And that's when it all went wrong. In midfield (again) after changing drivers, Neiman was caught up in a classic restart concertina, dodging a slowing GT car only to be collected from behind by David Tucker's Riley-BMW. The consequent stop for bodywork repair dropped the Lizards off the lead lap…and worse was to come barely 10 laps later. Neiman speared off the road at the infield kink – and again it was a close encounter of the GT kind that was to blame.
“Three cars spun right in front of me,” he explains. “One went to the right, one went to the left and one was in the middle of the track. The only way to avoid them was to go into the infield.”
Then, as Neiman returned to the conventional racing surface, the Riley's nose caught the lip of the pavement, damaging its splitter and radiator.
Some 35 agonizing minutes and 18 laps later, the Lizards were flying again. With realistic hopes of victory gone, the new goal was to make up as much of their deficit as possible in a bid to finish in the top 10.
At least the team's task was greatly simplified. The drivers had to go as fast as was practical, while the team took every opportunity to regain those lost laps. But still, it was anything but a carefree romp.
“It's tough going down that many laps so early,” explains Long. “We still had a really fast car, and we were trying to get our laps back and, maybe get into the top 10. At the same time, though, we had to be disciplined, not abuse the car and also respect the cars still running for the win.”
“When you're running up front, your decisions are based on, ‘How do I keep this lead?' and ‘How do I stay on the lead lap?'” says Thomas Bam, team strategist. “Once we were 19 or 20 laps down, it's, ‘How many laps can we get back?' We were never under any illusions about getting them all back, but for a while we were on a pretty good roll. By hour six or seven we'd made up four or five of the laps. We needed a ton of cautions, which we were getting. But as always happens in long-distance races, everybody settles down at some point.”
One caution the Lizards could have done without was the endless full course yellow for fog around dawn, which effectively turned the race into the Rolex 21 at Daytona. The Riley-Porsche's speed undiminished following the restart, Bergmeister turned successive laps at 1min40.9sec and 1min40.8sec around 10 p.m., van Overbeek produced a 40.5 in the wee hours of the morning and Long a 40.9 after the fog lifted; this in a race where only one other car dipped below 1min41sec. That was the victorious Ganassi Riley-BMW of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal and Joey Hand, which only accomplished the feat twice – and neither time did it beat FLM's fastest.
In the end, even a finish eluded the Flying Lizards. An oil fire erupted two hours shy of the checkered flag while the car was lying 11th and Bergmeister parked the fastest car in the race in the infield.
“We were a real wild card – a new team to the class, without years of experience with this chassis,” Long says, “but we believe in this team and I think we held our own against teams with lots more DP experience. It was fun to be there and we can hold our heads high.”
“Not the result we wanted,” said Bergmeister, “No new Rolex watches! Still, we made a good showing, I think.”
Who could honestly disagree?
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the March 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.