challenging race," explained Pumpelly. "We had some technical problems with the car, which were a little hard to drive around. We eventually got things sorted, but that cost us our qualifying position. We had 10-hours/1,000 miles to get through the field, and we did!"
"The Porsche is very different from the other cars I've driven in the past," says DiGuida. "They like to be driven in a very certain way, and in a race like this you have to manage not only your own car, but deal with a lot of fast traffic around you. I was hoping for a podium finish at Petit, the last race of the season, and we were lucky enough to capture it."
Manuel Gutierrez Jr. may be a newcomer to TRG but performed exceptionally behind the wheel.
"It took a little while to get familiar with the car, but being new to the team, everyone really made me feel comfortable which helped me do my job as a driver," says Gutierrez. "This was certainly a great experience. Without a doubt the strategy in the pits brought us to the podium."
"This was the best way to end the season," explained Canache. "Kevin made the right calls in the pits. Our drivers were solid and we were consistent to the end. Walking away from a podium finish after 1,000-miles of racing feels amazing."
"Taking two of the three podium spots at one of the most important endurance races in North America is an amazing accomplishment for our organization and I just want to give a huge 'WAY TO GO GUYS!!!' to everyone on the TRG squad. This race was full of surprises and we made all the right calls and it paid off. Now its time to start planning for 2013, and we can't wait," said Buckler.
Source: The Racers Group