DAYTONA BEACH Fla.—Rum Bum Racing’s rise to the top fell just few ounces of fuel short of perfection Sunday afternoon, as the team’s Audi R8 Grand Am coasted to a stop half a lap from a third-place victory in the team’s first Rolex 24.
Rum Bum moved up to the Grand Am Rolex Sports car series after winning the ultra-competitive 2012 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge championship in 2012, its third year in the series. The team had had success with both Porsche and BMW in CTSCC, but opted for an Audi Sport-supported R8 Grand Am as its Rolex GT ride.
The choice paid off—the brand new Audi ran flawlessly for 24 hours, and spent the final hour fighting hard for a spot on the podium.
Rum Bum’s regular driver Matt Plumb was joined by a trio of Audi Sport pilots: Frank Biela, Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock, to give the new team and its brand new car a fighting chance against the six Ferraris and 18 Porsches on the grid.
This line-up drove a clean, quick race for 23 hours, ending up perfectly poised to contest the class win as the final hours wound down.
It was strategy, not speed, which turned the tables against the new entry. A full-course caution with one hour to go left teams wondering if it would be better to pit for a full tank of fuel and stretch it to the end or to short-fill and count on another caution.
Rum Bum’s crew chief Joe Varde opted to stretch the fuel to the end, but driver Markus Winkelhock ended up in a hard battle with the #52 APR Audi and #69 AIM Ferrari, and burned up just a few to o many ounces of precious petrol. The Rum Bum car ran dry just seconds before the checkered flag waved, dropping from third to seventh (15th overall) in the standings.
The team calculated that if they stopped for fuel, they would finish seventh in class, so taking a chance on a podium finish was an easy call. “We would have had to stop and fuel and would have finished seventh. As it turned out we still finished seventh but at least we made a go of it,” said driver Matt Plumb.
Even a seventh-place finish was decent for a team in its first Rolex 24, and even more so because the team had been hit with a pair of penalties during the race. Twice, communications issues led to the #13 Rum Bum Audi committing pace car violations—once passing illegally and once failing to pass—which set the team deep in a hole.
“Our radios weren’t working properly throughout the whole race,” Plumb explained. “I think there was a little bit of a language barrier between ‘Rum Bum speak’ and ‘German speak’ and the communication got a little tangled at one point in the middle of the night. We just had a miscue with the pace car-once where we didn’t pass it when we should have … and then, later in the race-we got penalized because we passed the pace car when we shouldn’t have!
“So we lost time with those penalties, but Joe [Varde] came up with a scenario where we had a series of smart gambles on how to get the laps back.”
While they surely would have preferred to win, seventh in class was still a victory for a team running a new car in a new class in the longest top-tier endurance race in North America. Also, the team forged strong ties with the tech team from Audi Sport.
“[The Audi Sport customer racing staff] were great guys to work with and they are going to be my lifetime friends now,” said crew chief Joe Varde. “Anytime you can do that is something special.”
Rum Bum will be back in action in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge when Grand Am goes to Texas for the Grand-Am of The Americas presented by Gainsco and Total on March 2. Tickets are available through the Circuit of the America’s ticket outlet.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.