One Sweaty Speedhunting Weekend In Ohio

There’s no denying it, for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is well and truly underway. For us Speedhunters the summer brings lots of excitement, and with it, plenty of work. While most people are on vacation living the easy life our schedule becomes more crammed than ever which means back-to-back weekend events for months on end.

Over the years as an automotive journalist I’ve become accustomed to this insane schedule which begins with the Formula D kickoff in April and ends sometime in November just after SEMA. It’s a distorted concept of summer, but it’s the only one I know. No matter how used to it I think I am, there are always those times when the going gets extra weird.

No more than a day after returning to LA, haphazardly unpacking my things from my euro trip and hastily nursing a newly acquired cold, I was back on yet another airplane headed for another racing circuit. Before I knew it I was standing in the dark in the paddock of Mid Ohio, seemingly starring in a strange Speedhunting themed episode of the Twilight Zone.

Exactly one week prior I was at Spa, running through what was essentially exactly the same schedule, only halfway around the globe. Just like it did in Belgium, my weekend at Ohio actually began on a Thursday and the first order of business was a photoshoot on the track.

Despite not really knowing where or who I was, I think the shoot went quite well and you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the feature coming soon. The call time was 5AM and fortunately for me, my mind, and more importantly, body, was still set to European time; so getting up for the shoot wasn’t a problem.

No it would be staying awake that would prove the challenge. Try as I might there was little that my now-sore-throat-and-dizzy-sickened-body could do to fight off the jet lag, so I gave in and retired to the hotel to catch up on some rest. The next day I woke up around 4AM, like clockwork, and finished another story before heading the track where I found the team working on the car.

When I first walked out of the hotel the sun was hanging low in the sky and I froze and stood still for a moment while my mind tried to reason with a sense of time and place. I spent nearly a minute trying to decide whether it was dusk or dawn, a sure fire sign that I really “am the Speedhunter.” Fortunately the time was 9:30AM and I was in good shape to witness qualifying.

Coming into this event there was a lot to be excited about. For Falken this would be a homecoming of sorts as it was at this very event one year ago where the team scored their first victory in the American Le Mans Series. For me it would be the return to the very first circuit I ever visited, which in turn sparked my interest in motorsport, some twenty odd years ago.

Not surprisingly the circuit didn’t very much resemble the minor tidbits stored away in the depths of my brain. What I quickly learned was that while this course may seem short and simple on paper, it’s actually extremely demanding and complex. The twistier bits are anything but straight forward and a fast lap here requires a calm head and smooth inputs.

The undulating course is daunting and seemingly easy to overdrive, not to mention very taxing on tires. When you take into consideration the disgusting combination of heat and humidity it seems that having a race car that handles properly is a non-possibility. At the end of the fifteen minute qualifying session the top eight cars in GT were separated by less than a second, unfortunately for Falken they were relegated to the ninth position on the grid and nearly two seconds off pole.

I returned to the paddock after the qualifying session to a very busy Falken pit bustling with fans. As luck would have it I had gotten back just in time for one of the ALMS’ “tech talks”. One of my favorite things about the ALMS is how they engage their fans and make them a very real part of the race weekend.

For tech talks race fans are encouraged to come to team’s pit, this time Falken’s, and ask virtually any question they can think of to be answered by the team. Here we see Kevin Jones answering one fan’s question about how the team would adjust in the event of rain.

Once the tech talk was completed the team could get back to preparing the car for the race the following day. Here we see Alex and Phil putting one of the finishing touches on the car…

Stickers, of course! While it sounds funny to say, in racing stickers really are serious business. Since much of the race can and will be broadcast from on board the cars, it’s important for teams to have branding in places that can be picked up by the cameras and absorbed into the subconscious of the viewers.

Even the smallest sticker can be considered prime real estate when it comes to television. Alex is carefully placing two decals, Falken and Porsche, for the rearward facing camera pod sticking through the roof.

The next morning I was back at the track bright and early for a mandatory photography meeting and before my body had time to wake up, cars were cuing for the warm up session. With the early morning sun beating down on the ground I made my way to the circuit where could hear the cars firing up in the distance. Before long they appeared.

To my surprise it seemed as though some of the minor changes from the day before had taken affect on the car. Moving through the trickier sections of the track, the car appeared to be very stable and quick compared to previous sessions. When I returned after the session I found out that the car seemed to have found its legs and was now within the coveted one second bracket.

While the team ran though last minute check lists the drivers were busy meeting and greeting with the fans. I always joke that this must be the hardest part of the weekend for the drivers, as it would be quite obnoxious to me, but Wolf and Bryan never seem to mind!

It never ceases to amaze me how popular Falken is in the paddock, particularly for a team of their size. Relatively speaking Falken is essentially a privateer in the scope of professional racing, which might seem strange to those that know them to be the big dogs in the drift scene. While they might not have the largest budget or team, they certainly do have one of the largest lines outside their hauler!

Just after what would have been lunch time, if Speedhunters had time to waste partake in such things, the GT cars were pulled into the pit lane for a few final adjustments prior to the race.

In addition to topping up on fuel, the boys removed the taxi-way wheel and tire combination and replaced it with race rubber and the car was ready to go.

Before the start of the race it is customary for all the cars to be pulled onto the grid in their respective qualifying positions. Many times, particularly with larger races, the grid is then opened up to the fans to come and inspect the cars up close.

At this point it was getting really hot and muggy out and I was seriously beginning to wonder if I could last until the end of the race. The look on Bryan’s face is one of a man in misery, although I’m sure he’d never admit it. I feel so bad for the drivers at this stage, I could barely stay conscious outside in a tee-shirt – I can only imagine how agonizing it must be sitting in a hot race car all suited up with a balaclava and helmet on to boot!

Fortunately there are usually some kind words from colleges to help power through it. Here Porsche Factory works driver Marco Holzer sneaks in to wish Sellers some good luck.

In fact even our own Tommy Milner stopped by to say hello. Hi Tommy!

With sweat thoroughly soaking my entire body I made one last photograph of the team all lined up and trudged off to shoot the start of the race.

Here’s what the last corner looked like on the first lap; a complete freight train, the likes of which have become synonymous with the ALMS GT class. As you can see Bryan was stuck in the thick of it with his work cut out for him on a track that is very difficult to execute passes on.

Although not the fastest car on the track, the number seventeen certainly was consistent and Sellers was doing a great job of keeping the car in one piece. By saving the tires and staying out of other people’s accidents the car soon found itself moving forward in position.

And that’s exactly how Bryan would spend the next hour, meticulously sawing his way through the field. By the time he handed the car over to Wolf on lap twenty six the car had found itself all the way up into the fourth spot. With fresh tires and a Porsche Factory driver in the car the outlook on the weekend was quite good.

When the car rejoined the field under yellow, Wolf came back out in seventh place and wasted no time pushing back towards the front. Fighting hard during his stint Henzler would overtake two cars putting Falken into fifth place before handing the car back over to Sellers for the home stretch.

With a cool head Bryan was able to bring the car home unscathed and managed to pass another car on the way to the checkered flag, narrowly missing out on a podium by just less than a second. Although it wasn’t the repeat victory they had hoped for, it was a good display of teamwork with the pit crew credited for the finishing position.

And like that, just as quickly as it began, my weekend was over. As I watched the car being loaded onto the vehicle hauler I couldn’t help but think “haven’t I done this before”, in a strange pseudo groundhog day way. Whether this weekend actually happened or is just a figment of my imagination I can’t really be sure, but I do know it won’t be the last. See you guys at Road Atlanta!

More ALMS stories on Speedhunters

More endurance GT stories on Speedhunters

More stories by Sean Klingelhoefer on Speedhunters

-Sean


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19 comments
JohanGuld
JohanGuld

Speedhunters has changed alot, I kind of miss "the old" Speedhunters. It was much more exciting, starting of with a little longer text and then just one row of text commenting/discussing the car/photo under each photo. I liked Speedhunters because of that but dont take me wrong, I still love the work you guys put in.

NolanBjorn
NolanBjorn

Wish I would have known you were going to be there. I usually attend this race but I had to delay going this year due to other conflicts. If you go back next year then you better let me know. Mid-Ohio is just a short drive from here in KY

twincamRob
twincamRob

Sean, since you've seen them both in person, which is wider and more 'aggressive' looking.... RWB cars or the Falken RSR?

EricSeanDelaney
EricSeanDelaney

No fan walk was a let down :(. It's awesome to see the little local track I've been going to for 10+ years on SpeedHunters.

RacerMike
RacerMike

As always, great coverage! That's the best team to follow!

ding0tr0n
ding0tr0n

y'all are planning some more coverage on the new viper, yes? i see it lurking in one of the photos there.

bradjh
bradjh

Will there be anyone covering the September race at VIR?

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

@NolanBjorn sorry you missed it! No idea about plans for next year at this point, but I'd love to go back.

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @twincamRob That's a tough question to answer... They're both absurdly wide and aggressive, but if I had to differentiate I'd say the RSR appears more purpose built and therefore isn't quite as "scary" as the RWB, if that makes any sense. The RWB just looks like a crazy street sweeper. I like them both, but they're really hard to compare.

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

 @EricSeanDelaney To be honest considering how tight the schedule was due to all the other series also running during the weekend, it makes complete sense that there wasn't a fan walk. You need at least an hour just to let everyone in and get them back off the grid prior to the start of the race, and that isn't even taking rubber necking and photo taking into account.

EricSeanDelaney
EricSeanDelaney

@sean klingelhoefer Yea that's what I figured, the IRL top 6 took forever it seemed. And those stickers went to good use!

ding0tr0n
ding0tr0n

yes, but more?  i <3 pictures and to me the new viper is worthy of more picture love.

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

That's all we have planned at the moment. The guys from Riley Technologies weren't too excited about me taking pictures of their cars.

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer

@JohnPhillips2 If everything goes according to plan, yes I will.


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