in American Le Mans Series at Long Beach GT2 Event
No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari Banks on Tire Strategy to Gain Race Advantage
Tafel Racing will start fourth in the GT2 class for Saturday's American Le Mans Series at Long Beach (Calif.). The Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) owned program has excelled this weekend on the 1.968- mile, 11-turn course with drivers Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) and Dirk Müller (a native of Germany living in Monaco) placing the No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC at the top of the time charts in each session. However, the Ferrari effort fell just short in today's 25-minute qualifying session. While a narrow street course and a shorter- than-normal 100 minute feature event, the team is secure in its prospects from the second-row of the GT2 class grid.
The Cumming, Ga.-based program is confident that tire strategy was the determining factor in today's qualifying times. American Le Mans Series rules dictate that a car must start the race using the tires on which it qualified. Therefore, finding a setup that will allow the sticky Michelin Pilot racing slicks to turn quick times in qualifying and still be in top condition for the race is critical. While a softer compound of rubber might allow the car a quicker lap time, the softer rubber loses its performance peak more quickly giving an edge to a harder compound after multiple laps. Team Technical Director Tony Dowe (Cumming, Ga.) opted for what the team believes is a more conservative tire choice in qualifying than what the front-row starters chose. The more conservative strategy will pay off late in the race's first stint. At that time, the Michelins on the Bell Micro Ferrari should be quicker than those on the two Porsches giving vital speed prior to the race's first pit stop.
Müller's fast lap time of one minute, 20.410 seconds bettered the previous track qualifying record for the GT2 class. However, the German's time, his quickest of the weekend, fell short of the pole position-winning lap of 1:19.705. Müller put all he had into the qualifying attempt; and then some. When he returned to pit lane damage was found on the side-view mirror from where, in full speed mode, Müller made slight contact with one of the concrete walls lining the Southern California temporary circuit. The damage was cosmetic and did nothing to harm his performance but showed the effort he put into the run. Another positive omen for this event is that the grid position perfectly mimics the second-year American Le Mans Series team's qualifying performance at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) two weeks ago. They went on to win that race in convincing style to take the team's first American Le Mans Series victory.
Müller, the 2000 American Le Mans Series GT2 Champion, currently holds the race lap record here in Long Beach. His mark, 1:21.465, was set with a Ferrari last year upon his return to North American competition after a six year hiatus.
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.
QuotesTony Dowe, Technical Director: "We have the same situation as at St. Petersburg. We qualified fourth but I think the car is a little bit better than we were there. The strategy for the race is probably already set so we will see how it comes out. I don't think our position will hurt us. We are in as good a shape as we could possibly be. The short race doesn't really matter."
Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71: "Tomorrow we start from P4 [position four on the GT2 grid]. It is the same position we had in St. Pete and you know what we did there; we won. We will see if we can repeat that. The race is a little shorter so that means we need to attack a little earlier. We need to have a good car and very consistent lap times. We showed that we can do it being first in the three practices. I think we will be very good tomorrow."
Dirk Müller, Driver, No. 71: "P4 is definitely not what I was aiming for. I was hoping we were close to a pole position. The Ferrari was awesome, the Michelin tires were good. I think I squeezed all I could out of the car. That was a 100 percent lap. I slightly scratched the mirror on the wall so I risked it all quite a bit. I have a feeling that other cars are on a different tire strategy than we are so I am looking forward."