A dream scenario played itself out for Rum Bum Racing in its Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (formerly KONI Challenge) as co-drivers Gian Bacardi and Matt Plumb took the team's No. 13 Rum Bum Racing BMW M3 to victory in their first race in Friday's Fresh From Florida 200 at Daytona International Speedway. It was not only the team's first victory in its first time out but, for Bacardi, it was a win in his first series race and was also his first professional victory. He celebrates his 20th birthday next week.
“I thought it was going to take a couple more months to get the car into place,” Bacardi said. “I just thought it was going to take a while to tune the car and get everything right. I guess we did it in a short period of time and it worked.”
It certainly did, as Bacardi quickly charged into the top 10 from his 19th-place starting spot. But the Floridian would not be satisfied with merely turning the No. 13 BMW over to his veteran teammate in the top 10. Bacardi kept charging throughout his stint, making it all the way to second place before giving way to Plumb under caution on lap 29.
“A lot of these drivers, in addition to driving, we do a lot of coaching,” Plumb said. “I think my proudest moment was seeing Gian doing as well as he did in the race under such pressure. He's got his whole family here. He's got all his fan club and he stepped up to the plate. That was a huge accomplishment for me as a coach.”
The "coach" was momentarily delayed in his return to action as a result of a pit-lane penalty and he joined the action in seventh place. When the green flag dropped to restart the action on lap 34, however, it was clear that the Rum Bum BMW was one of the quickest on the circuit.
Plumb returned the No. 13 to the top five on the first green flag lap following the restart and it took him just eight laps to take the lead from Charles Espenlaub in the No. 48 BMW M3. After five laps at the head of the field, the full-course caution lights flashed on and crew chief Joe Varde elected to bring Plumb back onto pit road one last time for right-side tires.
The pit stop dropped the No. 13 back to 10th in the running order with a half hour remaining in the 2.5-hour race, but the car was a rocket ship once more when the green flag flew and Plumb again quickly carved his way through the field. With 15 minutes left, Plumb found himself in third place, slightly less than five seconds behind the BMWs of Espenlaub and Terry Borcheller.
With under 10 minutes left, Plumb made his way past Borcheller's No. 45 BMW in the famed Daytona “Bus Stop” chicane to take over second. Five minutes later, Plumb made a similar move in nearly the same spot to take the lead from Espenlaub for the final time. He kept the No. 48 BMW in his mirrors the rest of the way to win by 0.107sec.
“Traffic is a big deal around here and can kill your momentum,” Plumb said. “I got very lucky with a couple batches of traffic that let me gain the most amount of time behind them. We were pretty even up until that point. I believe we changed right-side tires, whereas I think they stayed out. I had the sights pretty set on (Espenlaub) and we had a great car. He didn't make it easy for me, but I didn't expect much as far as courtesy, and I wouldn't give him the same. But it was clean when we came out the other side. I've raced with Charles many times and it's always a pleasure.
“One of the key components to our success was Joe Varde. I mean the car was brilliant. There's a little magic out there, but most of the magic happens in the car. Honestly, all the stars have aligned for this day and I can't be any prouder or more appreciative to be a part of it. Also, thanks to Lou Bacardi for believing in Joe and I and letting us put this whole thing together. I appreciate it.”
The race will be televised by SPEED at 7 p.m. ET. on Saturday, Feb. 13.