The 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron was a breakout year for Team Falken Tire. After partnering with esteemed Walker Racing, the GT squad captured its first two ALMS class victories with Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers in the No. 17 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Both wins came in spectacular fashion; the first in the midst of a downpour at Mid-Ohio, which was voted by fans as the 2011 ALMS Moment of the Year, and the second in front of a capacity crowd on the streets of Baltimore. Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker breaks down the highlights of 2011 and how the team made big gains this year.
Editor’s note: Wolf Henzler’s thread-the-needle pass at Road America was voted second in the 2011 ALMS Moment of the Year Pole.
ALMS: What were the most significant changes the team made in 2011?
Walker: First, we improved our Falken race tires in two key areas: the rain tire and the slower street track tire. Second, we improved the car preparation and set-ups. Third, we focused on maximizing what we could control, like pit stops, refueling strategy etc. Finally, we had a practical plan and did not try to re-invent the wheel.
ALMS: How is working with a tire manufacturer different than working with an engine or chassis manufacturer?
Walker: Not much. They are all working hard at improving their products and need a team component that allows them a consistent platform to bring in the results which in turn allows them to market their products. Falken-I liken them to the little tire company that can, meaning they are, compared to the giants, a small company with great products and big plans.
ALMS: Describe what was going on in the pit stand as Wolf Henzler charged through the rain at Mid-Ohio to take the team’s first win?
Walker: We knew watching all these cars without Falken products disappear off the track in spectacular fashion, that the red flag was not far away, so it was fun to watch Wolf carve his way through the pack. I still believe to this day that if it had not gone red for a couple of more laps, Wolf would have been the outright winner. It was, as we say in the business, a “nicker gripper” last few laps !
ALMS: Do you think the win at Baltimore had more significance than the win at Mid-Ohio because weather didn’t play a factor?
Walker: Yes. Well, it might have been the result that drove home the message that Falken is more than just a great wet tire, but as I like to say the wet and the Baltimore tire were a class above the field and in both events the team did great stops and last but certainly not least, our drivers made it happen in the cockpit. Total team effort!
ALMS: What does the team still need to improve to be a championship contender in 2012?
Walker: Well, of course if I told you that I would have to kill you! But seriously, a great deal like; learn how to maximize a new car’s performance in the shortest possible time, strengthen engineering by adding more people to speed up our learning curve, not only improve our wet and street tire to stay ahead of the competition but get more competitive on the high speed/load tracks like Atlanta or Mosport etc, and simply be the best as we can.