Baltimore native and American Le Mans Series driver Marc Bunting was surprised last year at the then-Baltimore Grand Prix. He was standing with his crew before the start of his sports car race on Saturday, listening to the national anthem being played.
"No one on my crew knew The Star-Spangled Banner had been written in Baltimore," he said. "Being from here, you think everyone knows that."
The incident gave Bunting and the co-founder of Team Baltimore, Kieffer Rittenhouse, an idea. Wednesday at Fort McHenry, they unveiled The Racer's Group-owned No. 66 Porsche 911. The car, which will compete in the GT3 class of the Grand Touring Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 1, carries a star-studded red, white and blue design.
The race is part of the Grand Prix of Baltimore weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, on the two-mile, temporary street course that runs through downtown.
"The city has begun the 200th-year celebration of The Star-Spangled Banner [and the War of 1812 with this summer's Sailabration festival]," said Rittenhouse. "Where better to have a car with this design? The whole vision of the team is to elevate the city. We'll probably stick with this until 2014, when the true anniversary is."
A year ago, Bunting returned to the cockpit in ALMS for the first time in two years and finished fifth in the GT3 class of the Baltimore race.
It was a little frustrating for the veteran, who drove the first hour of the two-hour race and then gave up the seat to his then 21-year-old teammate Dion von Moltke. At the time of the driver change, Bunting had the car in second place. But his young, less experienced teammate had difficulty getting the car up to speed and was passed by several cars. The team finished fifth in the eight-car field.
This time, Bunting will be joined by Spencer Pumpelly, a well-respected two-time winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
"I've known him a long time," Bunting said. "The first time we drove together was at Salt Lake City when I won the championship in 2006 with Andy Lally. Spencer came on as our third driver. He has a big advantage over me this year in terms of current experience."
Pumpelly, 37, who spent 1998 living in Baltimore and working in Stevensville before being drawn away by racing opportunities, has plenty of current seat time and is recognized as a fast driver.
"I had a great time here and still have ties to the area," Pumpelly said. "It feels very much like home. And I'm very excited about teaming up with Marc. I think if he gives me the car in the lead or close to it, we have a very good chance of winning."
Pumpelly and Bunting, 43, are excited about the removal of the chicane, the man-made series of small turns designed to slow cars down, from the Pratt Street straightaway this year.
"I think the chicane being gone does three things," Pumpelly said. "It takes away the use of first gear, which we hardly ever use. It increases our top speed by at least 10 miles an hour and perhaps by 15 mph, which means we'll reach speeds of about 155 mph, compared with 140 last year.
"And, the best thing, it opens up the straight for wheel-to-wheel racing and, with the widening of the first turn, eliminates the bottle-neck and creates a better passing zone."
Bunting, himself a two-time Rolex Grand-Am champion, said he again will drive the first hour of the race and then hand off to Pumpelly for the second half.
"We have a real legitimate shot at winning," he said. "My co-driver last year is a great guy, but a young kid and it took him awhile to get quick in Baltimore. And with this track there is a high penalty to pay for mistakes. It was frustrating, but he tried his best.
"Spencer's race craft is a little sharper than mine because he's had more seat time," Bunting added. "He'll be more efficient at making passes because he's doing it every day. When I hand the car over to him, I'll be expecting him to maintain the position or move up the field. I have complete confidence in his ability to run up the field. — You know, I've got to win my hometown race."
Team Baltimore is again partnering with local businesses, including Goetze Candy, Inc., for the Give and Goetze initiative which raises money for the Boy Scouts. The campaign raised more than $6,000 for the cause last year and the team is hoping to match or better those numbers at this year's event.