Following an early end to an impressive run at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Team Falken Tire’s Bryan Sellers heads into next month’s Twelve Hours of Sebring riding significantly more momentum than 12 months ago.
The Derrick Walker-led squad, which missed the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-opener last year due to the late delivery of its new Porsche 911 RSR, shined in its 24-hour debut, having run solidly inside the top-three in the highly competitive GT Le Mans class until engine issues ended their race in the 18th hour.
While it came as a heartbreak for Sellers and Porsche factory co-drivers Wolf Henzler and Patrick Long, the strong performance for the team, running the only customer Porsche 911 RSR in North America and lone Falken-shod car in the TUDOR Championship, has provided a promising outlook for the rest of the year.
“I think what we can take away, from a personal level, is that that was the best we’ve run early in the season,” Sellers told Sportscar365. “If you look historically, we generally start the season a little bit behind the curve and work our way up with development.
“It’s always the way the program’s unfolded. The beginning of the season is difficult but we work hard. Japan puts in a lot of time and effort and budget and the team puts in the same and we progress.
“So to start off strong in Daytona is pretty confidence inspiring. I think it lets us know, for the first time, that we have a great starting place on our tire development, a great baseline tire and something to work forward from.
“Speaking from myself only, that makes me excited to see what the future holds.”
Sellers admits one of the biggest off-season gains has come with a better understanding of Porsche’s 991-based model fitted with the Falken tire, which has seen noteworthy development since last year as well.
With its switch to the 911 RSR, the team spent the better part of the first half of 2014 just acclimating to the car, which culminated with a class victory at Petit Le Mans and also a near-win at Virginia International Raceway for Sellers and Henzler.
“The 991 is way different,” Sellers said. “It’s nowhere near the same as the 997 so [last year] we were kind of starting fresh from our knowledge perspective.
“Porsche obviously provides us with a lot of information and a lot of what they’ve learned, but you can never really figure it out until you put your hands on the knobs and turn them and see what Wolf and I wanted from the car, what the tire needed.
“To have a second year at it, we’re rolling forward with pretty good baselines… To know what kind of spring rates we like to work in, to know what kind of range the dampers want to be at for different tracks we go to…
“We can show up and try and fine tune a little bit more than have to test and see where we need to be.”
The team is coming off a productive multi-day test at Sebring International Raceway last week, where they focused primarily on tire development, having a baseline to compare notes from its test at the 3.7-mile circuit in December.
While track conditions were significantly different between those tests, largely due to the amount of IndyCar rubber on parts of the circuit, Sellers was still pleased with what they were able to accomplish.
“For us last year, we basically rolled off the truck with the car. Sebring was kind of our debut deal,” he said. “We didn’t know anything.
“To go back to be able to do some testing [in December] and come back now and head into the race, I think we’re a lot more confident.
“We’ve done a lot of stuff to benefit our setup that the way the tire and chassis works to really help us at a place like Sebring, so we have a lot more compliance over the bumps. We have better balance and slightly more lateral grip.
“And obviously with the Adjustment of Performance that came at VIR last year, we have more aero help, which at Sebring is a big difference because braking is important and you have some pretty mid to high speed [corners].
“I think all those things should put us in a much better place than we were last year.”
Along with the addition of Long to its lineup for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races, with the Porsche factory driver able to bring valuable knowledge of the car, Sellers feels they could potentially have a race-winning package for Sebring next month.
“I think we can go in and fight for the win,” he said. “I don’t know what our outright pace will be like but I think we will be good over a stint and good race pace-wise.
“With that in mind and that being a long race, I think we can absolutely fight for it.”