Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Round 5 Behind the Scenes: Falken Tire Earns Best Finish at Mosport

In the American Le Mans Series, you never know how a race weekend will play out. According to Falken driver Bryan Sellers, if you told him before the race weekend that Team Falken Tire was going to finish fourth in Round 5 at Canadian Motorsport Park (formally known as Mosport), he would have gladly taken that position. After a difficult test, practice and qualifying session, the team was struggling to feel optimistic looking ahead to the race. However, the Azenis RT slick tires combined with incredibly fast pit stops, a great strategy and stellar driving, the Falken 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR finished fifth. A failed tech inspection for the winning car in the GT class brought the Falken Porsche up to fourth. 

Here’s a behind the scenes look into the race weekend that brought Falken Tire its best finish so far in the 2012 season. 

 Team Manager Phil Howard and Program Manager Derrick Walker do a weekend run-down with the crew upon arriving at the track. Especially in motorsports, communication is key to running a successful team.

The Falken crew unloads the 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. A six-cylinder boxer engine never looked so good!

Bryan signs autographs for young Falken Tire fans: Within just hours of being at the track, a group of young fans stopped by to meet Wolf and Bryan and see the #17 Porsche up close. It was difficult to tell who was more excited: the kids or the drivers. At Round 2 at Long Beach, Wolf and Bryan spoke to a group of children about the life of a race car driver, and took time to answer questions and were even disappointed when it wrapped up ten minutes later.   Needless to say, the Falken drivers enjoy speaking with their young fans.

Known amongst the paddock and especially the Falken crew as pranksters, Wolf and Bryan arrived at the track to find someone gave them the taste of their own medicine by decorating the duo’s lockers. Despite the pressure to perform and the constant flow of meetings, interviews and on-track sessions, Wolf and Bryan have no problem making sure they still enjoy the experience of a race weekend. 

A few weeks before the event, FalkenALMS twitter follower @85_froggy tweeted us a picture of an art piece he did featuring the new Porsche.  We invited him to come to our rig to see for ourselves and get it signed. Froggy asked the whole crew to autograph the piece, and later posed for a picture with Bryan and Wolf. Great job, Froggy! You make our stick figures look pretty bad…

Bryan speaking with the TV crew about the importance of each piece of gear that a race car driver has to wear when in the car. Certainly not your typical Sunday dress!

Mike and Renee were the winners for the fan lunch at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park! Mike answered the trivia question on twitter the previous day and got to spend an hour with the drivers. Not only did they discuss the team, tires and car over lunch, but Mike was amazed at the level of interest the drivers had in their fans and how down to earth they were.  The super fan duo stopped by several times during the weekend to show their support—thanks guys!

The Porsche with the well-known Falken Tire livery in pit lane waiting to rejoin the field for the test session. The team was the second highest Porsche for the session and finished 8th in the GT class.

What’s a great perk to having a race car driver from Germany? The chocolate he brings to the track! In the past, Wolf has also brought chocolate to the children at local hospitals he has visited with the Austin Hatcher Foundation. 

Wolf and Bryan debrief with Program Manager Derrick Walker and Engineer John Ward following a practice session on track at Mosport. These sessions are critical to developing the tires and car set up, and must be done after every session. 

Despite their busy schedule, both Bryan and Wolf made time to visit the PorschePlatz to speak with the members of the Porsche Club of America. The PCA members are always very knowledgeable and are full of questions for the drivers. Due to time constraints, someone usually has to rip the microphone out of Bryan and Wolf’s hands.

Looking for the door? The door handle of the #17 Porsche is clearly labeled in the event that corner workers or safety crews will need to get in the car in a hurry. The three lights along the edge of the door are the leaderboard lights.  With so many cars and so many classes, it can be challenging for spectators to identity who is in the lead.  The leader lights on ALMS cars are different colors for each class and help fans pinpoint the top three cars in each class by how many lights are lit on the panel. 

The Falken Tire Azenis RT Slick tire that makes it all happen! 

Falken Girl Brittney signs posters and gives away swag to eager race fans before the race. 

The Falken Porsche on grid, starting 8th, ready to go! 

So many fans stopped by on the grid to see the car and get their photos taken with the Falken drivers before the race. Very few race series allow fans to get so close to the cars and drivers. At Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the grid was absolutely packed with fans of all ages!

With just a few minutes before everyone else had to clear the grid, Wolf and Bryan spent the final moments intensely focused, blocking out all distractions. 

The Falken crew makes up a spot in another speedy pit stop. If you look closely, they were even moving too fast for the camera! All weekend, the team set aside time to practice their stops, and it paid off, bringing the car home to 4th in the GT class. 

After the race, Bryan made a beeline to downtown Toronto for a TV interview on AutoShop on CP24. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t let us post any pictures of him in hair and makeup. Maybe next time! Click
here to view Bryan’s interview!

Here are the fan photos from the event. Thanks for your submissions!

From Jonathan (@jonathanjbrooks), here's the Falken Tire Porsche and Falken girl Brittney on the ALMS Mosport Grid.

From Steve (@Scanman73), the Falken Porsche comes in for a pit stop

From Froggy (@85_froggy), the Porsche roars through turn four.

And lastly, from Mike (@MikeyP155), here's the #17 Porsche and the Falken Azenis R1 Slicks in the ALMS paddock. 

Next up, the Falken team travels to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course August 2-4 for Round 6 of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. Live steaming will begin August 4th at 12:45 EDT. The TV broadcast begins at 2:00pm EDT on ABC.

Falken Tire News:
-         - Miss the Falken Tire teaser video from Round 4 at Lime Rock Park? Here it is! http://bit.ly/MpXpY7
- Team Falken Tire helped raise $115 for the Austin Hatcher Foundation with another live twitter auction Wednesday, August 26. Twitter user Anthony (@atflorio) was the highest bidder of this limited edition art piece by Jim Swintal portraying Falken Tire’s first ALMS win in the rain at Mid-Ohio, also signed by Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers. Follow @FalkenALMS for your chance to win special Falken items and raise money for the Austin Hatcher Foundation.
-       - Falken Tire ALMS merchandise is available on alms.com! Click here to stock up on your swag to support your favorite team!
- Falken Tire is giving away a Porsche 911 Carrera!  Fans can have their chance at winning by clicking ‘Like’ Falken Tire on Facebook to enter by October 21, 2012 at www.facebook.com/falkentire.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Falken Tire Gets a Grip: Inside the Program of “The Little Tire that Could”

Still a young American Le Mans Series team, Team Falken Tire has made its mark in the GT class, both in wet and dry conditions. With the main focus of developing tires, the team has taken on other tire manufactures with more ALMS experience to earn two wins and several top five finishes. We took the most asked questions regarding the tire program in ALMS and sat down with Falken to give fans a more technical look inside the team that continues to make its mark in sports car racing.

How did Falken Tire make the decision to join the American Le Mans Series?

Falken was looking to expose our brand to a different demographic than we had been associated with in years prior.  We had a great reputation with the Gen X and Gen Y through Formula Drift and our other tuner scene involvement but we wanted to further expand the brand awareness.  The American Le Mans Series gave us the perfect opportunity to get involved in a top tier sports car racing environment, something we had never done before in the United States.

With that in mind, the ALMS is the only premiere motorsport that promotes tire competition so it was just a natural fit.  Combine that with the rising popularity of the GT class and the fact that the average consumer can relate to the Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes and BMWs they see going around the track and we felt it was a great match for us.

Tell us about the life of an ALMS tire, starting from the beginning with the data and ending with what happens once it’s done on track.

Once we go through a tire test, the data and driver feedback is used to give our Lead Design Engineer, Yoshi Yasuda, a direction on how to improve our tire performance.  The design is finalized and the tires are ordered from the factory in Japan.  Depending on the time allowable until the next race, the tires are either shipped by boat or plane to the destination to prepare for competition.  This turnaround takes an average of 30 days from start to finish. Once in the US, the Falken Tire ALMS staff receives the tires, inventories them and does a final quality inspection.  The team and tire engineers agree upon what to begin testing or using at an event, the tires are then fitted to the wheels and put on track for competition.  After the race is completed, select tires are dissected and shipped back to Japan for analysis.  Again, the data and driver feedback from the race is used to go into the next generation of tire available to be used at the next competition.  Every single tire sent to the US is accounted for, used or unused, and sent back to Japan when they are no longer of use in the US.

Roughly how many tires does Falken use each season in the ALMS program?

Including testing, one car uses approximately 380 tires per year.  This does not count excess inventory that may have been produced but never used.

What tracks in the ALMS schedule are the most and least demanding on tires?

Least demanding would have to be street circuits like the Long Beach Grand Prix and Baltimore Grand Prix.  Most demanding would be Mid-Ohio, its abrasive track surface is used in a seemingly constant loaded state caused by long turns and multiple transitions, and Road Atlanta; extreme loads are put on the left side tires due to various significant elevation changes.

With Falken Tire’s reach into other areas of motorsport including tires in drifting and off-roading, how much tire data/development can be carried across the board, if any?

Because of the rules, the tires used in Formula Drift are off the shelf, unmolested RT-615K street tires.  Much the same, our off road tires we use in competition are off the shelf Wild Peak A/T tires but are often hand grooved in order to change the tire characteristics depending on the type of environment they will be used in.  The techniques to prep the tires are all similar however the designs are drastically different.

In what ways is an ALMS tire different from a drifting tire?

As mentioned above, the RT-615K tire used in drifting is an off the shelf tire that anyone can buy at your local Falken Tire retailer.  The ALMS RT-Slick tire is custom made, using cutting edge motorsports technology, in many different variations in Japan and is unavailable to the public.

What kind of education is needed to be a tire engineer?

Obviously, an engineering degree is required.  Outside of that, tire engineers have come from different educational backgrounds.  There are actually different types of tire engineers as well, just like most engineering fields.  To name a few, there are design engineers, compound engineers and track engineers.  Like most fields, experience is a key component to being effective.

What sets Falken Tires apart from the competition?

Right now, Falken only supplies one car in the ALMS.  Our way of thinking is set apart from other manufacturers that supply multiple cars and several platforms.  We are able to focus our efforts on tailoring a tire design for one specific vehicle in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.  Compared to the competition, we are still very new in the field of international motorsports competition at the highest level so having on chassis to focus on has helped in some ways.

From Lime Rock Park (@LimeRockPark): Do you use different tire compounds for each track?

There is what we call a “compound family” that will contain different compound specs.  We may use the spec at the softer end of the compound family spectrum for track “X” while moving to the harder end of the spectrum for tracks “Y” and “Z”.

From Bob (@BobsterS987): So as we move into heat of summer, how different are the tire compounds for each track? (LRP is thunderstorms & sunny + 90s)

Based on the track characteristics alone, the goal of the compound family mentioned earlier should be able to provide us with an option to use at each track.  One of the most difficult aspects of designing a tire is to develop a compound family that is not extremely temperature sensitive so it can perform in different weather conditions.  After all, no one can ever predict the weather with 100% accuracy, especially when you are building a tire 30 days in advance of an event.

From Spyderman (Ten Tenths Motorsport Forum): Last year the Falken tires were fantastic in the wet. Was this due to the tire construction or rubber compound or both?

We are very happy with our wet tire performance and feel this can be attributed to every aspect of the tire design.

From Spyderman (Ten Tenths Motorsport Forum): How are developments going on the dry tire and how do you compare your current dry tires with those of the competition?

The comparison of our performance to the competition is always a moving target.  Everyone is always trying to get faster and more often than not, they usually do.  With the release of the 2012 version of the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR this year, it proved challenging because there were some different characteristics to that chassis compared to the one we ran last year.  Combine that with the fact that our first chance to test with the new car was at the Sebring Winter Test in February; we were playing catch up from the start.  With a few races and tests under our belt, we feel we are beginning to head in the right direction

From I Rosputnick (Ten Tenths Motorsport Forum): What data/knowledge is taken from the racing tyres put into road car tyres that an average person can buy on the market?

Tires, like most components on a race car, are put through extreme conditions in motorsports.  The biggest translation of track to street comes from the relative qualities these tires have and how they react to these extreme conditions.  Similar to automotive manufacturers, when a street tire is introduced it may have similar qualities to a breakthrough in motorsports technology but the level at which it is required to perform and operate for street application is on a much different scale.

Falken Tire News
- Team Falken Tire races this weekend in the Mobil 1 presents the Grand Prix of Mosport, July 20-22. Live qualifying will be on ESPN 3 July 21 at 3:15pm; the race will be on July 22 at 11:45 on ESPN 3, and on live television on ESPN 2 at 1:00pm.
- Falken Tire is giving away a Porsche 911 Carrera.  Fans can have their chance at winning by clicking ‘Like’ Falken Tire on Facebook to enter by October 21, 2012 at www.facebook.com/falkentire

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Round 4 at Lime Rock Park Through the Eyes of Wolf Henzler

I landed in Newark, New Jeresy on Thursday afternoon and I took a rental car and drove to Lime Rock Park, which is about a two and a half hour drive through New England.  I wanted to go straight to the track and see everyone and the car, but everybody left by the time I got there! They all probably left early because they didn’t want to see me, or maybe Mr. Derrick Walker, the Program Manager let them go after they finished all their work on the Porsche.  I made it to our hotel in Great Barrington, Massachusetts with a little bit of time to relax before heading back out again. 

That night, Bryan and I had a dinner with representatives from Porsche, the ESPN on-air media, our Program Manager and our Public Relations lady.  Even though I was very tired from my day full of travel, the dinner was good. It was a very interesting conversation for all sides, Porsche, the Falken Tire team and the media. We got to hear their thoughts on the American Le Mans Series and the race team, and we were able to give them more information that they normally wouldn’t have access to. One thing that surprised me about the media was how incredibly well informed they were about ALMS and about us. They really do their homework, and we had some pretty deep discussions, so much so that we didn’t wrap up until about 10:00pm, which is pretty late for a driver, especially me, to be out on a race weekend. 

Usually, I’m traveling from Germany to the west, where there is at least a six hour time difference, sometimes nine hours if we’re racing on the west coast.  Because of that, I’m usually very tired pretty early and try to go to bed as soon as possible. Due to the jet lag, I wake up early in the morning, no matter what time I get into bed. In order to be best prepared for the following day, 8:00pm is a good turn-in time to aim for. 

Friday morning, Bryan and I met up at 8:00am for breakfast before leaving for Lime Rock Park. As a race car driver, I watch what I eat, on race weekends, usually sticking to normal, healthy foods like cereal, cornflakes and toast. 

Once at the track, I saw the car and the Falken Tire crew for the first time since Round 3 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  Bryan and I met with our Engineer, John Ward to discuss what we planned on doing for the upcoming practice session, the entire day, and for the weekend as a whole. 

Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler with Program Manager Derrick Walker and Engineer John Ward
The team used the Le Mans break for testing, and I couldn’t attend because I was competing in Le Mans. Bryan and the team were very excited about the progress they made at Mid-Ohio for the balance and tire testing. We were all hoping for a good balance, a good car and good grip for the weekend.  Bryan started the practice session in the car first, and it was not what we expected. On the radio, he told the team there was a lack of balance. The team started to do the normal stuff like tune the car and change the setup, letting Bryan go out each time to test each change. 

After a half hour, I got in for the remainder of the session and I was also not very happy about the balance of the car. After each test session or practice, Bryan and I have a debrief session in the office of the Falken Tire rig where we go through the changes that were better or worse, and talk again about the car, the tires and the handling. Based on our feedback, our Engineer then makes a decision on where we’ll go in the next session. 

The Falken Drivers discussing car set up and tire performance
Each race, the team holds a contest on twitter, usually asking fans to answer a trivia question or create a photo caption, and the winning fan and a friend get have lunch with Bryan and I. Bryan and I try to use our lunches to talk about the car and the set up, but the fan lunch is always very welcome.  It makes the fans very happy and I think they love to do it and meet the drivers one-on-one on track. Sometimes it’s also very interesting because we get to know something about the fans like what they do and why they come to the races. This time, they even gave me local knowledge about the best way to get to the airport after the race. 

Bryan Sellers with Falken Fans Mike and Anthony and co-driver Wolf Henzler
That afternoon, we had an hour of practice time on track with all of the classes in the American Le Mans Series before GT qualifying.  At the beginning of the year in Sebring, Bryan and I went through the list of 10 races and made a schedule for the year for who is qualifying at each race, each getting five races. Lime Rock Park was Bryan’s turn to qualify. After the struggle we had during the first two practice sessions, the qualifying session was not a surprise. Bryan pushed the car to the limit and we qualified 8th. We were a bit disappointed, but as Bryan pointed out earlier, last year, we didn’t look good coming into the race, but did well once the race started. 

We finished out the day at the track with the ALMS Driver, Team Manager and Crew Chief briefing, which happens at every race. The race director again explained the rules about the safety car during cautions, the pass around procedure, and such. There was confusion at the last race at Mazda Raceway, so he went through it all again to make sure we all understood, to eliminate any confusion during the race the next day.

One thing we always do at a race weekend is go out for Mexican at least once during the weekend. We all love it. Is it Mexican necessarily healthy for a race weekend? Why not?! We all have to eat something. So that night, that's what we did. It turns out we also ran into other Porsche drivers eating at the same restaurant too. Everyone likes Mexican.

On the morning of race day, Bryan and I did our usual routine of eating breakfast together before heading out to the track. For the warm up session, the car set up was much better than the day before. Our engineer made a good call and made some positive changes to the car set up. It wasn’t a huge change that was made, but it was obviously in the right direction. Sometimes all it takes is a little change. The temperatures were also much lower on race day, so this may have helped us a little bit during the session. 

The series autograph session took place once we finished our session debrief. Together with our Falken Tire spokes models standing behind us, we participated in the hour long autograph session outside of the Falken Tire rig. It’s our chance to sign stuff for the fans and to talk with them for a few minutes as they work their way through the line. I wish it would be us, but I think the Falken girls get a little more attending during the autograph sessions. Typically, after our session they stick around to sign Falken spokes model posters and meet with fans as well. 

Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler with a young fan at the ALMS autograph session
By the time we signed all the autographs, there was only a small amount of time to eat and rest up before the race. Bryan and I had a quick lunch, even though we didn’t have much time.  While Bryan got ready for his first stint in the car, I went to the PorschePlatz to talk to Porsche fans about our team and the race at Lime Rock Park. I answered their questions for only 20 minutes before I had to rush back and prepare for the race myself. 

Wolf Henzler answering questions at the PorschePlatz at Lime Rock Park
I also had to prepare all of my personal stuff because immediately after the race, I had to head to Newark to catch a flight home. By the time I got to the pits, the car was on the grid and the fans were walking up and down, looking at all the cars. I made my way to the grid, talked to the team members, Bryan and the other drivers.
Wolf Henzler on the Lime Rock grid speaking with Spencer Pumpelly
We had a tough race and couldn’t finish as we expected. We had a problem in the race so we had to come in more often than we planned to and lost two laps because of that. The only thing we can do is keep working hard and test tires and try to get better for the next races.  I took the checkered flag in 7th, did the cool down lap and drove immediately to the paddock.  In order to catch my flight, I had to quickly change, grab my stuff and head to Newark. Thankfully, I made it in time for my flight at 10:00PM.


Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Team Falken Tire next compete in the American Le Mans Series at the Mobil 1 presents the Grand Prix of Mosport July 20-22. The race will be streaming live on ESPN3 at 11:45am EDT on July 22. The television broadcast will join live an hour later at 1:00PM on ESPN2 .

Falken Tire is giving away a Porsche 911 Carrera.  Fans can have their chance at winning by clicking ‘Like’ Falken Tire on Facebook to enter by October 21, 2012 at www.facebook.com/falkentire

We asked Falken Fans at Lime Rock and watching at home to submit your Falken Tire photos. Here they are! Thanks to everyone who submitted pics!

From Bob (@Bobsters987), Here is Wolf exiting the pits

  From Brett (@bwass24), here’s the #17 Porsche on track at Lime Rock Park 

From Chris (@c_lytle), here’s the #17 Porsche next to the patriotic Muscle Milk P1 car
From Adam (@jetsetsonic): The Falken Porsche looking beautiful on track
From Robin (@LINKZ) watching at home, here’s the Falken Porsche maintaining position

From Ken (@Kencolormills) Reminding you, with our series sponsor, Tequila Patron to please drink responsibly! 
And lastly, from Robert (@RReinckens): the Falken in a fury of speed