Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Spencer Pumpelly a Strong 2016 Ahead

Spencer Pumpelly, has had a pretty steady career in sports cars over the past decade and a half.  He’s been very competitive in nearly everything that he’s driven and claimed multiple class victories in major events.  That includes two class victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, most recently in 2011 for TRG.

Pumpelly usually does double-duty in IMSA, racing in both the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.  Last year, he competed full-time for Park Place Motorsports in its No. 73 Porsche in the then-TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and drove the No. 17 Porsche Cayman for Rennsport One in the CTSC.

For 2016, Pumpelly will remain in the No. 17 Cayman in the CTSC, but makes a big change in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  He will drive the No. 16 Monster Energy-sponsored Lamborghini Huracan full-time in the GT-Daytona class, along with full-time teammate Corey LewisJustin Marks, Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala joined for Daytona.

Prior to getting out on the track, Pumpelly sat down with our own Phil Allaway to talk about his upcoming season, the two mounts that he will be driving in 2016, and more.

 

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: It’s very hard to win on debut, but Rennsport One managed to pull it off.  It was nearly a 1-2, but your teammates ran out of fuel. Is the Cayman suited that well for [Daytona]?

Spencer Pumpelly: I think the Cayman’s very slippery, so when we get into a high gear, we have a bit of an advantage.  There’s also a lot of things that the team does really well. There were some BMW’s on the podium as well. It was a good mix, but when you’ve got a good group of people behind you, you can have a bit of an advantage when you unload off the trailer and carry that through the weekend.

[Daytona] is a good track for us. Some of the Mazdas might not have the straight-line speed, but they’re definitely a lot lighter. So, places like Lime Rock, [Mazda Raceway] Laguna Seca and COTA are where we have a hard time keeping up with them. Every car gets around here a little differently, and that comes and goes with the season.

(Credit: Austin Gager)
For Spencer Pumpelly, 2016 will be a busy season, but one that should be fruitful. (Credit: Austin Gager)

Allaway: My understanding with the MX-5’s is that since they’re so much lighter, they can brake 100 feet later than everyone else.

Pumpelly: Yes, they have a lot of advantages being lighter.  One is that as the stint goes on, they don’t wear their tires as much.  As a result, even if they’re at a disadvantage at the start, they’ll have an advantage at the end.  You have to make sure that you get everything you can out of the car.  We get around the track differently.

Allaway: What is Rennsport One like to drive for?

Pumpelly: These guys are fantastic.  They do a really good job.  They’ve learned a lot over the last year. When it comes to comparing ourselves to other teams in the paddock, they’re some of the best on and off pit road. The organization behind the scenes is excellent.  The cars that they put together at the shop are great. We unload good and make them better. I have a great rapport with the guys on the team.

We’ve got two other cars [Nos. 18 and 19] to help us share data. I’m really in a great position with these guys. It’s a really strong team.

Allaway: Last year, you had Luis Rodriguez, Jr. as your teammate. This year, you have Nick Galante. What does Galante bring to the table for the team?

Pumpelly: Nick has never run ST before, but he has run in GS previously. He’s driven a variety of cars from karts to open-wheel and sports cars. He brings a world of experience as well. He might have to adapt a little bit to the ST car, but judging from what I’ve seen him do in the past, it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal for him.

Nick’s a good guy.  I’ve already gotten to know him pretty well and I think we’re going to have a good season together.

Allaway: Here in ST, car count is down from last year. Only 37 cars in total. What do you think can be done to increase car count?

Pumpelly: I don’t know if I have the answers there. I do know that a lot has changed, especially in the GS class from when I first ran it in 2003. In the last 12 years, the thought process behind the class has changed from a street stock car. I used to look at it and it would still have the air conditioning controls and the dial gauges. Now, everything is purpose-built for racing.

I think the philosophy’s changed, and that might have something to do with it, or it might not. Hopefully, the series can find its way and redefine its purpose and we’ll see more cars in the GS class.

I think the ST class has retained many of the things that have made the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge good throughout the years.  That’s why we still see a pretty healthy car count.

Allaway: Is your Cayman purpose-built, or is it more of a stock car?

Pumpelly: This car, I believe, was found somewhere in Upstate New York.  It had something like 29,000 miles on it.  When we blew the motor, we couldn’t find a spare.  So the Rodriguez’s bought this and had it shipped down.  We ended up turning this into our race car.

This thing literally has done more street miles than it has on the race track.  We’ve got quite a lot of seasons to change that, though.

This really retains the street stock feel [of the class].  We’re the second owner.

Allaway: Does it still have the key from when it was a street car?

Pumpelly: I believe so.  We actually still start it with the key.  Still have all the stalks and everything.

 

Allaway: Switching gears.  After a couple of fruitful years driving a Porsche for Park Place Motorsports, you’re on the move to drive a Lamborghini this year for Change Racing. You were here for the Roar test. How does the Huracan drive?

Pumpelly: The Huracan is a great car. It’s a lot of fun to drive. Some of the new GT3 things have made life a little too easy in my opinion, but that’s the same for everyone. The ABS takes one of the skill sets that many of the top drivers have developed over the years and takes it out of the equation.

I think that at that same time, the gentleman drivers are running faster and closer to the pro times. It’s just a different spec and you’ll have to get used to it.

The Lamborghini is just a joy to drive.  It has a lot of safety features and innovations that they’ve introduced this year.  One of those things is the movable pedals. It allows all the drivers to sit deep in the seat, and the seat can be mounted solid to the car. No more sliders. I feel like it’s a much safer package, and the innovation is part of that.

Allaway: Can the pedals be adjusted on a regular pit stop, or is it a bit more in-depth?

Pumpelly: In the past, you either had a seat on sliders so that you could adjust to different driver heights, or you would have to put padding in the seat.  When you put padding in the seat (which was bolted to the car), the shorter guys would not be sitting all the way in the seat. There were really no good solutions.

Now, we actually have a button on the dashboard. If you push it, the [pedals] move on a slider and you can do this while driving the car on track.  You can adjust it to the exact way you want it.  It keeps everyone in a seat that’s bolted down, solid to the car.  It’s a much safer seat, then because you don’t have to pad anyone forward or backwards, you can keep all the drivers deep in the seat.

It’s one more thing you have to do leaving the pits, that’s all. The safety improvements are great. The car is a dream to drive, great visibility, great driving position. The balance so far has been incredible. It’s a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to learning more about it. We’ll be doing 24 hours of racing, hopefully, and we’ll get to know it a lot better.

Allaway: Your team, Change Racing, has mainly been a sprint racing team in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America. Obviously, there’s a substantial difference between racing 50 minute races and even just the “sprint” races in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. How would a team like that have to adjust?

Pumpelly: There are a huge number of differences.  The team’s background is stock car racing (Note: Change Racing’s owner is Robby Benton, co-owner of RAB Racing with Brack Maggard) and they’ve got some experience with pit stops and race strategy.  As you bring them into the sports car realm, we just have different rules and procedures.  It’s a lot for them to adapt to, but they’ve been phenomenal in [Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America], they’ve been successful in stock car racing.  There’s no reason why these guys won’t pick this up really quickly.

The talent level that we have at Change Racing from top to bottom, from everyone working on the cars to my co-drivers is fantastic.  I see this as definitely being a learning process, but hopefully that learning curve will be short due to the talent that we have.

Allaway: The team’s North Carolina-based, and there’s lots of talent there, not just in NASCAR. Just about anything you can think of off the top of your head, there’s someone there that knows their stuff.

Pumpelly: For sure. It’s a great place to base a team. The talent just gravitates there. We’ve got a great pool of people to pull from, and I’m really excited about getting the season started.

I come to the track; I enjoy driving races, I enjoy the competition, but the best part to me is working with good people.  So far, everyone over there has just been fantastic.

 

Allaway: The most recent class victory saw you guys have to deal with a faulty clutch for about 18 hours.  Can you describe the slight touch you had to use back then?

Pumpelly: That was a really tough race.  But, every time I’ve run the Rolex 24, there’s always been some major obstacle that comes up randomly that we’ve had to overcome in a short amount of time and keep going.

The clutch was just another one of them. Back then, you needed the clutch every time you downshifted. The upshifts were flat, but in order to get the downshift done right, you really needed the clutch. The last thing you want to do in a 24-hour race is just jam the gears into submission.

We just learned where the little window was where the gearbox was happy. It made for some interesting situations sometimes when you went to rev the motor when it wouldn’t quite pop out of gear. Now, when you were trying to slow the car down, you were going faster instead. There were always some tense moments.

We kept doing what we could, and fortunately, it was enough. Got to win with my buddy, Andy Lally, and Brendan Gaughan, another good friend of mine, was in the car.

Allaway: Given the overall newness of Change Racing to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, what would be considered to be a good result, not just for the Rolex 24, but for the season itself? What do you think the Huracan is capable of?

Pumpelly: I signed on this year with Change Racing with the understanding that we had a top level team, top level equipment, and a co-driver in Corey Lewis that is as capable as anyone else out there.  So, my expectations are extremely high and nothing I’ve seen so far has changed that.

I have every intention of fighting for the win come Sunday morning. I have every intention of winning races this year and being in contention for the championship.

A lot of that is stuff you can control, and the rest is just stupid luck. That’s just part of the highs and lows of racing. However, what you can do is to put the best people and equipment in place and I believe that we’ve done that. I think our learning curve will be quick. My expectations are sky high.

The season-opening BMW Performance 200 for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge essentially went right to plan for Pumpelly. Teammate Nick Galante didn’t qualify all that well, but charged up into the top 10 from his starting spot. Once Pumpelly took over behind the wheel, he kept up the pace, eventually bringing the car home in second behind class winners Eric Foss and Jeff Mosing in a similar Cayman.

Unfortunately, his debut for Change Racing didn’t quite go as well. On Thursday, Pumpelly crashed the Lamborghini exiting turn 4 of the tri-oval and heavily damaged the car. The team missed qualifying in order to repair the car and started from the rear.  However, the Lamborghinis had a lot of pace. Too much, actually.

The No. 16 was consistently one of the fastest cars on-track in the GT-Daytona class. Towards the middle stages of the Rolex 24, Change Racing was one of a number of teams battling for the class lead. Any chance for class honors ended when Marks collided with the Paul Miller Racing No. 48 driven by Bryce Miller while battling for the class lead just before 1 a.m. The car was damaged once again and had to spend time in the garage for repairs.  By the end of the race, Change Racing’s No. 16 was 42nd overall, 18th in GT-Daytona and 179 laps off the pace.  A penalty given to all of the Lamborghini runners increased that margin to 182 laps off the pace, but did not change their position.

Pumpelly will be back in action next week in both the CTSC and the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Sebring. Round No. 2 for the CTSC will be Friday, March 18 at 12:20 p.m.  The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring will be Saturday, March 19 at 10:30 a.m.

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