It was a weekend that was looking very promising. The team was running in tip-top shape. The car was running in tip-top shape. The Porsche works driver, Wolf Henzler, drove the signature blue and teal Falken Porsche to qualify second on the GT2 class. Everything was looking up. The team went to bed that night knowing that a podium finish was within reach this at the second round of the American Le Mans series in Long Beach, California.
(Side note: doesn't the car look phenomenal with the silver wheels rather than the black? The car totally pops that much more.)
The race started with Wolf Henzler driving in the first half of the race. The lights went green and Wolf pushed that teal and blue Porsche that astonished everyone.
He managed to pass the
#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari on the outside the hairpin and went from second to first place. The resulting battle in the GT2 class had everyone glued.
The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari set its eyes straight for the Falken Porsche.
Every lap the #62 car gained some ground on the blue and teal #17.
The #62 car was pushing so hard that it kept cutting closer and closer into the Fountain corner's bushes! That's some hard driving.
The #62 Risi Ferrari pushed so hard and Wolf held them off with such skill that they lost pace and fell behind. A podium was in sight as long as they performed a perfect pitstop.
Unfortunately, the pitstop was their undoing. One of the wheel nuts was stuck coming off which made them lose five seconds. In those five seconds, the team went from the top step of the podium to seventh place.
Falken's second driver, Bryan Sellers, drove the like his life depended on it and managed to gain a grid position. Bryan finished the race in sixth. Falken showed rest of the GT2 grid that they were indeed a forced to be reckoned with this year. They're faced with a six hour race next month at the infamous Laguna Seca and they'll be ready.
During the 12 hours of Sebring I had the chance to sit down and chat with the drivers of the iconic blue and teal Porsche. This time around at the Long Beach Grand Prix, I sat down with some a quintessential part of the race team that never see the lime light of a race weekend: the guys that prep the tires. These unsung heros work in the seedy back alleyways of the race paddock in their respective tire trailers. They're quirky, a bit nerdy, but just as cool as the the lime-light stealing drivers.
Linhbergh: Who are you, and what the heck do you do on the team?
…That's a pretty good question. I am Edo Ichikawa and I am in charge
of tires. Which basically means that I make sure that the tires all are
fitted correctly, with proper balancing and air pressure. So when a team
member comes by to pick it up to put on the car, they don't have to
worry about anything.
Kevin Jones: I am Kevin Jones and I'm
supervisor for the corporate side of the Falken ALMS program. My
responsibility includes overseeing the tire support program that Mr.
Ichikawa has become very efficient at running. I also work with the Rod
Everett, the team manager, to coordinate tire support for the team at
the track as well as making sure everything for the program is handled
when we're not on race weekends. Those things include, budget
management, making sure the team is getting paid, parts to be ordered,
or whatever the Team Manager asks for… I'm pretty much the liaison for
Linhbergh: What goes into tire prep for a race weekend?
First, I get the tire menu from Japan. Next, I make sure that
everything is on board the transport for every race –including the ever
so important tires from the tire menu. And once we're at the actual
track for the weekend, I start prepping the tires; mounting, bead
seating, and balancing. Once the tires are prepped, I have to have an
IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) official mark the tires
specifically for the race since you're regulated to a certain amount of
tires to use during the race weekend. And finally, the tires are taken
on to the carts to be transported to wherever the car is to me mounted!
Linhbergh: Mounting tires and all that is a pretty mundane job.
What makes you get up in the morning to do this job?
I love racing… and well, the Tecate girls at Long Beach.
Linhbergh: I was at the 12 Hours of Sebring with you guys and a I
noticed that a lot of that time was you tire guys standing around doing
a whole lot of nothing.
Edo: Haha! The standing
around part was because all the tires were done and were in the team's
Kevin: That's because we get to the track so
early in the morning and we get our work done…
…early! So when you guys come to the track and see me, I'm drinking my
Kevin: ….that way when there's a problem we
can deal with it. But really, we just like to hang out and smoke
cigarettes and drink diet cokes.
Linhbergh: So what other official things do you do at the track
at a long endurance race like Sebring?
During a really long race, like the 12 Hours of Sebring, there is a bit
more down time. But usually during a race we get really busy because
tires are always coming back to us after the car pits. When something
goes wrong, like at Sebring, the team are not in need of tires. So, we
have that time in between to drink diet coke!
a race, a set of tires lasts roughly an hour, so our goal when the tire
comes off the car is to get it back to the team within half an hour. I
timed this at Sebring. So that leaves about a 30 minute window for prep
time for the next set of tires as well diet coke and cigarettes!
Linhbergh: So Edo, at Sebring, when a tire came back, What did
you do? I saw you do a lot of sorting of the tires, recording data and
well… not letting me take photos of the tires' side wall!
When a tire comes back, I have one of our fitters start mounting
new tires and have the team stick around to take the tires back out to
the pit lane.
Kevin: So when the team delivers the
tires to us the valve cores are pulled out so there are no air in the
tires. And our job is to take the old tire that's on the wheel and
replace it with a new tire. So it'll go to the bead breaker to get the
beads broken, so the tires are no longer securely mounted to the wheel.
Then it goes to the tire machine where the fitter will remove the old
tire and have the new tire put on. Then off to the air cage it goes! The
air cage seeks the bead and pops it out on the wheel. Finally, it goes
to the balancer where, Edo is stationed, to make sure there are no
problems with the wheel and the tire. From there we spray paint on our
Linhbergh: The painting part I just witnessed and Edo seems to
get the biggest kick out of that!
Kevin: We're actually trying to change that process. We're
working on making a sticker for the side wall which gets ironed on
instead of painting it on. We were testing some that actually this
weekend in Long Beach. We're testing three different materials to test
and from there we'll make our final decision on the design of the new
sidewall sicker. Hopefully, it'll be pretty cool. But I have to admit
that spray painting on the tire is pretty cool because it shows that its
a one off tire.
Edo: I like the paint. It's so old school.
That's because its easier, Edo. You lay on the stencil and just
spray away! And it's done. With the sticker you have to take the time to
iron it on.
Edo: FUUU….! With the iron on we're
getting a machine.
Kevin: We can't make you lazy!
Actually… we are getting a machine.
That's what I'm talking about!!
Linhbergh: Explain to me why you guys wouldn't allow me to take
photos of the tires' side wall.
reason why we cross out all the markings is because the tires are very
secretive. It's a secret world out there for tires in ALMS! Other teams
can look at the tires. They wouldn't know what spec or construction
we're using, but they can gather data. At every event they keep seeing
the same number, they'll know that we're using the same tire from an
Linhbergh: Is that really important and secretive because ALMS
is the only series where everyone can run a different tires on cars?
Yeah it's not like F1 where everyone has to run the same tires by the
same company. In ALMS you can pretty much run any tire compound you
Kevin: Every motorsport out there is becoming so spec series
these days and what makes ALMS so much more appealing is that it's also a
tire battle. Which is why Falken entered. The cool thing about ALMS is
that the cars have all these restrictions that the teams have to follow
to be legal for their class. But tires on the other hand, they just have
to be so-and-so wide and so-and-so tall. Other than those things, we
can do whatever we want….
Edo: …There are still rules for tires, like how much
contact patch for example. But other than that, tire manufacturers can
pretty much do whatever they want.
Linhbergh: So what do you guys do AFTER a race? What do you guys do
Kevin: *Smiling Maliciously* We clean
up, pack up, go-home-and-goto-sleep-in-our-hotel-rooms.
Haha! Edo, what did you do after Sebring?
Edo: Hmmm… what did I do after Sebring…?
Kevin: I THINK
THAT PERFECTLY EXPLAINS WHAT EDO DID AFTER SEBRING! Because you don't
Linhbergh: On a race weekend, what is your usual diet?
…diet coke and cigarettes. That's it.
What are your favorite foods?
Edo: JDM food.
Wow. I totally did not see that one coming!
Linhbergh: Anything specific?
Edo: I like
Kevin: Steaks aren't very JDM…
I dunno… I like all sorts of food. Curry rice is good. But see, this
guy *points to Kevin Jones* only eats hamburgers at In-N-Out. A
special kind of hamburger. We call it an MCB: A meat and cheese bun.
There are no carbs so it's good for you. It's high in protein! Pizza is by far my favorite food though. It's
got to be left overnight for three to four days….
Linhbergh: Dude, cold pizza is the worse! How can you eat that?
How do you eat that? It's like eating sand –very cold and moist sand.
Yeah man, cold pizza is terrible.
then, I love sand.
Linhbergh: Well, that's pretty much it. Thank you for your time guys.