Henzler/Sellers/Tandy brought the Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR a fine third place finish in GT.
Sebring, Fla. At the wheel of the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by the Falken Tire squad, Porsche works driver Wolf Henzler (Germany) and his teammate Bryan Sellers (USA) and works driver Nick Tandy (GB) finished the opening round of the American Le Mans Series season on the GT podium in third place. With this result, they were the best of the Porsche pilots on the bumpy 17-turn Sebring circuit which hosts America's oldest endurance race.
The team qualified in 12th place in class, but Henzler timed his acceleration at the green flag perfectly, scooting to sixth place in the 500 meters between the start line and turn one. Then, with perfect pit stops and some great driving in traffic from all three racers, the customer Porsche entry outran and outlasted factory teams from Corvette, BMW, SRT Viper and Aston Martin.
"When the week began, I wouldn't have thought we had a chance to make it on the podium as we didn't have the speed of the others. Our Porsche was consistent, with the engine, brakes and handling all perfect, and we made up positions one at a time until we moved into the top three. We are very satisfied with third place. We tested several times here, and that certainly helped, but we have more work to do for the season. One of the secrets to our success today was the fast and consistent driving of my colleagues Bryan and Nick," said Henzler, the 2008 ALMS co-champion.
"Today was great. To be successful today we needed to run a completely error free race. The guys had to be great in the stops, and they were. If you look back at the total pit time, we were the GT car with the least amount of time spent in the pits. That's a complete testament to how good our guys are. To be able to finish on the podium today, we needed to rely on them and then we needed to run a clean race. They came through, and ultimately we ended up coming through too. We're really happy to be able to have a podium at Sebring. We started off the day and we really didn't think there was a chance of anything. It just goes to show if you put your head down and keep driving, and the guys keep pushing and keep working, you can end up on the podium. It's cool to be able to stand there and say that you were on the podium for the last American Le Mans Series race at Sebring. Hopefully it's not the last time we're on the podium at Sebring with Falken Tire," said Sellers.
"I got up this morning and thought, yeah, we could have a good race, and we have a chance. But really to get on the podium, I thought was a long shot. The team did such a good job. It was a real team effort. We kept on the lead lap. All three of us drove sensibly with no mistakes. It goes to show there's a lot more to being successful in a long distance race like this than just having the fastest car. It has to be reliable, consistent and you need a great team of people around you which is exactly what we've got here. I'm really happy to get on the podium for my first Sebring 12 Hour," said Tandy.
The other Porsche customer team in the GT class was the Paul Miller Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, with factory drivers Richard Lietz (AUS) and Marco Holzer (GER) joining Bryce Miller (USA), finished in sixth place. Holzer, who will drive this car all season with Miller, was pleased with the performance of his Porsche for the last half of the race
"This was not an easy race for us as our setup in the beginning needed modification, but we picked up our pace and made up four positions in the second half to give Paul Miller Racing its best Sebring finish ever. Bryce and Richard drove great, and a sixth position gives us valuable points for the season," said Holzer.
"It was very difficult. We fell back a couple of laps and it was hard to get the laps back, but we got fortunate with some attrition in front of us and found some positions this way. It's the old story for Porsche that we can bring it home to the end. I am really excited and a great way to start the season, especially given we were so many laps down," said Miller.
"This was my second race with the team and I have to say we really improved from the performance side. At the end, we were able to run with the big players in the GT category. We are there, right at the same speed, and if we had optimized a little bit all of the other stuff we would have been able to fight for the podium. At the end I am very happy we were able to finish the race in our position, even though it was close with P5, but it was a fair fight so I have to say well done to them," said Lietz.
In the GTC class for matched Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars, no less than seven cars led the class during the 12-hour race, with the #66 TRG Porsche with Damien Faulkner (IRL) in the lead late in the race when an air gun failure during a tire change allowed the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche being driven by Jeroen Bleekemolen (NL) to take the lead with 90 minutes remaining. Bleekemolen, former Porsche Mobil1 Supercup champion, who shared the driving duties with Cooper MacNeil and Dion von Moltke (both USA), then took the car to the checkered flag to win the class.
The final #66 TRG Porsche fate was sealed when the car ran out of gas on the last lap, relegating the car to a fifth-place finish. Damien Faulkner was wistful about the lost opportunity.
"What can you say; it was an event with too many issues. Bad fortune played a part, and you don't win this race with that many issues. Disappointing for the whole team really, it's a long road back from here. It's as simple as that. On the plus side, we're bound to have some good fortune in the future. The team and especially Ben (Keating) was a grinder, more than any of the other amateur drivers. Craig was fantastic as well," said Faulkner.
The Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Spencer Pumpelly and Brian Wong (both USA), and Nelson Canache, Jr. (VEN), finished second in their first GTC race, while the Momo NGT Porsche of Sean Edwards (GB), Marco Seefried (GER), Henrique Cisneros (USA).
"It was amazing. The car had been good all week. We were first or second every practice session and started the race on the front row. We were unlucky with the puncture when Dion was in the car, but we were able to come back from that and get back to the lead. Cooper did an amazing job putting in a lot of time in the car. He was one of the fastest guys out there this afternoon and into the night. I had a good last couple of hours in the car as well. The guys in the pits did great work and we had the right strategy to take the win," said Bleekemolen.
MacNeil had a very strong race behind the wheel of the WeatherTech Porsche.
"It feels great. Last year we finished second, we came so close, but we did it this year. We had some issues early on with the flat tire, just bad luck. I was able to put in some good stints and Jeroen got in and brought it home. It is a great way to start the season. We had some tough luck at Petit last year, so this was a nice way to get our season started going for a second championship in GTC. My Dad finished second here in 1999 in an Alex Job Porsche, so I was able to one-up him tonight," said MacNeil.
Von Moltke adds a second straight endurance win to his resume having won the Rolex 24 Hour At Daytona in January in the WeatherTech Audi and a second straight Sebring win with AJR.
"It is indescribable being able to win these two races this year with the WeatherTech team. These guys come to win. The whole team did a great job today. I had a little problem with my stint when I got a puncture. But our strategy, combined with some great driving by Cooper and Jeroen brought us back to the front. It is just amazing to be able to win Daytona and Sebring in the same year," said von Moltke.
Round two of the American Le Mans Series takes place on 20 April on the street circuit in Long Beach, California USA.
1. Milner/Gavin/Westbrook (USA/GB/GB), Chevrolet Corvette, 333 laps
2. Bruni/Beretta/Malucelli (ITA/MC/ITA), Ferrari F458 Italia, 333
3. Henzler/Sellers/Tandy (GER/USA/GB), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 332
4. J.Mueller/Martin/Auberlen (MC/BEL/USA), BMW Z4, 330
5. Farnbacher/Goossens/Dalziel (GER/BEL/USA), SRT Viper, 329
6. Holzer/Miller/Lietz (GER/USA/AUS), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 329
7. D.Mueller/Hand/Edwards BMW Z4 (CH/USA/USA), BMW Z4, 321
8. Senna/Muecke/Turner (BRA/GER/GB), Aston Martin Vantage V8, 318
9. Lamy/Della Lana/Johnson (POR/CAN/USA), Aston Martin Vantage V8, 309
10. Kendall/Wittmer/Bomerito (USA/CAN/USA), SRT Viper, 303
1. Bleekemolen/MacNeil/von Moltke (NL/USA/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 315 laps
2. Pumpelly/Wong/Canache, Jr. (USA/USA/VEN), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 315
3. Edwards/Cisneros/Seefried (GB/USA/GER), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 314
1. Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Richard Westbrook, Chevrolet, 24 points
2. Gianmaria Bruni, Olivier Beretta, Matteo Malucelli, Ferrari, 20
3. Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, Nick Tandy, Porsche, 17
4. Joerg Mueller, Maxime Martin, Bill Auberlen, BMW, 14
5. Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens, Dominik Farnbacher, SRT Viper, 12
6. Richard Lietz, Marco Holzer, Bryce Miller, Porsche, 10
7. Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, John Edwards, BMW, 7
8. Darren Turner, Stefan Muecke, Bruno Senna, Aston Martin Vantage V8, 7
9. Jonathan Bomarito, Tommy Kendall, Kuno Wittmer, SRT Viper, 6
10. Pedro Lamy, Paul Della Lena, Billy Johnson, Aston Martin Vantage V8, 5
Manufacturers - GT
1. Chevrolet, 24
2. Ferrari, 20
3. Porsche, 17
4. BMW, 14
5. SRT Viper, 12
Teams - GT
1. Corvette Racing, Chevrolet, 24
2. RISI, Ferrari, 20
3. Team Falken Tire, Porsche, 17
4. Rahal RLL, BMW, 14