Looks to See if What Works in the East Can Play on the West Coast
No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari Attempts to Bring St. Pete Success to Long Beach
Can what works in the East play on the West Coast? Tafel Racing, fresh off its maiden American Le Mans Series GT2 victory in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.), looks to find out this Saturday in the Grand Prix of Long Beach (Calif.). Like its St. Pete predecessor, the 100-minute Long Beach event challenges the No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC over city streets rather than on a purpose-built racing facility. The Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) owned program found the magic setup on the streets just off of Tampa Bay and, with modifications, hopes to bring that same success to Southern California for drivers Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) and Dirk Müller (a native of Germany living in Monaco) on April 19.
The classic Long Beach configuration with its long, bending front-straightaway and hairpin final corner is a favorite of both sophomore driver Farnbacher and 2000 GT2 Champion Müller. However, despite being similar in length to the Florida track, the 34 year-old SoCal course brings an entirely new set of circumstances to Technical Director Tony Dowe (Cumming, Ga.) and the Tafel team. The track is narrower and bumpier than the Florida facility or the Detroit temporary circuit that is the third "street" course on the calendar. Unlike the other two facilities that have limited public use- St. Petersburg mixes airport runways and city streets while the Detroit track runs through the Belle Isle city park- Long Beach is made- up entirely of streets used for daily traffic. The surface construction is different and oil has built up from everyday motorists. All these small differences lead to magnified handling characteristics for the Bell Micro Ferrari at Long Beach.
The Long Beach street course is legendary in American motorsports. The 1.968-mile, 11-turn course winds through the Southern California beach town with iconic backdrops and classic features. It is the street course that spawned all others in the United States from long-ago closed races to the very successful St. Petersburg event two weeks ago. While temporary in nature, these layouts have become almost a second home to drivers Farnbacher and Müller. In 2007, Müller set the class record for fastest race lap (one minute, 21.465 seconds) at Long Beach in a Ferrari. Showing his flair on street courses, Müller also set fastest race lap at St. Petersburg on the way to victory lane on April 5. Farnbacher finished seventh co-driving with owner Jim Tafel here last season and earned his first ALMS victory at St. Pete. The Cumming, Ga.-based program rallied from a disappointing result in the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring to capture the convincing St. Petersburg victory in the season's second race. By virtue of the win, Farnbacher and Müller moved into the lead of the GT2 driver standings. Tafel Racing currently sits second in the Team Championship- just six points back- while the No. 71 holds a narrow lead in the privateer entrant championship known as the IMSA Cup. Nine races, including Long Beach, remain in the 2008 season. Tafel Racing has six major sports car racing victories since its debut in 2005. Five victories in the Grand American Rolex GT Series join the American Le Mans Series victory at St. Petersburg.
The Grand Prix of Long Beach can be seen, tape- delayed, on ABC Sports at 12:30 pm (ET), Sunday, April 20. Live timing and scoring of each on-track session and the American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast can be found at www.AmericanLeMans.com.
QuotesJim Tafel, Owner: "We ran a remarkable race at St. Pete. Everything from the car prep to the drivers to the strategy to the pit stops were right. We just need to repeat at Long Beach. Now I know what it tastes like and I am just getting hungrier."
Tony Dowe, Technical Director: "There are a lot of people that think the setup for Long Beach will be the same as St Petersburg. Other than being by large bodies of water and temporary courses they are quite different, so the setup will demand some subtle, but very different, changes. Long Beach has a very bumpy and quite different surface to St. Pete, with all of the problems that will bring to setups. The ambient [temperature] at Long Beach is usually quite a bit cooler than St. Pete so the tire choice will also bring some different options; as will the length of the race. The decision on what to do with tires during the race will vary quite a lot as it will depend when, not if, there is a yellow caution period. The race being 15 minutes shorter than at St. Pete will place a premium on good driver changes during the stop."
Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71: "Long Beach is, let's say, the same thing as St. Pete. The turns are a bit different and you use different gears but, after what we have seen in St. Pete, we can also win this race without a doubt. But, the other teams won't sleep so Tony and the team are prepping the car with a good package. The whole team is really motivated, like at St. Pete, and that will give us an extra boost to win this race. Dirk did very well here last year. He was the quickest driver out there so to have him by my side is wonderful My favorite part on this course is Turn One, the big, wide, hard-braking zone before you enter a little, tiny road on your left." (About the race distance): "100 minutes is no problem. I used to drive sprint races so maybe it is an advantage."
Dirk Müller, Driver, No. 71: "Now, with having won in St. Pete, we will transfer this big boost into the event of Long Beach. The pressure to win a race is gone and we can look forward to achieve more. With having had a very good Tafel Ferrari in St. Pete we really should be competitive in Long Beach as well. Dominik and I are looking forward to it." (About leading the driver championship): "My attitude now is the same as in the first two races. I want to get the most possible points out of the weekend to build up the account. Now with the lead in the championship we will get more focus on us but this is fine and it should help us to achieve more."
(About his secret on street courses): "I won't tell until I retire. I just think that you have to be used to it and that you need to have the confidence. I got both racing a lot with the world touring cars on street tracks. Also, with knowing the Ferrari so well I can just do my job."