Sunday
Aug172008

Tafel Racing's Rise to Success

One year ago, who would have guessed that Tafel Racing would be in the position they are in today? Seven races into the 2008 American Le Mans Series season, the Georgia-based squad has three wins to its credit and is in the midst of a fierce title fight for GT2 honors. Drivers Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher sit seven points ahead of championship leaders Jorg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler, with only four races remaining. It’s crunch time.

The pressure of being in the middle of the battle hasn’t fazed the team or technical director Tony Dowe. After all, Dowe has been in situations like this before and brings the veteran-like mentality to the organization. His ability to lead a team to championships in the past has obviously been a big part of Tafel’s current success. But what’s also been key is the team’s newfound willingness to succeed.

photo by: John Thawley “As a team, we’ve functioned really well in these past [few] races,” Dowe said. “There are reasons for me saying that because the guys are all working together really, really well. By definition, there were some aspects that they weren’t working well together before that as well as they are now. That’s the momentum I guess. It’s really nice.”

Tafel has made massive strides in its sophomore season in the ALMS after its rather lackluster 2007 campaign. Much of last year’s disappointments came from on-track accidents that put the crew behind the 8-ball. While experience may have not been a factor, teamwork defiantly was.

“All the experienced guys have been in the ALMS before,” Dowe said. “But last year, we were [working flat-out] fixing the cars. This year, from all of last year’s lessons from myself and on through the team, we’re not making mistakes of trying to fix something that was unfixable. So we have more time to concentrate on things that make a difference and that matter. Now we can produce results week in and week out.”

photo by: John Thawley While experience is key, youth brings exuberance. That’s the case with 23-year-old Farnbacher, who is in his second season with the team. The German scored two podium finishes in his rookie ALMS season last year and rode that momentum into 2008. The difference between last year was night and day for Farnbacher, mainly for two reasons.

“Last season was still a learning process for us,” Farnbacher said. “For me, I didn’t really know a lot of the tracks and the team was mostly new. They knew most of the tracks, but the Porsche was new for them. This time, our goal was to just collect experience for this season. We really learned a lot during last year and you can see that our work has paid off.”

A major aspect of Tafel’s program changed this year, as the team ditched its Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs in favor of a brace of Ferrari F430 GTs. The switch to the Prancing Horse brought factory support from Ferrari and Michelotto, and also the services of reigning FIA GT2 Champion, Dirk Muller. The addition of Muller helped boost Tafel’s program to a whole new level. The quick German not only had experience in the Ferrari, but was also a proven championship winner. What made it even better was that the two German racers quickly jelled, something that’s hit-or-miss in motorsports.

photo by: John Thawley “Both of them don’t have different agendas to the team,” Dowe said. “They have to race and be part of the team. With no disrespect to the guys we had before, they weren’t pulling in the same direction last year and it didn’t make it a cohesive team.”

Constant developments to the team’s two Ferrari F430 GTs have also played a key factor this season. From an updated engine package at Lime Rock to new suspension pieces at Mid-Ohio, these updates have built up into an overall better package. At Road America, the car is sported new aerodynamic parts and for Mosport, it will have new gearbox and differential upgrades. More is also on the way for Detroit and beyond.

“Ferrari is very intricate now,” Farnbacher said. “They have to keep up with Porsche because they’re developing hard. Ferrari is now doing the same. I think there will be some more things coming in the year. The parts we receive have so far been very good. As we saw in Mid-Ohio, they give us a really good car.”

With three wins already this season, the team’s rather instant success with the Ferrari even caught Farnbacher off guard at first. But now, the championship game face is on.

“I was thinking about maybe having one victory by this time this season!” Farnbacher said. “I was very surprised to have a double in St. Pete and Long Beach and now at Mid-Ohio. It’s a really great story and shows that the car and team works really well. Now I think we can also win more races.”

photo by: John Thawley Only four races remain, and Muller feels the key to success is to stay focused. While more wins would be nice, the team has to think of the big picture and the championship. Podium finishes will bring points, but will only benefit them if the Flying Lizard Porsche duo is behind them. Last weekend’s race at Road America saw both cars battle to the wire for the runner-up spot. And the way it’s going, expect to see much more of the same in the races to come. The pressure is certainly on.

“The tension is a lot higher right now,” Muller said. “We passed the mid-season, and so from now, you don’t want to lose any points. We now have to stay focused. Tony has won championships and we have won championships. With all the development Ferrari in making the car better and better each weekend, even Michelin has given us nice support. At the moment, we are running in the right direction, but nobody is sleeping.”

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