Flying Lizard ends up second in GTD at Daytona.
Spencer Pumpelly finished second in the GTD category at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opening round of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Flying Lizard Motorsports initially believed their extraordinary efforts over 24 hours of racing had resulted in a victory, but a controversial decision by IMSA officials ended the celebration hours after the race.
Starting fifth on the grid, Pumpelly's teammate Tim Pappas started the race and kept the No. 45 Audi R8 LMS out of trouble and on the lead lap before handing over to Pumpelly. During his first stint, Pumpelly moved the car through the GTD field and up to third.
“I got in and really enjoyed driving,” Pumpelly said. “It was the first time I got to drive a full hour in the Audi and see how it behaved over a full stint. It was really smooth, well balanced, and a ton of fun to drive.”
Through the night, teammates Pappas, Nelson Canache Jr. and Markus Winkelhock continued to keep the car pointed forward and the Flying Lizard crew made flawless pit stops. This helped the No. 45 quickly regain any lost laps as the team set its sights on the final four hours of the race.
Pumpelly moved the No. 45 into the GTD lead for the first time in his final stint. An ill-timed yellow flag dropped the car to third, but Pumpelly regained second before handing the car over to Winkelhock for the last push to the checkered flag. Then with one hour to go, what had been a drama-free race for Flying Lizards became very intense, as it was clear the battle for the win was between the No. 45 and the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari.
With five minutes to go, Winkelhock made his move and got underneath the No. 555 at the bus stop. The Ferrari went wide at the apex and made contact with Winkelhock, resulting in a bent rim. Winkelhock reported a vibration on the radio, but the tire held. On the next lap, Winkelhock got by the Ferrari, which again went wide in the bus stop, but the Audi’s straight-line speed could not match that of the Ferrari, which retook the lead on the following lap.
On the final lap, the two went side-by-side and Winkelhock found himself on the outside going into the kink. He tried to use the outside grove, but when he got to the corner, the Ferrari moved to the outside lane where the Audi already was. Having already been hit by the Ferrari a few laps prior, Winkelhock went into the grass to avoid a second hit. This gave the Ferrari an advantage too big for the No. 45 to make up before the checkered flag.
But as the flag waved, a call came over the radio announcing that IMSA officials were issuing a "stop plus 70 penalty" to the No. 555 for "avoidable contact," which would be added to the team's total time, effectively giving Flying Lizard Motorsports the GTD win.
The team marched the car to victory lane, the champagne was sprayed, the drivers collected their Rolex watches and the team prepared to pack up and celebrate their hard-earned victory. But four hours after the checkered flag had fallen, the team received word that the penalty had been overturned, the trophies and watches must be returned and their win was now a runner-up finish.
"To say the news was devastating is an understatement," Pumpelly said. "Penalties are penalties, but to change your mind hours after sending the team through victory lane and all the celebrations isn’t fair to either team and hurts the credibility of our sport.
"As upsetting as it is, we can't dwell on this,” Pumpelly concluded. “We have to look at all the positives that came out of Daytona. We should be really proud of the effort that Flying Lizard made and the run we put in last night; all the stints everyone drove, all the pit work, all the preparation. This car is new to us and it was a huge undertaking over the winter to gear up for this and I don’t think anyone could have done a better job than Flying Lizard did. It’s probably the best 24 Hour effort I’ve ever taken part in.”
The Rolex 24 wasn't the only race Pumpelly took part in at Daytona International Speedway. On Friday he co-drove the No. 47 BMW M3 with Steve Bertheau in the BMW Performance 200, the season opener for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The duo finished 19th in the GS class after a post-race pit procedure penalty removed them from third place.
Pumpelly goes from one legendary endurance race to another. The next stop on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is the 12 Hours of Sebring, March 12 - 15. Pumpelly has finished on the podium at Sebring twice, but is still looking for his first win.