IMSA: Spencer Pumpelly displays great class, attitude after coming up short on fuel

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Occasionally in racing, you’ll hear the term a car “goes the length of a football field in about a second.”

On Sunday at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship PC/GTD class race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the length of a football field – 100 yards – must have felt like a mile to Spencer Pumpelly and the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS car.

Pumpelly took over from co-driver Nelson Canache, who led the opening stint, on the team’s sole pit stop on Lap 25. But with a lack of frequent cautions – only two interrupted the two-hour race – Pumpelly ran out of fuel exiting the Corkscrew on the final lap while leading.

He had enough to carry the momentum down the hill and into Turn 11, but exiting the tight and final corner on the track, the car ran dry just within sight of the checkered flag.

What followed afterwards was a masterclass of class and attitude despite the crushing end result.

“We were trying to make an extra 10 minutes of gas out of our stint, which was an impossible task, but we got 9 minutes and 50 seconds out of it,” Pumpelly said.

“The thing we have to figure out is we got information out of the car that we should have been OK, from the first lap I turned we started saving fuel. Everything said we should have been good, and now that we missed it by that little I’m kicking myself for every little (one minute) 31 latpime could have been a 32. I’ll mull that over for a while.”

As it was, Pumpelly had done the business of putting Flying Lizard in position to score its first win with its new Audi, and the positives of the team’s first pole position with the car on Saturday and dialing the car in as well as they had were still good takeaways from the weekend.

“I’m so impressed with the effort they’ve given,” he said. “We got our first pole and we were 100 yards away from our first win.

“The good news is my flight’s not til later, there’s a concession stand up there on the hill and I can douse these flames with an ice cold beer and watch the P race.”

Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Pumpelly, Canache and Flying Lizard down the road after two soul-crushing losses in GTD this season.

The first came at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, when the pair plus co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Tim Pappas were originally declared GTD class winners following a penalty issued to Level 5 Motorsports for an on-track incident. But that penalty was later rescinded and Level 5 reinstated as class winners.

Then this made two tough ones.

On the bright side, Pumpelly was already chuckling about it because he’d been on the other side of just making it home to the finish.

“I remember at Watkins Glen a couple years ago, I crossed start/finish, got halfway through my first donut and the engine died,” he said. “It was not only the worst donut attempt ever, but it also shows how close it can be 100 yards the other way. I can only smile at how well the guys did today. Boy, am I looking forward to getting to Detroit now.”

Pumpelly and Canache ultimately ended sixth, which Pumpelly appreciated in some respects because of how the PC leaders got through the GTD traffic and meant that from sixth on back was a lap down to the class lead. That saved the result from being much worse.

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”