Flying Lizard Petit Le Mans Complete Race Report: No. 45 2nd in GT2, No. 44 6th, No. 46 Retired due to Accident
Bergmeister and Henzler Clinch Drivers' Championship, Flying Lizard Secures Team Championship
October 6, 2008 -- Sonoma, Calif. -- It was five years in the making: this weekend at Road Atlanta Flying Lizard celebrated their first ALMS team championship, which was clinched with a second-place finish at Saturday's 1000-mile Petit Le Mans. Joerg Bergmeister, Wolf Henzler and Marc Lieb brought the No. 45 Porsche into second, also securing the 2008 ALMS drivers' championship for Bergmeister and Henzler. It is the first championship for the two drivers together, and the first drivers' championship for the Flying Lizard team since it began racing with the ALMS in 2004. The Flying Lizard No. 44 Porsche of Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Lonnie Pechnik finished sixth in GT2, but the No. 46 Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet was retired after an accident at the 8-hour mark, finishing eighth in points for the race.
The Lizards had been hoping for a clean race for all three cars, shaking off the bad luck they had encountered leading up to the race. Both the No. 44 and No. 46 Flying Lizard Porsches had suffered significant damage in practice sessions, requiring lengthy rebuilds. As a result, the No. 46 was not able to make Friday's qualifying session, which pushed them to the back of the grid for race start.
On Saturday, the 1000-mile race got off to an inauspicious start when the No. 1 Audi prototype crashed on its recon lap (the pre-race lap(s) that cars are permitted before lining up on the starting grid). Joerg Bergmeister started fourth on the GT2 grid in the No. 45 Porsche. In the No. 46, Johannes van Overbeek started from the back of the 15-car field, and Darren Law in the No.44 was in 14th.
For the first 8 hours of the nearly 10 hour race, all three cars ran nearly problem-free. It was a clean race start, with the No. 62 Risi Ferrari on the pole, the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche in second, the No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari in third, and Bergmeister in the No. 45 in fourth. The first caution of the race occurred just a few minutes after race start. In the No. 46, van Overbeek took advantage of the early caution to come in for a splash of fuel. In the No. 44, Law also pitted to allow the crew to adjust his cool suit, which was not working properly, and top up fuel. By the 15-minute mark (after some of the GT2 field had pitted under the yellow), the No. 46 had moved up to ninth and the No. 44 was now in 11th. No cars in the lead pack pitted in the first yellow, and their order remained unchanged.
Just 25 minutes into the race, a second caution was called to remove an Acura prototype from the track after a crash. The No. 45 Porsche pitted in this yellow for tires and fuel as did several of the other lead GT2 cars. At the green flag restart, the No. 62, which had not pitted, was now in the lead, with the No. 99 JMB Ferrari in second, and the No. 61 Krohn Racing Ferrari in third. After the green flag fell again, once the field resorted, No. 46 was now in third, the No. 45 in sixth and the No. 44 in tenth.
Over the next hour, the Lizard Porsches continued to gradually move up through the field. By the time of the third caution (one hour and 25 minutes into the race) Bergmeister had moved to second (with the No. 62 heading in for its first pit stop), van Overbeek was in fourth, and the No. 44 had moved up to sixth. All three Lizard Porsches pitted nearly simultaneously under the yellow. The No. 46 (which had already pitted just prior to the yellow for its driver change to Patrick Pilet, tires and fuel) received just a short fuel. The No. 44 took fuel and tires but no driver change, and the No. 45 changed drivers to Wolf Henzler, and took tires and fuel. The No. 44 pitted again shortly after for driver change to Lonnie Pechnik. Once the field had resettled, the No. 87 was now in the lead, the No. 45 was in second, the No. 71 in third, the No. 62 in fourth, the No. 44 in sixth and the No. 46 in ninth.
Over the next six hours (and at least four more cautions), the three Lizard Porsches cycled cleanly through their driver changes with relatively few problems. Each caution and resulting wave-by increased the gaps between the groups of GT2 cars and reshuffled the order of the GT2 leaders. The No. 45 was able to stay with the lead group, and just past the three-hour mark, driver Marc Lieb was now in the lead. The No. 87, who was the only other car on the lead lap, was in second, the No. 71 in third and the No. 44 in fourth. The No. 71 and No. 44 were one lap down on the No. 45. The No. 46 Porsche was now in fifth (but now two laps down on the No. 45 and one lap down on the No.44). The No. 62 had fallen back in the pack and was now behind the No. 46, also several laps down on the No.45.
Just past the 4-hour mark, the No. 87, still in second and close on the tail of the No.45 in the lead, was hit by another car and spun off course, resulting in a tire puncture and an unscheduled pit stop. This moved the No. 71 to second. Meanwhile, the No. 62 had moved through the field and was now in fourth, with the No. 44 now fifth and the No. 46 sixth. The No. 45 was able to maintain its lead until the six and a half hour mark, when the No. 62, which had worked its way up to second, passed Wolf Henzler to take the lead. Over the next hour, the two cars continued to switch off for the lead over several yellow flags and pit stops.
Just past the seven-hour mark, the No. 45, with Marc Lieb behind the wheel, was again in the lead, with the No. 62 in close on his tail and on the same lead lap. The No. 62 was able to get by the No. 45 to retake the lead, a position they held through the checkered flag. By this time, the GT2 field had spread out even further, with the No. 71 in third but one lap down on the No. 62 and No. 45. The No. 46 in fourth, two laps down on the leaders, the No. 87 was in fifth and the No. 44 was in sixth.
Eight hours into the race, things were looking very promising for the Lizards. All three Porsches were now in the top five (the No. 87 had retired due to a mechanical problem, moving the No. 44 to fifth). But their good luck started to fray when the No. 44 developed a water leak. Driver Lonnie Pechnik quickly pitted and the crew diagnosed a problem as a leaking water hose, which required removal of the undertray to fix. 20 minutes later, with Darren Law now behind the wheel, the No. 44 was back in the race, but now in seventh, having lost two positions for the repair.
After the No. 44 was back on track, the Lizards settled back into the race, when disaster struck with just over an hour to go. The No. 46, which was in fourth position with Patrick Pilet in the car, was involved in a major collision with a prototype which had stopped on course. Pilet came over the crest of the hill at Turn 12, in darkness with very low visibility, when he collided head-on with a prototype which had spun and stalled on course and was facing oncoming traffic with no lights. The resulting impact destroyed the No. 46 Porsche, sending bodywork, car parts and debris flying in all directions. Pilet was not injured in the accident but the No. 46 was totaled and was retired, a significant disappointment for van Overbeek and Pilet, who are third in the drivers' championship.
After the major accident, which resulted in the retirement of three cars, a lengthy caution followed to clean up the mess. When the green flag fell again, the No. 62 still held the lead, the No. 45 was second, and the No. 71 third. The No. 44 was still in seventh. 30 minutes later, yet another caution allowed the No. 45 to close the gap to the No. 62, but it was not enough to give Joerg Bergmeister a chance to catch the Ferrari. The No. 62 would take the win, the No. 45 second, and the No. 44 seventh. Based on the laps that the No. 46 had accrued in the race before the accident, it still finished eighth in GT2 in the points.
Seth Neiman, Flying Lizard principal and driver of the No. 44 Porsche, reflected on the team's championship win: "Congratulations to Wolf and Joerg, the No. 45 crew and the entire team. It's particularly gratifying to win this championship in what is arguably the toughest year of competition in a very tough series. With the continuous onslaught over the season from teams of the caliber of Tafel Racing, Risi Competizione, and Farnbacher Loles Racing, and others, it makes this a very satisfying moment: for all of Flying Lizard, our partners Michelin and Porsche, and our sponsors ShoreTel and eSilicon."
Wolf Henzler, driver No. 45 Porsche: "This was a fantastic season. For most of the year, the No. 45 had a really good battle with the No 71. At Detroit, we extended our points lead which put us in a position so that we just had to finish ahead of them to win. A second place at Petit was enough to win the championship one race before the end of the season. Everyone on the team worked so hard for this championship. It's my first time winning with Joerg, and the first time for the team. That's what the Lizards have been working so hard for over the last five years. With the improvements that Porsche made to the cars over the off season, and their hard work, we were able to be competitive this year. Even when the Ferraris improved during the season, Porsche also stepped up. We have one more race at Laguna and Joerg and I will still go for the win - what could be better than to go out with the championship and a win at the final race!"
Johannes van Overbeek, driver No. 46 Porsche: "In the No. 46, we had just one hour left when Patrick was involved in an horrific accident. Thankfully he was not injured. The fact that we had started from the back of the pack and fought our way back to be in contention for the last podium spot, made it that much more heartbreaking to be out of the race. And the crew had gone through so much leading up to the race to the race: they spent all night before the race rebuilding the car after the accident in on Friday in practice. In the race, the car ran perfectly, our pit stops were flawless, and Patrick did a great job. Although it wasn't to be our day, we are all thrilled at the championship wins. Congratulations for Joerg, Wolf and the entire team."
Eric Ingraham, team manager and strategist of the No. 46 Porsche, "We are thrilled to win the 2008 GT2 championships against a very tough GT2 field. It was a difficult race week for the Lizards. Leading up to the race, we had multiple on-track incidents. The crew worked incredibly hard to get the cars on track for the race. For the No. 46 crew it was especially tough - they had pushed so hard during race week to get the car on track. We were in the home stretch of the race, and Patrick and Johannes were so close to a podium, and then it was all gone in an instant. But we are all relieved that Patrick is OK. For the No. 45, it was a flawless race, which is all we could have hoped for given all of the incidents during the practice sessions and the race."
Still one race to go: the season finale Monterey Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca, October 18, 2008.
About Flying Lizard Motorsports
2008 is the fifth consecutive ALMS season for the Sonoma, California-based GT2 team. Since its first year of competition in 2004, the team has finished in the top three in the ALMS GT2 team and drivers' championships. In 2007, the team was second in the ALMS GT2 team championship and drivers Johannes van Overbeek and Joerg Bergmeister finished second in the ALMS GT2 drivers' championship.
Flying Lizard is sponsored by ShoreTel, a leading provider of enterprise IP telephony solutions, and eSilicon, a semiconductor company, both based in Sunnyvale, California. Team partners include Porsche and Michelin.