This weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP), Bryan Sellers and Team Falken Tire took a major leap to be race-win contenders in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, as the Braselton, Georgia-resident and his longtime teammate Wolf Henzler (Germany) qualified third and finished eighth in the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR.
"It is gratifying to begin to see some results for Team Falken Tire," stated Sellers. "We got a late start to the season with missing Daytona and all pre-season testing so we have had a lot of work to do as the season has progressed. We still have a lot of things we need to address to continue to improve but this time of year all teams are saying the same thing. We just need to make sure we continue to worry about our program and control the things we can control."
After creating a strong street course race tire and the prevailing rain tire in the North America sportscar racing paddock in recent years, the factory-owned team has been pursuing a comparable tire for natural terrain road course racing slicks. Sellers, the leading test driver for the program, and the Japanese-owned company had found the right combination at the end of 2013 winning the American Le Mans Series finale, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, in dry conditions. However, the new Porsche 911 RSR demanded a new construction and compound combination to maximize performance. Entering round six of the TUDOR Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, the effort found a strong combination with its new Azenis race tire.
"Our tire engineers at the track and at the Falken Tire factory in Japan have been working their hardest to give us a good product to race on," Sellers continued. "We have not made any steps backwards. We will continue to work and I have full faith that they will as well."
After good performances in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring - where the team debuted the Porsche 911 RSR with a fifth-place finish - and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - where the No. 17 was in contention for a podium finish - the two-hour, 45-minute race at CTMP was the clearest sign of the gains made by the Team Falken Tire entry. Sellers' stint saw the Ohio-native hold-off attack after attack before the close competition saw several cars pass him late in the first hour. Sellers' relinquished the wheel of the blue and teal Falken Porsche to Henzler who continued the battle ultimately taking eighth.
It was the consistency of the tire over the stint that has the team excited about the future. With this tire, the feeling is that Sellers and Henzler will now be able to fine-tune the chassis to the Falken Azenis to narrow the gap even further to the competition. It will take only a few tenths of a second over the course of the roughly one-hour between pit stops - dictated by fuel usage - to make the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR a threat at every round on the calendar. Small steps and big effort are beginning to payoff.
"GTLM is an incredible class to be racing in at the moment," Sellers concluded. "It is very clear by watching the races that it is impossible to make a mistake and win a race. It's even very difficult to make a mistake and finish on the podium. There is always a battle on every lap and that is what keeps you sharp as a team and as a driver. I feel like as a program we are getting stronger every weekend and will hopefully be able to make a late season push for podium finishes."
There will be little rest for Sellers after this weekend. The Falken Tire factory driver travels to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next. The Brickyard Grand Prix will be held on the Indy road course, Friday, July 25. The track layout has been modified this year making it slightly different than the course that Sellers raced to a SportsCar Challenge race victory last year. It will be the first time that Falken Tire has competed on the track in any form.