TRG and Co-Drivers Pumpelly and George Jr. Take Rolex Series GT Points Lead with Podium Performance in GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami HOMESTEAD, Fla. No. 67 TRG Porsche - There's just something about Homestead-Miami Speedway for TRG,...
TRG and Co-Drivers Pumpelly and George Jr. Take Rolex Series GT Points
Lead with Podium Performance in GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami
HOMESTEAD, Fla. No. 67 TRG Porsche - There's just something about Homestead-Miami Speedway for TRG, as the team once again brought home a podium result and took over the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 GT class championship leads in both the team and driver standings with a second-place performance by No. 67 Gleukos/Monster Cable/WIN Institute/944 Magazine/Wheels Boutique Porsche GT3 co-drivers Tim George Jr. and Spencer Pumpelly in Saturday's GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami.
"It's a challenge to set everything up here," said team owner Kevin Buckler. "Although there are no elevation changes, the track is a lot trickier than you'd think. I think people underestimate that. Finding the right balance is the key. With not so long a lap, you can find yourself going down a lap with not a perfect pit stop, so execution and good, solid setup for this challenging track is the key."
The team rose to the challenge to take its seventh consecutive Rolex Series GT podium result at Homestead. It was also the team's eighth podium performance in nine Rolex Series races at the venue, and TRG has won three GT races in Homestead. All three TRG entries finished in the top 15, as No. 68 CRG/Maxter/Rotax/MBA Group/F1 Air Porsche GT3 co-drivers RJ Valentine and Bryan Sellers came home ninth and Bryce Miller and Ted Ballou finished 13th in the No. 66 Marquis Jet/Mitchell Rubber/Resorts International/IPC/Total Lubricants Porsche GT3.
To earn the podium result, the No. 67 team battled from the drop of the green flag. George started the car from 15th on the grid but steadily worked his way forward during his stint before handing the machine over to Pumpelly. The veteran racer kept his cool despite hot temperatures in South Florida and was within striking distance of the race-leading No. 07 Pontiac on the race's final restart with five laps remaining.
However, he was unable to get quite close enough to challenge for the lead and instead came home with the team's second consecutive podium result on the 2008 season after finishing third in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. As a result, Pumpelly and George are tied atop the GT driver standings by one point, 62-61, over No. 70 Mazda co-drivers Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham, and the No. 67 team holds the same margin in the team championship after two of 13 races.
"The race was tough, because the depth of talent was really incredible," Pumpelly said. "This year in GT, it's going to be really tough. Fortunately, Tim George did an awesome job in his first stint. The TRG guys gave both of us a really good car. We worked on it a lot last week in the shop and we worked on it all week here. The effort that went into it was phenomenal. At the end, I really wanted to win, because I thought on the restart we were fast enough, but after he'd get up to speed and up to temp, I really don't think we had much for him. I'd like to have won, but we'll settle with a podium. Tim and I have the points lead, so what more can you ask for?"
"I'm very happy with the job that TRG did, and obviously having Spencer as a coach and as a co-driver really has me feeling solid," George added. "I wasn't so happy with my qualifying effort, although I put it behind my head and left it under my pillow last night, and came here today with a fresh plate. I worked my way up and knocked off a bunch of cars and gave Spencer a flawless car. I'm feeling good about the result."
The No. 68 combination of Sellers and Valentine made it two TRG Porsches in the top 10 after starting 18th. Valentine drove the first 24 laps of what would be a 99-lap event before handing the car over to Sellers, who sliced his way toward the front of the field and found himself on Pumpelly's bumper at one point in the second half of the race. Unfortunately, the team was caught out by Grand-Am's pit stop rules and was forced to serve a stop-and-go penalty plus 20 seconds for pitting out of sequence, dropping the No. 68 machine down the order. Nevertheless, Sellers persevered over the remaining laps to finish ninth.
"It was good," Sellers said. "I think we ran into some problems in an actual pit stop. We just made the wrong strategy call. It's kind of everyone's first time doing it and we pitted when we weren't supposed to. We came in and got a stop-and-go plus 20-second penalty, and that's a killer when you're up against the field we're up against. Up until that point in time, I think we were right ahead of the (No.) 87 car and right behind Spencer. That doesn't say anything, because there was still a lot of race left, but it's tough when you get back in the pack. Everyone starts chopping you and it makes it difficult. All in all, the guys recovered great. The stop we did make was fast, which absolutely helped. They were flawless in the pits all day. I just wish we could have gotten a little bit better result for everybody, but I think we did what we could with what we had. I've also got to hand it to RJ for doing a great job during his stint."
"Hey, it's tremendous," Valentine enthused. "I drove more in this race than I did all of last year, but Bryan Sellers did a stellar job. He's just phenomenal, with constant feedback. Unfortunately, the car was a little bit loose out there, but he did what he had to do and made it happen."
The TRG team's best-qualifying car was the one that had the worst luck in the GAINSCO Grand Prix. Ballou started the No. 66 machine from the sixth position and remained inside the top 10 throughout his opening stint before disaster struck on Lap 27. Ballou tangled with the No. 07 machine entering Turn 1 and spun off course, then returned to the track directly into the path of the speeding No. 30 Mazda, which made solid contact with the car. The contact left the No. 66 with a damaged left rear bumper and quarter panel.
The incident also brought about a stop-and-go plus one-minute penalty, forcing the No. 66 Porsche off the lead lap. Miller took over in the cockpit and battled his way back toward the front, but the No. 66 team also fell victim to the pit sequence rules and served its own stop-and-go plus 20-second penalty later in the race. Despite all of that, Miller, Ballou and the No. 66 team wound up 13th, two laps behind the winners.
"It was a little disappointing, Ballou said. "We started off really strong. The car was good, and we ran in the top six or seven. Unfortunately, I made a mistake, got hit by a guy, and that slowed us down quite a bit. It was good to run up front. I think it proves that we're competitive and it looks good for the rest of the season, so we'll take our points and move on."
"We were able to bring it back there a little bit," contributed Miller. "I mean, we served a few penalties and had some contact that inhibited the car's performance, but overall, I'm still pretty excited about the package. Ted Ballou's pace is really good, and I think we've got a lot of good things going here. Daytona treated us pretty well this year, so I guess you take some and then you lose some. It's good to put a result like this behind us."
The No. 66 team is currently fifth in the team standings with 50 points. Sellers is 10 points behind Pumpelly and George in the driver standings, with Valentine, Ballou and Miller just 12 points behind the points co-leaders heading to Round 3 at Mexico City on April 19.
"Everybody did a great job," Buckler concluded. "The cars were all flawlessly prepared. All the drivers had total moments of brilliance. RJ and Bryan could have been up here on the podium. We had one small miscue on a pit stop. Bryce and Ted were fast all weekend. I mean, I expected them to be up front here. Tim and Spencer persevered and executed everything just perfectly. That was the name of the game here was to not make any mistakes. That was the car that did it and they finished second, just a second off the (No.) 07 car. I'm real pleased. That puts us in the lead in the championships."