Chemistry's a hard thing to create in racing – it either develops organically or fails to materialize. Luckily for Team Falken Tire, even if the results haven't been stellar to start its 2012 season, the combination of Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers with team manager Derrick Walker should be able to improve in the remaining seven rounds of the American Le Mans Series season, starting with this Saturday's American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock.
Henzler, a Porsche factory driver since 2008, is in his third season with the team. It's his longest stint with one team in the U.S. after prior runs with fellow “F” squads Flying Lizard and Farnbacher Loles, and consistently with Team Felbermayr-Proton in European rounds.
“In the beginning when I came to Falken in 2010, I didn't know what I expected from the team and the tires,” Henzler says. “I knew they had done the three races in 2009 that weren't very good, but I didn't know how much they had improved going into 2010. I didn't know Bryan as well.”
If results weren't coming at the outset, promise was there with several great qualifying runs – second at Lime Rock in the wet comes to mind as the obvious example given Falken's wet weather compounds – and leading on his debut with the team at Sebring.
“I was surprised with the pace in the first race; the tire and car were fast,” he says. “We felt fast in qualifying, and were good in the beginning of the stint before a drop-up. We always had good qualifying. And with Bryan, I understood he was a very good co-driver. He has good personality. It didn't take long for us to become friends. I really got along with him very fast.”
Compared to one-off drives done in other series outside ALMS (Daytona and Nurburgring 24 Hours, European races including Le Mans), Henzler has now found a home at Falken similar to the way the Lizards – his former squad – have embraced the Patrick Long/Jorg Bergmeister pairing.
“Since Derrick Walker came on board and the last year, I do feel like it's my team and I belong to the team,” he admits. “Yeah I'm a Porsche factory driver, but I also feel a Falken Tire driver.”
Henzler usually races alongside fellow Porsche factory drivers Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz in the European races with Felbermayr; the trio won the GT2 class at Le Mans in 2010. But the competition is never internal within the drivers; rather, it's always a push to move team, car and tire forward on the grid, Henzler says.
For the rest of 2012, as the Porsches have struggled thus far on outright pace compared to GT class rivals from Corvette, BMW and Ferrari, Henzler says the development push with the new aero changes (higher rear wing, new front splitter) will have to spur them onward.
“Even at Le Mans, we saw the Porsche was down a bit on top speed. We're good in the corners but down on straight line,” he admits.
Still, Henzler nearly pulled off a podium with great defense in the final stint at Monterey. The team stayed out and Henzler doggedly fought to maintain both the lead and later second place in the final hour, but eventually the tires fell off at the end of the stint, dropping the team to seventh in class but still on the lead lap after six hours.
“I can't think of another driver in the field that is so hard to pass or so hard to get by,” Walker says. “He can pass people in so many places that you didn't think were possible. He's a devil.”
Henzler would probably argue the “devil” description, but nonetheless, the pursuit of improvement and a reprisal of either of the team's two victories a year ago are the goals the rest of 2012.