The green and blue Falken Tire livery may have become synonymous with drift cars in recent times, but for years Falken has also been active in "traditional" auto racing around the world. I'm sure you can recall the Falken Skyline GT-R endurance racer or perhaps the Ford GT that was campaigned in the American Le Mans Series last year. For 2009, Falken is back in ALMS with a new GT2 class Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and this weekend's Long Beach race marked the competition debut for the new entry.
Less than a week after Falken's drift team kicked off their season, the ALMS squad was ready to go for Thursday's practice sessions in Long Beach. The 2009 season will be a test period of sorts for the Falken team, with a total of three races before moving to a full schedule for the 2010 season. For '09 the car will be running at Long Beach, the Petit LeMans in Atlanta, and the ALMS season closer at Laguna Seca in October.
We at Speedhunters are never ones to overlook the aesthetics of racecars, and the Falken Porsche delivers with its blue and green livery set against a set of black 18" BBS wheels white-lettered Falken racing tires. The Porsche is currently the only car on the ALMS grid running Falken tires.
Here we see the crew doing some last minute preparations to the car before it heads out for Thursday afternoon's practice sessions. The driving duties for the Falken Porsche are handled by Dominic Cicero and Bryan Sellers – two drivers that while fairly young, have a ton of motorsport experience between them.
At long last, the ALMS field took to the track on Thursday afternoon. Here we see the Falken Porsche rolling onto the ALMS circuit for the first time ever.
The sound of the 3.8 liter flat-six was wonderful as the car downshifted for the hairpin at turn 11 – the same corner the Team Falken drift cars slid through the weekend before.
The cars took to the track again late Thursday for a second practice session. Here's the Porsche as it pulls off pit lane near the entrance to the first corner.
And a bit later, at speed through the notorious first corner. After getting a feel for the car and the course, the team was ready for the next day's qualifying session.
On Friday before qualifying begins, we see Dominic spending some time chatting with fans and signing posters. The Falken pit drew a lot of spectators in the ALMS paddock, which was open to racegoers all weekend long.
Falken also brought out a bunch of goodies for fans to win, including a custom-painted guitar similar to the one given out at Formula D last weekend.
Even if you weren't lucky enough to win one of the big prizes, there was plenty of other swag to be found at the Falken booth. How about some foam models or stickers of last year's Ford GT racecar? Hopefully we'll be seeing some new ones for the Porsche later this season!
Meanwhile in the dark confines of the Falken tent, the team prepares the Porsche for Friday afternoon's qualifying action.
Come late afternoon Friday it was qualifying time. The car looked fantastic as it made its way through Long Beach's famous fountain area.
After the end of the session, the car was able to qualify with a 1:22.22 lap time, which put it mid-field in the GT2 class. Nothing incredible, but a solid result considering this was the car's first race event.
Raceday! The Falken umbrella girls came out to support the team and add a bit of eye candy to the their spot in the paddock. This was the ladies' second consecutive weekend in action following the Formula D event.
Dominic and Bryan enjoy some shade from the girls as they sign autographs for the fans lined up at the Falken pit. Would you be this relaxed before the big race if you were a pro racecar driver?
Final preparations are made before the car is moved to the grid for the start of the race.
4:15pm and the green flag drops. The field of ALMS cars turns the normally serene Long Beach waterfront into a 100-minute battle on the streets.
Here we see the car running hard through turn one during the first few laps of the race. Things started off well for the Porsche as it tangled with its GT2 rivals, but trouble was on the horizon. The first setback came when the drivers ran into vibration issues after extended time on the track.
Later in the race, I was photographing the action from the turn seven area when I heard that the Porsche was having issues changing gears. Unfortunatley, the faulty transmission forced the Falken Porsche to retire from the race before the checkered flag fell. Before the car retired it was able to complete 43 laps, which placed it 12th in the GT2 class.
It wasn't the result that the Falken team was hoping for, even though this race was a shakedown of sorts for the new car. As learned by everyone from weekend racers to Formula 1 teams, you can never underestimate the importance of reliability.
We'll be looking forward to see how the car runs during its next ALMS event later in the season.