Bryan Sellers used the determination of his Team Falken Tire operation to inspire a dramatic drive of his own in the 61st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. The Braselton, Ga.-resident shared the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with full-season teammate Wolf Henzler (Germany) and endurance "ringer" Nick Tandy (United Kingdom) in the season-opening round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón on March 16. A disappointing qualifying session started the car deep in the field but that only drove the desire for a perfect performance by the whole Team Falken Tire operation that culminated with a third-place finish in the classic endurance sports car race.
"Getting a podium at Sebring is amazing but being that it is the last ALMS race at Sebring makes it a little bit more special,” added an elated Sellers. “I am glad that I was able to experience that. It'll be nicer if we can etch our name on the champion's trophy at the end of the year. That will be the one that will go down in the record books. At the same time, I am eager to look forward. We may only have one race this season under our belt so far, but everyone is really excited about 2014 and the United SportsCar Series. It should be a terrific season to ramp up for the future!"
Sellers had limited seat-time in the No. 17 leading-up to race day leaving the past open-wheel champion with more questions than answer about what lay ahead during the 12-hour event. Henzler got the bulk of the laps as the Japanese factory effort surgically sought to better the car for the race. Tandy, making his first race-start for Falken and in a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, got up to speed quickly and together with the team followed the ideal strategy to maximize the car and tire's performance.
"It's very difficult sometimes in sports car racing because there are times when it makes sense to only have one person driving in testing,” Sellers continued. “Once you get started down a path with setup you have to keep continuity to know if you're really making progress. This time it just so happened that Wolf was in when all of the set-up changes started and, from there, he needed to remain in the car. It was the best strategy for the team. It was hard to get in the car after not doing really any laps since Monday, but when you get in the car you have to perform and that was my only focus."
The trio of factory drivers - Sellers a works pilot for Falken Tire, Henzler and Tandy as Porsche factory aces - were only the leading edge of a strong performance by the team in all aspects of race management which brought them up through the field. The truly dedicated performance of his crew and co-drivers throughout the weeks and months of race preparation motivated the 2012 ALMS Most Popular Driver to show his appreciation in some substantial way on the track.
While his stints could have been used as textbook examples of modern endurance race driving, it was a pass with just over three hours to go that was the crowning moment for the team and the race itself. With Henzler, then Tandy, then Sellers each taking a single stint to start the race, they followed with a round of double-stints in the race's mid-portion.
"Wolf really set the tone with his opening laps and moving the Falken Porsche forward. He was able to show that we could be competitive and that qualifying was a fluke,” Sellers continued. “As a program we know we always race better than we qualify, so our goal was to be solid and execute as well as possible. It continued from there with the crew having great stops and moving us forward every time we pitted.”
It was in the race's eighth hour, during the second-half of his double stint, that Sellers chased down and then, corner-by-corner, stalked the second-place running BMW. Setting-up the pass coming down the back-straight of Sebring's 3.74-mile course, Sellers fought his way to the inside of the BMW on the bumpy final corner, turn 17. He nosed behind the BMW entering onto the front-straight and went side-by-side in a drag-race initiated by Sellers' perfect overtaking setup at the exit of the turn. He nosed the Porsche ahead just enough on the outside of turn one that he was able to cut across in front of the BMW and take the position. The crowd erupted, as did the SPEED television commentary team.
"It didn't seem very dramatic in the car, but it was a lot of work and something I had to set up for three corners,” stated Sellers. “From the outside I think it looked like I just got a run exiting turn 17 but it actually started in turn 16. I looked underneath the BMW entering 16 which caused him to push a little wide coming off the corner, and he immediately went defensive down the inside of the straightaway. I went to the outside of 17 with no intentions of passing him but just to try and keep him tight to the inside on the entry so that his exit off 17 was bad and it would be a drag race that we could win on the entry to turn 1. It worked out very well!"
Sellers held the position until pitting with three hours remaining. The team, which spent less time in pit lane than any other GT program, would hold the position to take their first podium since winning the Baltimore Grand Prix last season.
“I think this starts things off on the right foot for the season for Team Falken Tire,” Sellers concluded. “It really gives us an opportunity to hit the ground running as opposed to trying to dig ourselves out of a hole. I am very happy to be starting the season-off on a positive note!"
Sellers will travel next to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. where he will race for Fall-Line Motorsports in the No. 46 Trim-Tex BMW. The GRAND-AM-sanctioned Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race is scheduled for April 6.
Team Falken Tire and Sellers will reunite for Round 2 of the ALMS season in California for the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 20. The street course, near the headquarters of the North American branch of Falken Tire, is traditionally a strong track for Team Falken Tire and the site of Sellers' debut with the program in 2009.
Prior to those races, he will make a debut of his own in Florida taking part in his first triathlon on March 27 in Ocala. Sellers began training for triathlons late last year as a means to strengthen his physical and mental acuteness in the racecar.
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