Wednesday
May282008

Flying Lizards Primed for Success

Photo by Bob Chapman Autosport ImageFlying Lizard Motorsports has enjoyed a solid start to its 2008 American Le Mans Series campaign. With four races now in the books, the three-car Porsche team now leads both the GT2 drivers’ and teams’ championship, ahead of its Ferrari rivals. Jorg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler took a dominant win in last weekend’s Utah Grand Prix, their second of the year, propelling the No. 45 duo to the top of the pack. Trackbytes.com caught up with team manager Eric Ingraham prior to the wave of the green flag at Miller Motorsports Park to assess the team’s performance in the opening races and to also take a glimpse into the hurdles of running a three-car operation.

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
Entering its fifth consecutive season in the ALMS, Flying Lizard Motorsports has never been in such a prepared state to take on the challenges thrown at them. The Sonoma Calif.-based squad had one of its best seasons to date in 2007 when Bergmeister and then co-driver Johannes van Overbeek were caught in a season-long battle with Risi Competizione’s Mika Salo and Jamie Melo. Bergmeister and van Overbeek pocketed three wins, finishing runner-up in the drivers’ championship to the Ferrari duo.

As the 2008 season dawned, the Lizards came locked and loaded to Sebring with three cars, aiming to start the year off on the right foot. They did just that with claiming their first-ever 1-2 finish. The No. 45 Porsche of Bergmeister, Henzler and Marc Lieb cruised to three-lap victory ahead of the sister No. 44 entry of Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Alex Davison. While the Risi Ferrari was once again dominant, Melo crashed the prancing horse midway through the race while leading.

“We were very happy with Sebring,” team manager Eric Ingraham noted. “It was unfortunate to see the race change early on and it became a survival game for the 44 and 45 in that race. We got to actually push the 46 car hard through the race and do what we could to make up time and learn about the new car at the same time.”

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
It was then on to St. Petersburg and Long Beach, two of the street circuit races on the calendar. St. Pete proved to be a challenge for the team as Bergmeister and Henzler were on their way to a podium finish before getting collected in a late-race accident, which damaged the No. 45 car’s radiator. However, the sister No. 46 car of van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet picked up the pieces and finished second, their first podium of the year. At Long Beach, both lead cars enjoyed a solid run, the No. 45 car finishing second, one position ahead of the No. 46 in third.

“St. Pete was a tough race for us,” Ingraham explained. “We were happy the 46 was there after the 45 unfortunately got tangled up with the Dyson car to still manage a good team finish. Long Beach was a very short race so the strategic decisions that were made had a big impact. I know that Patrick was chomping at the bit to have a crack at the Tafel car at the end, and we were happy to have Wolf back there. But it’s obviously very important for us to race clean with the other teams. We’ve never been a team and never want to be a team that anybody looks at being anything but judicious and fair on the racetrack in the paddock. It’s definitely a focus of ours.”

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
Good fortunes continued in Utah as Bergmeister and Henzler claimed their second win of the season in the fourth round at Miller Motorports Park, taking a flag-to-flag victory. Van Overbeek and Pilet scored a runner-up finish, giving the team another 1-2 result.

The momentum built in the early portion of the season now propels the Lizards into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the next race on their calendar. Making their fourth consecutive appearance in the twice-around-the-clock French classic, the team is more focused than ever to take home the win. Last year, the car was outfitted in a stunning livery created by Troy Lee Designs. But this time around, the team will use its regular ALMS design, concentrating solely on getting Bergmeister, van Overbeek and Neiman to the top step of the GT2 podium.

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
“This year, we’re really focusing our racing effort,” Ingraham said of the preparations for Le Mans. “It’s not that we’ve never focused on it, but we’re paring everything down to the bare minimum and strictly focusing on a fully prepped car, a fully prepared crew, complete spares package, everything being as good as it could be for us to enter this race and have as much of a chance as we can to win the race.”

One of the challenges the Lizards faced at the start of the ALMS season was moving to a three-car operation. While the team had successfully campaigned two cars since its inception, Ingraham noted some early obstacles they had to overcome early on.

“Finding and adding the people is a problem that we faced early on, and it feels very distant now,” Ingraham said. “Instead, I think the biggest challenge for us in going from two cars to three, wasn’t for us a scaling problem. It wasn’t ‘Ok, instead of doing two things, we’ll have to do three instead with the same resources.’ Instead, it’s been a reinvention problem. We’ve had to really analyze how do we organize ourselves. How do we manage who does what, who takes what lead? Re-navigating those things has been a big challenge.”

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
With the third car, the general workload equation is thrown out the window. It takes even more time and energy to prepare for each race, and it also requires more manpower. Forty-eight team members were at Sebring, and Ingraham noted the team now usually staffs about 42 for a regular-distance race.

“Interestingly, at a base, boring, mathematical value, one would expect three cars to be 50 percent more work than two, but it’s actually 100 or 200 percent more work,” Ingraham said. “It’s not just the more work of a third car, but reinventing the system you use to run three cars. We’re learning a huge amount about it as we go. Seth’s been instrumental in helping us reshape and refocus how we organize ourselves and how we understand and what we do and why we do it.”

Advantages come with running more cars, as the team now has a third transporter, a mid-sized trailer that’s used as a base on race weekends. Inside, Ingraham, the engineers, car chiefs and others have mobile spaces to work from, providing a more office-like environment for the team.

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
On top of the expansion, the team also worked closely with Porsche during the off-season to further develop the 911 GT3 RSR car. The 2007-spec car lacked speed to the Ferrari all season long, but neither Porsche nor the Lizards were about to concede. Significant developments to the aerodynamics, gearbox and suspension were made, making the 2008 package a lot more competitive.

“We couldn’t be happier to be working so closely with Porsche,” Ingraham said. “They’ve been a huge help technically, logistically and organizationally. It’s a company that’s had a huge amount of racing success. There’s so much we can learn from them and we’ll continue to. It’s great to have Wolf back, it’s great to work with Patrick this year, and it’s been a huge asset as we’ve expanded the team to have such support from Porsche.”

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photo by: Bob Chapman, Autosport Image
Porsche also provided increased support by giving the team two additional factory drivers in the form of Wolf Henzler and Patrick Pilet. Henzler returns to the team after spending a season with Tafel Racing while Pilet is a fresh face altogether to American racing. The 2007 Porsche Carrera Cup France champion is the newest Porsche factory driver but has proven to be very quick in adapting to GT2 machinery. In only his third start, Pilet bagged his first career pole at Long Beach. He and co-driver Johannes van Overbeek now have two second place finishes to their credit and sit third in the drivers’ standings.

Whether it be tackling Le Mans next month or the remaining seven ALMS races afterwards, Ingraham and the team have made strides to become more focused on the racetrack and as determined as ever to succeed. And that’s what it takes to win races, and championships too.

“It’s been a learning year and it’s something that’s pushed us very hard to keep the learning curve steep,” Ingraham said. “I don’t think we were getting relaxed or lethargic about our learning, but this pushed us even harder to reevaluate and rethink how we do things. It’s been a big positive. Whatever the future holds, it will be positive.”

 

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