It said that, in life, you are judged by the company that you keep. As the above shot illustrates, the guys at Team Falken are hanging with the Big Dogs. OK, no one would pretend that they are racing the quartet of Peugeots and Audis but they fully deserve their place in the stellar field of racers that contested last weekend's Petit Le Mans. They are now an integral part of the ALMS scene.
Perhaps as I am an infrequent visitor to the ALMS I see the transformation of the team more clearly than those who witness the gradual progress, at this level of competition progress can only be at an incremental level. This time last year at the same event, the guys at Falken looked what they were, a new team looking to find their feet. By the time Sebring rolled round in March the whole operation was much sharper. They had obviously taken stock and fixed any basic flaws. Now would come the hard task of trying to reach the level of the opposition.
Sounds simple. That is until you consider what the opposition consists of. Pratt & Miller, Risi Competizione, Flying Lizard, Rahal Letterman Racing, they are the absolute Creme de la Creme of GT2 racing. To even get close, never mind match, these operations would be like attempting to climb Mount Everest.
Despite the scale of the task the the team had undertaken, I arrived in Atlanta last week convinced that the progress would be maintained in an upward trajectory. I was not disappointed.
Snatching an early lead in the GT2 class at Sebring had set the tone for the 2010 Team Falken Tire campaign. While respecting their opposition, they were not going to be overawed, settling for grid filler status, they were "Moving On Up". See that episode here.
Since then the team has scrapped and fought with the best of them, earning the respect of others in the pit lane.
What did I just say about the company you keep?
One thing I have learned along the way is that no one, and certainly no one in the media. REALLY knows what is going in a team during a race weekend. You can make intelligent guesses and you can most of the story right some of the time but that is as far as it goes. What happens in the team, stays in the team.
In the spirit of Interview Month (Yes, I know it has passed but cut me a little slack) I thought that instead of me giving my take on what Falken had achieved at Road Atlanta I would ask the guys to give their story.
By the guys I mean, of course, Bryan Sellers, who was leading the driver strength in the absence of regular co-driver, Wolf Henzler.
The other guy giving us the low down was Rod Everett, Team Manger for Team Flaken Tire. A big thank you must also be given to the tireless (terrible pun!) PR Manger for Falken Tire, Nick Fousekis, who facilitated the interviews with his usual style and was generous with his hospitality.
JB: How did your 2010 PLM go?
Rod – Went well overall, finished the 9 hour race without incident. Team finished all races this year.
Bryan – The 2010 Petite Le Mans was a huge success in my mind. Petite was something that was very important to everyone at Falken Tire and something that is very important to me personally. We had multiple tire combinations to run through and although we did not use all of them for the race we found that each tire did something a little different and if we are able to pull the best out of each of these tires and apply it to one tire we will have something that will be extremely competitive. We ran the race with no problems, things went as well as could be expected. For the first time we were able to double stint a set of tires which was very promising, I believe deep down that this was a goal everyone had set, whether it was external or internal everyone wanted to see it happen.
JB: Highs and Lows? Things to remember on and off the track?
Rod – Highs: Fast pit stops (except one) helped the team to gain positions on other GT class teams. Race pace was better than previous races. E85 Ethanol Fuel conversion, from E 10 was seamless. Lower impact on the environment and slight performance increase. Lows: three PIT Speed violations this weekend , which resulted in three “Stop and Go Penalties….the GT class is so competitive we cannot afford to give up anytime at all……Marion’s hospitality tent at the races is great, to have home cooked food and hot coffee available all day long…. Especially on those long race days….
Bryan – In a ten hour race there are always highs and lows, but fortunately for us there were very few lows. We had some issues with our Pit Lane Speed limiter that we had to deal with but outside of that the lows were very limited. It is always a high point to finish an endurance race, this was Falken Tire’s second Petite Le Mans and the first one that actually went the whole distance, so with that said finishing and finishing well was a huge accomplishment for the team and drivers.
JB: Racing people tend to be "glass half full" optimists, and try and take positives out of any situation…………..what did our guys take from 2010 Petit Le Mans?
Rod – Team Falken Tire has now completed a whole season of 9 tortuous races in the highly competitive GT class. The guys have learned to work together, we have developed new tires and a strong program to focus on race podiums and wins for the 2011 season.
Bryan – I am a very much a “glass half full” person and I think we took tons of positives from the race. One of those is the commitment from Falken Tire they worked so hard to get us new tires for the race and they followed through! Secondly, we saw that our crew is as good as anyone our pit-stops were very fast and our preparation got us through the whole race with no problems.
JB: Looking back over the past 12 months to the 2009 PLM, what would you consider the Team's greatest achievements to be?
Rod – Qualifying #2 twice in the dry, Sebring and Long Beach and #2 in the rain at Lime Rock. This certainly got the other teams attention that TEAM FALKEN Tire was at the track to race and that we were taking the competition serious!
The fire at Miller Motorsports park in Utah. Terrible to see a basically new car melt down. Bryan was uninjured. The Car burned at 9:45 am, basically from the rear axle back. Engine , transmission, suspension, brakes, wiring harness etc needed to be replaced. Even the Falken Teal and Blue livery vinyl. The crew had the car ready to go and on track at 4:45pm. An amazing feat considering the damage done to the car and Salt Lake being only the fourth race for the team . The Falken Porsche GT3 RSR competed and finished the race the following day.
Bryan – Clearly you have to look at our qualifying efforts… It is such a great feeling to see the car start on the front row for the races. I would also say the progression that the team made over 12 months was very impressive, the guys were able to take four seconds off their pit-stops over the course of the year.
The next step for the team in 2011 is to compete regularly for podiums and even class wins. It won't be easy as level of competition on the ALMS GT class would be a match for anything that runs around the tracks, anywhere, anytime. But if any small team can scale these heights it will be Team Falken Tire. We'll have to wait till March and the Sebring 12 Hours to see if my crystal ball is firing on all cylinders, not long to wait.