TRG KONI Challenge Team Battles to Second Place in Utah
No. 39 Porsche TOOELE, Utah - In the course of Sunday's two-and-a-half hour Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series race at Miller Motorsports Park, the two-car TRG Porsche team experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows and finished the day celebrating on the podium with a second-place finish.
No. 39 Carlsen Porsche/The DigiTrust Group/Adam's Polishes/Fox River Coffee Porsche 997 co-drivers Duncan Ende and Spencer Pumpelly battled all the way from the back of the field to score a hard-earned podium result. Meanwhile, the No. 41 Carlsen Porsche/Cohen Financial Porsche 997 co-drivers Andy Lally and Scott Schroeder missed out on what would have likely been their second victory of the season due to a mechanical failure.
"This was a crazy week-and-a-half or two weeks," said TRG owner Kevin Buckler. "We had just a total thrash getting everything built and ready for this weekend, and we had lots and lots of issues to get here. The guys just persevered and did a really good job to get everything ready."
Schroeder and Ende both turned in stellar qualifying performances on Saturday, with Schroeder taking second on the grid for his second front-row qualifying performance of the season and Ende slotting in just behind Schroeder in third. Just as the green flag dropped on the race, however, the day's first dramatic moment unfolded as Ende brought the No. 39 machine to pit lane to replace the fan belt.
Miraculously, Ende managed to get back on course without losing a lap, although he rejoined the race in last place on a 4.5-mile road circuit where full-course cautions are somewhat rare. Nevertheless, Ende took up the challenge and fought all the way back up into the top 10 before pitting to turn the car over to Pumpelly.
Pumpelly picked up where Ende left off, although he was still a good distance behind the race-leading No. 41 machine with Lally at the wheel. The No. 39 team got just the break it needed when the double yellows flew for the second and final time with less than 10 laps remaining. The caution period allowed Pumpelly to line up in fourth place, directly behind the lead group of cars for a restart with five laps to go. He moved into second place when the second- and third-place running cars tangled and went off course and brought the No. 39 Porsche home 4.009 seconds behind the race-winning No. 96 BMW.
"When they told me that I had to come in at the start to change the belt on the engine, I never imagined that we were going to wind up on the podium," Ende said. "I was actually sure we were going to go a lap down. The guys on the crew did a phenomenal job getting the belt changed, and then it was just up to us to put our heads down and get through the field. We got the yellows we needed, but it was a tough race. We both drove our hearts out. Spencer would like to have one more spot, but it was a helluva race. Everybody did a great job."
It was the second KONI Challenge Series podium result of the season for Ende and Pumpelly. The duo also finished second in Round 2 at Lime Rock Park in May.
"We had an issue that was just a completely random failure of a part that was checked and triple-checked by the guys," Pumpelly said. "They do such a great job that you hate for things like that to happen, but we came in the pits on Lap 1 and the guys fixed it like rock stars and got us right back out. We were able to get some lucky yellows and catch back up. We didn't really have the time to get to first, but a podium was good after all of the effort that the guys put in today."
In the No. 41 Porsche, Schroeder held his second-place position for the first seven laps of the race before taking the lead on Lap 8. He would go on to lead a race-high 15 laps before pulling onto pit road to make way for Lally's stint. Once the pit stop cycle was complete, Lally put the No. 41 machine back at the head of the field and led seven laps of his own.
However, just as the No. 39 team began to celebrate its opportunity to close the gap to the leaders with the second full-course caution, disaster struck the No. 41 team as an engine failure cruelly ended the race for Lally and Schroeder with less than 30 minutes remaining.
"It's a bit disappointing," Schroeder said. "We had a great car. This TRG Porsche was really strong. During my stint, I managed to pull away a big lead and handed over to Andy with a clean car. Unfortunately, we just got caught out by one of those little things that get you every sometimes. I'm not too worried about it. We'll find out what happened and go to VIR with a stronger car. We have the pace, now we just need some things to go our way. I look forward to the next race."
"It's a shame because it was such a solid car, and we were in the captain's chair there," Lally added. "We were in charge of our own destiny, and unfortunately we just had a little bad luck. We dropped the oil pressure and the engine just shut off, just like that. It happened in a 10-second period. It's a shame. I'd cooled down for probably 30 seconds and I thought I'd heard a miss and I had been coasting. I thought at first that it was a header, and I put it in gear and stepped on the gas. As soon as I did that, the low oil pressure light came on and that was it. We were done."
The No. 41 team was credited with 26th place in the Grand Sport (GS) class, but for most of the race, it appeared that Lally and Schroeder would be celebrating in Victory Circle, just as they did last month at Iowa Speedway.
"Having the cars throughout the course of the weekend come together to culminate in those guys qualifying second and third was incredible," Buckler concluded. "Scott handily leading half the race like that was absolutely fabulous for him and for TRG. I was so proud. Then, it goes from absolute joy and ecstasy to heartache as Andy was handily leading the race and the engine blew. We don't know what happened, but we'll figure it out.
"Duncan did a great job. They had a little miscue in the beginning with the fan belt. We're glad we brought him in to check it. Duncan, especially, scratched his way back from dead last clear through the field and ended up pitting in ninth or 10th. It was unbelievable. Spencer did a great job, the yellow fell our direction, and we ended up finishing P2. It was a gamut of emotions and a roller coaster ride this weekend, no doubt, but we'll take that second place for Duncan and Spencer."
Next up for the TRG KONI Challenge team is the six-hour season finale at Virginia International Raceway on Sunday, October 5.