TRG Takes Podium At Road America Thriller
In a race that featured everything from cars being launched over the catch fencing to one of the wildest finishes in recent history, TRG endured a thrilling seventh round of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series to take their second podium of the year.
With their last podium coming through their victory at the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, the no. 67 Sargent & Lundy / Emmons Coachworks Porsche GT3 cup of Steve Bertheau and Spencer Pumpelly headed in to this weekend's event long overdue for their second podium of the season. Taking place in the "backyard" of Bertheau, who resides just a few hours away in the Chicago area, the scenic location of Elkhart Lake set the stage for one of the team's best shots at a strong result.
We were strong and we had this one but in the end, it was still a fantastic event.
With the long straights and fast corners of the 4.1 mile, 17-turn circuit lending itself favorably to the characteristics of the Porsche, the team had high hopes of putting on a good show for the over 900 guests of sponsor Sargent & Lundy.
As the race began, the high speeds of the Road America circuit already began to play havoc on the field, as just eight minutes in to the race, the no. 07 GT Camaro and no. 41 GT Mazda made heavy contact as they headed into the treacherous turn one, with the Camaro hitting the outside tire barrier at such a heavy rate of speed that the car literally flew over the catch fencing before coming to a stop. Both drivers escaped major injury. However, heavy damage to the track and retaining walls would put the entire field under a caution period for nearly an hour, meaning there would be just over an hour remaining once the green flag fell, setting everyone up for a unique series of strategy plays.
With Steve Bertheau taking the green flag and handing the controls over to Pumpelly during the extended caution period, TRG Team Owner Kevin Buckler, who was calling strategy over the phone from his NASCAR operation competing in Northern California the same weekend, made a daring call right after the track went green, to immediately pit as they were allegedly good to make it to the end. The car was running in 2nd place at the time so it was tough to go to the back. This would put the 67 car right on the edge of the fuel window to be able to make it to the end and potentially outlast the other competitors that would still have to come in.
As the race unfolded, Spencer Pumpelly drove his typically brilliant stint, moving from behind to pass several cars on track, and chasing down the leading cars who had yet to pit. With less that 10-minutes to go, the strategy really began to play out. With the leading cars, who had not pit earlier, all dropping off at the last minute to top off on gas, Pumpelly was thrust from fifth to second in only three laps, and took the white flag confidently in second, but with barely any fuel in the tank.
Beginning the last lap, Pumpelly seemed resigned to second behind the no. 88 of Jordan Taylor, until Taylor, who was also playing the same fuel strategy, began to slow in the second corner as the Camaro ran out of gas. Pumpelly was all of a sudden leading on the last lap, but like Taylor, was running very, very close on fuel. Trying to conserve fuel but also fend off the competitors behind him, Pumpelly was in position to win until, just two turns from the finish, the no. 67 had a low fuel "stumble", allowing the no. 31 Corvette and no. 42 Mazda to immediately pass, but still with enough momentum to roll the car past the finish line in third.
It was a mixed series of emotions for the team, who on one hand were happy to finally return to the podium, but similarly were left with a bitter taste having come so close to victory.
"We couldn't have cut that any closer," stated TRG Team Owner Kevin Buckler. "We knew when we brought Spencer in for fuel we would be cutting it close, and to run out with just a few hundred yards to go shows just how close we were, but it was the hand we had to play. Having the front hood damaged and partially raised on those long straight aways, didn't help our aero at all and MAN---was that a rollercoaster ride. Focusing on the positives, I'm happy we were able to get Steve back on the podium. Road America is his home track, and we had a huge group of guests from Sargent & Lundy to take care of, so I'm glad we were able to deliver a good result. I always say that race strategy is a multi-dimensional chess game, and some times you just have to commit to a strategy and go for it. Spencer did a great job trying to balance speed with saving fuel, and the guys did their usual impeccable job with some of our best pit stops of the year. We were strong and we had this one but in the end, it was still a fantastic event."