Last week’s Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway saw a handful of teams roll out with new machinery, including Team Falken Tire.
After being forced to skip the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Derrick Walker-led squad used the test as a shakedown of its new Porsche 911 RSR, which joins the highly competitive GTLM class beginning with next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
For Bryan Sellers, who will team with Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler for the fifth consecutive season, it was a positive and productive first outing for Porsche’s first customer 911 RSR, which completed more than 600 miles over the two-day test.
“You expect to run into some issues that shut you down for an hour or an hour and a half, but we never had any of those things,” Sellers told Sportscar365. “We had a few small bugs but I think we would have had that even with the old RSR.
“I think it goes to show Porsche’s commitment to us. Our guys went over [to Germany] and really had a head start on the car as Porsche allowed them to build the car in Weissach to learn. We were able to hit the ground running in the timeframe that shouldn’t have ever been feasible.”
While Henzler had taken part in a one-and-a-half day exploratory test with a Falken-shod RSR late last year at Porsche’s test track, Sebring was the first opportunity for Sellers and the entire team to experience the 991-based GTE contender.
“It’s complete wholesale changes compared to where we were with the old RSR,” Sellers said. “For us, I think it’s no secret that we struggled in the past with significant oversteer issues, and being able to keep the rear tire long enough through the course of the stint and be able to have enough lateral grip in the rear of the car.
“Yet, we went to the first test in Sebring and the only issue we had was understeer. So it’s a completely different change for us, from one balance extreme to the other. At the moment, it’s a very good thing. I don’t think it will narrow our window but hopefully it will give us the ability to continue to improve on a quicker basis.”
Both car and team are coming off big victories, with the Porsche 911 RSR winning the Rolex 24 last month in the hands of the CORE autosport-run factory squad and Falken taking top honors in last year’s ALMS-ending Petit Le Mans.
The car, however, has required a new development of tires and that’s something that Sellers doesn’t anticipate having in time for Sebring.
“With not having any testing and the short time frame between the Winter Test and the race, there’s not enough time to build a brand-new tire,” he said. “We’ll take a slightly modified version of what we had and come back to the race.
“For us, we’ll probably have to go significantly different from the factory cars, setup wise, to begin with because we won’t be optimized from a tire front. The first couple of races, we may have to get outside of the box to get our balance closer to where it needs to be.
“Our goal [over the course of the season] will be to work our way back towards the factory setup and improve the tire to work in that setup range.”
While rivals on the track, the Porsche factory team and Falken have already been working together to some extent, Sellers said, with Walker and team manager Phil Howard having been welcomed into the CORE-run team at Daytona to learn about the new car.
Howard takes on a larger role during race weekends this year, as Walker will be forced to miss a few rounds due to his commitments as IndyCar’s President of Operations and Competition.
There has been some additions on the crew side as well, with longtime Team RLL IndyCar engineer Neil Fife joining the team as lead engineer of the No. 17 Porsche, while Sebastien Constans, the team’s 2013 engineer, focusing on a new role for tire/race development.
Sellers, meanwhile, is upbeat about their chances, especially following a positive first test.
“From our perspective, it’s very exciting,” he said. “Last year we were able to show speed and we were able to in some races, have good results. So I really think that with the new RSR being what it’s shown to be so far, that our team can take advantage of that.
“For us, it’s a complete change of pace. Now we have a new set of challenges we never faced before and some advantages we never had the opportunity to have. It’s going to be exciting for us to be able to attack this full force and see where we end up.”