Daytona Beach, Fla. (31 January 2016) – After 24 hours, 524 laps, and nearly 2,000 miles of racing, the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán crossed the finish line to complete the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona on Sunday.
The effort demonstrated perseverance, dedication, and focus as the team took the checkered flag in the season-opening IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. Despite multiple significant setbacks prior to the race, and then having to again fight back from issues following the green flag in the 24 hour endurance challenge, the team kept working to cross the finish line in their Rolex 24 debut.
Despite showing remarkable speed, and leading the race for 29 laps, the entry was classified 19th in the GTD class at the finish following an incredible team effort through the five day event as the organization stepped up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Change Racing drivers Spencer Pumpelly and Monster Energy Drink Athlete Corey Lewis along with the field’s youngest driver 17-year-old Kaz Grala and Justin Marks shared the driving duties in the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Hurácan.
It was a tough start to the weekend as Thursday’s rainy track in practice contributed to a significant off for the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán. The damage to the front, side, and rear of the car was extensive. Using all of the resources the team could assemble, including willing helping hands from Lamborghini’s Squadra Corse, the crew worked a miracle to have the car repaired and ready to go first thing on Friday morning.
Unfortunately, the repairs happened during Thursday’s night practice which meant that Grala and Lewis had not performed their IMSA-required night laps to qualify to race at night. Marks and Pumpelly, two drivers with Rolex 24 wins on their resumes, were to carry the driving load through the 13 hour night at Daytona.
Race day opened with clear weather and a healthy crowd, with Lewis tabbed to start the race from the back of the entire 54-car field. The 2015 Lamborghini Pro-Am Champion made quick work in his first start, posting fast laps and moving up to sixth in the opening segment of the race. But the progress was slowed early on when a miscommunication saw him take to pit lane during a yellow flag while the pits were closed, earning a stop-plus 60-second penalty from IMSA for the procedural violation.
Keeping his composure and making the most of the race day pace of the Lamborghini Huracán GT3, Lewis was able to recover some lost time as he set the fastest lap of the race at that point with a quick time of 1:46.956-seconds.
With the team only allowed to have Grala and Lewis drive during sunrise hours, Grala took over for Lewis 2.5-hours into the race for his stint to keep the No. 16 entry making progress and settling into a consistent rhythm. Sunset called for a driver change as 2009 Rolex 24 winner Marks took over, with Pumpelly taking the controls in hour six.
Pumpelly set some of the fastest times seen in GTD since the start of the race, moving the car into the lead of the race, marking a significant comeback for the entire team following the disappointing start to the event weekend as the traditional Rolex 24 fireworks lit up the night sky.
Marks returned to the wheel to take it through the midnight hour. Unfortunately, while battling down the front stretch with the fellow Lamborghini No. 48 entry, the cars made contact and were sent spinning, making contact with the pit lane wall and once again causing significant damage to the machine. Marks brought the car back to the garage for repairs, with the team once again launching into action. Despite the severity of the damage, the group remained unfazed by the challenge, returning the car to the track after over four hours of intense repairs.
The car returned some 155 laps adrift of the leader, but was still consistently quick as the team looked to salvage what might be possible.
At sunup Lewis took the wheel for nearly two hours, but had to make a return trip to the garage to address an issue with the starter. 38 minutes later, the car was back on track with Lewis back behind the wheel.
Grala returned to the car with three hours left in the race, soaking up as many laps as he could before Lewis took the controls for the final minutes of the race. As the relieved team applauded the checkered flag, the car crossed the line for the final time on a very long day.
While the result was not what the team had been hoping for, particularly considering the speed the effort showed, the team will take the lessons learned with them to begin preparations for the next challenge, the 12 Hours of Sebring in just seven weeks time.
Corey Lewis, Driver: “The Change Racing guys just never give up. We’ve been through so much in the past three days of this event, you know, unfortunately starting the weekend off not the way we wanted, rebuilding everything, and starting at the back of the field. The car was dynamite right off the bat when we started the race. We just continued to hold that pace the whole way through. Unfortunately we had some gremlins along the way, but we’re learning a lot about the car and what we need to accomplish. We checked a lot of the boxes off during this race. Moving forward we’ve got the 12 hour coming up and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Spencer Pumpelly, Driver: “The weekend was definitely a challenging one for everyone. Everyone put in such an incredible effort that just making the race I thought was a fantastic job. The car seemed to be one of the fastest out there; we kept moving up the grid. Finally we were able to take the lead and to see that car finally get in the lead after everything the guys went through to get it there, was just phenomenal. Then heartbreak happened as we were fighting for the lead with the 48 car and you know unfortunately the 48 was just racing us way too hard, blocking and running us off the track. I hate it for us and the 48 car and all the guys who worked so far to put us in position so we could win this race. You know it’s a 24 hour deal every now and then you get a win, but more times than not it’s just an extremely heartbreaking disappointment and it taught us again.”
Kaz Grala, Driver: “This was huge for me, I mean it was my first Rolex 24. After that incident in practice the Change guys fought all night long to fix the car for the race, and then once the race started, each time we had a challenge we fought back. We never stopped fighting. Without incident, honestly I think we had the speed and the team to be able to contend for the win. It was our first race together, Change’s first race in the series, and this car’s first time in the series. We took a lot of lessons out of this.”
Robby Benton, Team Principal: “The first couple hours of the race were a learning experience once we kind of sorted out the processes it was fine. I look back on the weekend and I could even take the crash on Thursday, but the one last night killed us. I think we had a legitimate opportunity to stand on the podium today.
“I know we had the speed to be very proud at the end of the day and unfortunately that was (the end of) the race with the second wreck. The guys showed a lot of heart this week. There’s been a lot of hours spent fixing this car. It took a heavy left front hit twice and it still finished so I think its testament to the Lamborghini chassis. Not to sound too cliché but really I just can’t thank the guys enough. It’s very seldom you get a group like this together that will work this hard toward the common goal with this much heart.
“For the amount of work and effort that was put into this car this week I would have expected the guys to kind of lay down a little bit just from pure mental and physical exhaustion. It’s a lot of long hours. We actually pulled two 24s this week. One 24 to get the car back race ready and then the other to be in the race.
“We started last, drove all the way up to the lead, led a couple of hours, felt like we were in a good position, and unfortunately racing with one of our teammates we got together in the front stretch and we both paid a heavy penalty for it. I think both of us, our car and the 48, could have been a contender at the end of the day but it wasn’t to be. We’ll take this away as a good learning experience.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and now we can say we started and we finished the Rolex 24. The road is a little rougher than I would have liked it to have been but we purposely finished today just to say that we finished. You look back on the effort that the guys put in on Thursday, and the reason they did that was to run this race. And to run it you’ve got to start it and finish it. If we had packed it in last night we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to finish and look back and say “we didn’t get to run all the laps but we’re participating for all the hours”.
Photos by AWSM PIXELS