3rd-Round of ALMS Season Promises 6 Hours of Challenge for American Factory Ace
Who would ever guess that a few months could make such a massive difference in how a driver approaches the same race track? On the surface, no one would think that changing the 14th annual American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patrón from September to May would make that much difference. However, to Bryan Sellers, it is just that, the surface, which makes the change so significant. Just as he did last autumn, the Braselton, Ga.-resident will drive the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with Wolf Henzler (Germany) in the six-hour American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón (ALMS) race on May 12. But, the wholesale date change from the Series' penultimate round in 2011 to its third-round in 2012 promises a whole new set of challenges. Chief among those is ambient and surface temperature limiting track adhesion. Daytime highs on California's Monterey Peninsula are expected to be in the low 60s (F), much cooler than the fall event.
The 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit is well known for its non-abrasive asphalt surface. While that helps the longevity of the tire and allows the team to run soft Falken tires with more grip, the hold is so low that it becomes difficult to raise the tires, especially the front tires, to proper operating temperature. Lower ambient temperatures exasperate the problem making finding the balance in car setup difficult. To further add to the equation, the race's six-hour distance will see an even greater swing in temperature than a traditional two-hour, 45-minute ALMS "sprint" race. With the ALMS Monterey scheduled to take the green flag at 1:30 p.m. (PT), temperatures will progressively fall along with the nearly coinciding fall of the checkered flag and sunset. While the Team Falken Tire crew will do all it can to give the drivers the most grip they can through tire and aerodynamic choices, the final task will be up to Sellers and Henzler to maximize the Porsche's performance.
Despite the challenges expected in Monterey, Sellers is anxious to return to the legendary racecourse. The track itself enjoys some of the most spectacular corners in the world. The signature "Corkscrew" is a three-story, twisting drop that launches the cars through two high-speed corners before the tight, closing-radius final turn-11 sends the cars back uphill towards the start-finish line. For a driver like Sellers, the desire to beat the track is almost as great as the one to best his fellow competitors. It is that difficulty that makes success so sweet here and the former open-wheel champion has tasted success in Monterey. In fact, while transitioning from karting - where he won several regional titles - Sellers won his first career auto race here at a Skip Barber Formula Dodge event in 1998.
The American Le Mans Series Monterey presented by Patrón will be broadcast May 13 on ESPN2 starting at 5 p.m. (ET). Live streaming of the six-hour race can be seen on ESPN3 beginning at 4:15 p.m. (ET), Saturday, May 12. Multiple in-car cameras, available at ALMS.com,will complement race coverage. Live coverage of qualifying in all classes can be found on ESPN3 opening with GTC class at 7:40 p.m. (ET) Friday, May 11. Live timing and scoring of all sessions, including qualifying and the race, is offered at www.ALMS.com.
On Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca: "One of the things that is most appealing about Laguna Seca is the history of the track. There have been so many greats of the past and the present to win races here. It has one of the most famous corners in all of motorsports, "The Corkscrew", and is one of the most beautiful areas we travel to. This is also where I won my first car race. It was in a Skip Barber Formula Dodge race right after we made the decision to race cars! Coming to Monterey always brings back fun memories. What's not to love about racing here?"On racing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the spring rather than fall: "It will be much different racing in the fall than it was in the spring! We were able to race here in the spring a couple years ago and it really changes the aspect of the race. Laguna is notoriously bad for getting tire temperatures up to ideal levels and with the lower ambient temperatures in the spring that will make it even worse! So much of this race will be finding ways to manage tire temperature in the car. I think we will have an advantage with that having the Falken Tires and the Porsche but the low temperatures and the track surface make it tough for everyone."
On the biggest challenge of driving at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca: "Overall grip will be a problem in Monterey. You have to be able to run a tire that is very soft and comes up to temperature quickly but does not degrade too quickly. That's a very tricky thing to accomplish. Everyone should be in a similar position and we might just have a little edge. Falken has done a great job with the Azenis race tire but with a track like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, there is only so much you can do.
Laguna is a very hard place to pass so if we can get in front early on, we should be able to hold the others off. We'll give up a little in the long duration high-speed corners but I feel like the strength of the Falken Porsche will certainly be the traction off of turn-11. If you're going to have an advantage anywhere, the last turn is the place to have it!"
On driving the Team Falken Tire-Porsche combination at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca: "Laguna hasn't been great to Falken Tire in the past but we learn and get better every year. I have high hopes for this track. Porsche has had great runs in the past at Laguna and I hope we are able to contribute to that great tradition this weekend!"
On the race's six-hour distance: "I think, right now, the long races will suit Team Falken Tire well. We need to be able to outlast everyone and be around for the end. We have some work to do on our outright pace, which makes a short race difficult. We just don't have the pace to hang with the quickest cars right now. But, in the long races, you have to be there at the end and we can do that. Both Wolf and I can turn quick times lap-after-lap without falling-off like some of the others. That gives us an edge in the longer races."
On the importance of earning bonus championship points allotted for endurance races: "The bonus points are essential! Last year we missed out on bonus points and it really affected our championship run. We have to get points and good result here after not scoring as many as we would have liked at Sebring!"