No one expected Bryan Sellers and Team Falken Tire to challenge in the multi-car, factory-centric world of GT Le Mans (GTLM) at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. This weekend's 53rd running of the 24-hour classic at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) was supposed to be settled between the "works" entries, but the single car program shared by the Braselton, Georgia-resident, Wolf Henzler (Germany) and Patrick Long (Manhattan Beach, California) threatened at every turn. Only a yet to be diagnosed engine issue would end the day as the program fought for victory in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-opener. The No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR would be classified eighth after challenging for the class lead in hour 19. The performance opened the eyes of those thinking last year's Petit Le Mans victory was an exception instead of a rule.
The race started off slowly as the qualifying time, while within a second of the pole position lap, placed the team in the lower part of the grid. However, Sellers, starting the only privately raced Porsche 911 RSR in North America, began moving the car through the field. As the temperatures cooled and the night approached, the No. 17 came into its own. Ultimately, the car climbed into the fight for the lead competing with the factory Porsche entries, the BMW "works" cars and the twin machines of the eventual winning Corvette. Making the performance even more impressive is that this was the team's first 24-hour race. Additionally, it was Falken Tire's first time developing a tire for the high-performance DIS oval/road course.
With approximately five hours remaining, the sun again showing over the track, the No. 17 was in third-place and setting-up for the final sprint to the checkered flag. Suddenly, while Long was behind the wheel and Sellers waiting on deck, the oil pressure warning light shown in the cockpit and on the pit side telemetry. Long drove the rear-engine machine to the garage area where the problem was deemed terminal and the car was retired from the race; a bitter reminder of racing's harsh realities. Despite the staggering disappointment, the performance showed that the effort would be a threat for 2015 accolades on the ten-race calendar.
Round Two of the TUDOR Championship, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, will come on March 21. Sellers and Team Falken Tire debuted their Porsche 911 RSR in last year's Twelve Hours of Sebring finishing an impressive fifth in the GTLM.
On the Rolex 24 Hour Race: "We knew from very early on we had a car that could challenge for the win. We felt like we struggled in outright pace in qualifying but as soon as the race began and the Team Falken Tire Porsche was able to hang with the other cars, we knew we were going be OK. We had good duration in the Falken tire and we felt we could push and attack for quite a lot of laps. We knew as long as we could keep the other cars in sight, we were going to be competitive. We knew the night would be difficult for us and all we were trying to do was to get to the daytime when the sun came up. We were able to hold onto the other cars all through the night and challenge them so we felt a lot of confidence as we approached the closing hours. I think we were going to show even more strength with the Falken Porsche than we had earlier in the race. We were pleased with how the race went. From a driver perspective, Wolf, Pat and I were looking forward to the end of the race to see what we actually had. We just didn't get that chance."
On the disappointment of not finishing: "It was a very disappointing to hear from the car that we had a problem. We were just running through our processes and trying to stay clean. We didn't have a scratch on the number 17. The Falken machine was in great shape and all of us drivers were fresh and all felt good. So, to get that call about the oil pressure, knowing where we were, was gut wrenching. We were fifteen laps up on the next-place so, even if we had stayed clean and just held that position, it would have been a very good points' day. But, I think we had more than that left in us for the end. It would have been a very good first showing at Daytona for the Falken Team. As it was, we still showed well, just not the finish we wanted."
Reflecting on the Rolex 24: "Daytona was a very enlightening race for us. We performed even better than we expected. The new Falken tire was very good. It showed good grip and good longevity over the course of the stints. It shows we are starting off even better than we have in the past. We are in a much better place to develop for the future. We may have some difficult races moving forward, Sebring is always very difficult, but our launching point is much better than it ever has been. We are all looking forward to what the future holds for Team Falken Tire. There is a lot of positive energy for the program. While the result was not what we wanted, we were pleased with how we showed throughout the race."