It was a long time coming, but on Saturday Spencer Pumpelly and I converted a front row start into a trip to Victory Lane, winning the Garden State 250 at New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt Raceway.
Despite having excellent pace since we first partnered in the #39 Porsche in 2008, luck had been against us time after time and we walked away form the 2008 season with a pair of 2nd place finishes along with a mix of top ten finishes and DNFs.
Scoring our first win, my first in the series and Spencer’s first since 2007, has finally gotten the monkey off our back and we are confident of making a strong run at the championship over the remainder of the season! Before showing up at the track on Thursday we already knew Thunderbolt Raceway would provide us with the best shot at a win we would have all season. With 12 turns in 2.25 miles of racetrack and only one significant straight the Thunderbolt puts a premium on handling and allows our Porsches to create some breathing space between us and the significantly more powerful BMW M3s and Ford Mustangs that can power right past us at so many other tracks.
I had an excellent and intense qualifying on Friday afternoon, putting our car 2nd on the grid for the race for our first front row start. As our class went out on the track for qualifying a sudden downpour washed down the track during the first lap before moving on, creating a situation with a drying track getting faster and faster with each passing lap. Each lap I put in put us at or near the top of the timesheet, but as the track continued to dry I would drop all the way out of the top 10 by the time I was two thirds of the way around the track, but with Spencer on the radio we timed my last lap to be as close as possible to the last seconds on the session, finally missing pole position by thousandths of a second despite being balked by slower traffic during the lap!
I had a really good stint in the car starting the race on Saturday afternoon. I successfully managed to keep in front of the V8 powered BMWs and Fords starting in the rows behind me on the start and avoid any carnage in the first couple of turns, briefly took the lead, then finished the first lap of the race in 2nd place once again behind the polesitting BMW. I settled in behind him until I was boxed in by traffic from the slower ST class and dropped to third place, where I remained as I pounded out the laps before pitting for fuel and a driver change during the race’s first full course caution.
Spencer had awesome pace this weekend, netting fastest lap as well as the race win, but the victory was set up by our race strategy to take fuel and two tires early from the race lead and the excellent job our crew did on that pit stop. We expected to cycle back to the lead as the cars who stayed out eventually came in for fuel, but Spencer eventually had to take matters into his own hands to return to the head of the field. “We originally thought that the 91 was going to have to pit for gas,” Pumpelly said. “Then Kevin came on the radio and said maybe they won’t. I then had to get a little more aggressive, I was able to get a run on him and get by. TRG did an awesome job the last pit stop. It was super fast, we got on and off pit road the best we have all season. I think that was more than the four second gap than we won with, I really have to hand it to them. Duncan did a great first stint and they helped with those four seconds as well.”That was a great race,” Buckler said. “Duncan did an excellent job to set the tone for the team in qualifying yesterday by having us start on the front row. He did a great job at the beginning and then Spencer brought it home. We made the right calls in the pits, our pit stops were really good and the win is a great reward for this team. This was a long time coming and well deserved.”
I can not overstate my thanks to our crew at TRG, Spencer, Kevin, and all of our sponsors who made it possible to get back to the top step of the podium. Without all of their contributions none of this would be.
Next we are heading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to try and do it all again in just over a week’s time. The Garden State 250 airs on Speed this Saturday, May 9th at 12 pm Eastern time! Be sure to tune in!