Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Round 3: American Le Mans Monterey

Historically, Mazda Raceway has been a challenging track for Team Falken Tire. In the 2011 season, with just two hours to go, the #17 Porsche was unable to continue the race after suffering from a rear-end collision. This year, the team returned with a completely new Porsche and new tires, determined to battle the varying track temperatures and legendary elevation changes. 

Before the race weekend started, the Series held a test day, which was perfectly timed for the team. After two races with the new 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR it was determined that the current regulations on the car were not equal to that of the other competitors in class. Thanks to Porsche, IMSA and the ACO/FIA, the Porsche teams were granted a new front splitter and a modified rear wing to generate more down force. The Falken Tire Corporation also brought to the event a taller front tire specifically designed for the 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

 Fresh from Porsche: The newer, modified wing. “The new down force and the bigger front is good,” remarked Wolf after the first test session. “The new wing was better. I think you can really feel it in high speed turns." 

The #17 Porsche patiently waits to leave pit lane, boasting her new front splitter. With these two big changes and added down force, the car then would get more drag, losing power. To compensate, the ACO allowed the Porsches to have a bigger restrictor, allowing more air to come into the engine.

Upon arrival in Monterey, the crew wasted no time getting the paddock garage and pit box set up. With our on afternoon track test time totaling an hour and a half, the team had most of the morning to set up, work on the Porsche and pass Technical Inspection before heading out on track.

"What did you get mom for mother's day?" Bryan with ESPN. The first two days at a race event are always the best to fit in as many radio, TV and print interviews in as possible. Not only do the drivers have more free time, but you never know what kind of obstacles may come up later as race time draws near. Since Bryan and Wolf only had a few TV and radio interviews while the crew worked, they volunteered their free time to do a question and answer session on twitter for the @FalkenALMS followers. Doing a Q&A is always fun with this troublesome duo because they always have a smart-aleck answer before coming up with a real answer. Thankfully, these guys are professional and entertaining at the same time!

Despite Wolf making funny faces, it's not all fun in games though, as Wolf and Bryan meet with Engineer John Ward to review technical data. These meetings can take hours and are crucial to a successful race weekend. To be well-rounded race car drivers, Wolf and Bryan not only need to be able to be fast and smart on track, but being able to relay technical feedback to the engineers is incredibly important. This way, any problems can be diagnosed faster and everyone is on the same page in terms of where progress needs to be made.

Earlier in the May, race car driver Tim Bergmeister was involved in a traumatic accident in the Super GT race at Fuji Speedway. To show Tim and his younger brother ALMS driver Jorg their support, the drivers on the Porsche teams sported "Get Well Soon TIM" stickers on their helmets for the Monterey race. Usually all smiles, Wolf and Bryan were subdued as they placed the stickers on their helmets, a quiet reminder of the risks of the sport. 

Even when competing against each other on track, the drivers and Porsche teams  are one big family (more on that later this season). Wolf, Bryan and the other Porsche teams were honored to be able to show their support for Tim and the Bergmeister family.

Bryan and Wolf practice a driver change during the ALMS test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Teams can lose seconds and track positions from a slow driver change or pit stop. When the first driver pulls into the pits, he disconnects the radio, then the water bottle, loosens the shoulder belts and turns off the car. Then he undoes the belts, slides the seat back and then gets out of the car. The second driver gets in, connects the radio, buckles his belts, slides the seat forward, and tightens his shoulder straps. Once fueling is complete, he starts the car and races down pit lane. All this is done in seconds and Wolf and Bryan have it down to an art. 

Lead Tire Design Engineer Yoshi Yasuda inspecting the tires that just finished a stint on the #17 Porsche. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is one of the most challenging tracks to develop tires for. Sunny afternoons in California heat up the asphalt fairly quickly, but as soon as the sun drops behind the hills of Monterey, the temperature plummets. For the six hour endurance race, the tire engineers at Falken Tire brought a daytime and a nighttime tire to effectively handle both conditions. Once used on track, every tire is looked over and analyzed meticulously. This data is then applied to the composition of future tires, both on and off track. 

Wolf and Team Manager Derrick Walker discuss the new changes on the car. One of only nine Porsche Factory drivers in the world, Wolf gives very technical and insightful feedback based on his time behind the wheel.

Race day morning, we teamed up with RACER Magazine to hold a tweetup for all of our twitter followers. For those unfamiliar with twitter lingo, a tweetup is a meeting of twitter followers who share a special interest, in this case, Team Falken Tire and RACER Magazine. Despite the early time and chilly weather, the participants had a great time sharing stories, learning about the team, and walked away with team swag. For a first tweetup, it went well and we hope to offer something similar to fans at other races.

Notorious for unexpected fog, Mazda Raceway can sometimes throw racing a curve ball.  Thick morning fog on race day caused a slight delay, pushing the schedule back for the day. In an effort to start the race on time and give drivers and teams proper time to prepare, the ALMS autograph session was canceled. 

"Are you trying to make the rest of us look bad?" asked one race team: Not wanting to let their fans be disappointed, Bryan and Wolf used their debriefing session to sign autographs for the fans waiting outside. We announced the impromptu autograph session on twitter, and with the help of ALMS, Mazda Raceway, and other tweeters, we got word out quickly, and fans started gathering.

As usual, Falken Tire Spokesmodels, Olivia and Julie, were on hand to sign autographs, hand out posters and free swag for the fans. We had a great turn out and thank all the fans that stopped by.

 These beautiful ladies always draw a crowd.

The ladies and the #17 Porsche on the grid at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

 After his first stint during the six hour endurance race, Bryan is approached by Jens Walther, the President of Porsche Motorsports North America. Later this season, we'll give you an in-depth look at Porsche Motorsport North America and their involvement with the American Le Mans Series and Team Falken Tire.

 No matter how long the race, there's no room for error in a pit stop. Wolf exits with his water bottle as Bryan gets situated. The crew fuels and peels away the windshield tearoff, cleaning up the view for the drivers.

 One of the Falken Tire cameras capturing the pit stop action. The creative team at Falken puts together amazing post-race videos that truly capture the excitement of a race weekend. Visit the Corporation's YouTube page to see the Mazda Raceway video.

After a brilliant pit stop and alternate tire strategy, the Wolf pulled the #17 Porsche out of pit lane first in the GT class, to lead the first laps for the team in the 2012 season.

After six long hours, the post-race fire works from pit lane at Mazda Raceway. The #17 Porsche finished sixth in class.

Twitter Fan Photos
We had so many fans come out during the event, and so many sending us their photos on twitter. Here are some twitter fan pics from the week:

For the past three race events, we've held a Falken Tire trivia contest for our twitter followers. The winner and a friend get to have lunch the next day with Wolf and Bryan. Mazda Raceway's winner was Tracy (@rosenrakuen) and her friend Javier. They had a full hour one-on-one to ask the drivers questions, share stories and talk racing. Tracy even stopped by during the race the next to show her support. Great to meet you, Tracy and Javier!

Sean (@seanmp), one of our Tweetup participants, caught this shot of the #17 Porsche pulling away from the BMWs

It looks like the Porsche and the other cars were going just a little too fast for Mike's (@MikeyP155) camera to catch!

Joe (@jayeff96) stopped by the pits before the race to check out the Falken Tire pit box set up.

Alex (@aphong93) captured this great shot of the Falken Porsche in the legendary Corkscrew. A 5.5 story drop never looked so good!

Kevin (@kevintoy888), sporting his Wolfman hat, with Falken girls Julie and Olivia.

Round 4 of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron is still off in the distance of July 6-7, but we'll have plenty of content to keep pushing out to the fans.

Big thanks to Falken Tire, Porsche Motorsport North America, HPI Racing, ALMS, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Battery Tender, Eibach Springs, Sparco, and most importantly our fans for another excitement filled race weekend!

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