Flying Lizard Laguna Seca Complete Race Report: No. 46 4th, No. 44 5th and No. 45 9th in Final Results
October 23, 2008 -- Sonoma, Calif. -- Saturday's Monterey Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca proved to be a four-hour race of frustration for the 34-car field, with much of the race run under caution. The Flying Lizard squad had high hopes for this race, the finale of the 11-race ALMS season. At Petit Le Mans earlier this month, Wolf Henzler and Joerg Bergmeister had already clinched the GT2 drivers' championship in the No. 45 Lizard Porsche, and the team had secured the team championship. But still open were the manufacturers' championship (Porsche was 15 points ahead of Ferrari, with 25 points possible at Laguna) and the drivers' championship for teammates Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet, who were competing for third, and for Seth Neiman and Darren Law, who were competing for fifth and seventh, respectively. It was important for all three Lizard Porsches to finish as high as possible.
In the No. 45, Bergmeister started second on the grid, behind the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche on the pole. In the No. 46 Porsche, Patrick Pilet started fourth on the grid, and in the No. 44, Darren Law started fifteenth. Four hours and twelve yellow flags later, the No. 46 finished the highest of the three team Porsches in fifth, the No. 44 was sixth and the No. 45 was tenth following a lengthy repair in the pits after being collected early in the race by the No. 18 VICI Racing Porsche. The No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari won in GT2, followed by the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari in second, the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche in third, and the No. 21 Team PTG Panoz in fourth. The No. 87 was eliminated from the final results after failing a post-race inspection, which moved the Flying Lizard No. 46, No. 44 and No. 45 Porsches to fourth, fifth and ninth, respectively. van Overbeek and Pilet secured third in the drivers championship, Neiman secured fifth and Law secured seventh.
With the fourth place finish, the No. 46 also helped Porsche clinch the GT2 manufacturers' title (the top finishing car for each manufacturer counts towards points, so the No. 62 gained 25 points for Ferrari and the No. 46 in fourth gained 15. Porsche was 15 points ahead and therefore won the 2008 title by 5 points.)
Team principal Seth Neiman reflected on the season, "It is a day like Saturday that makes me so happy we secured the championship at Petit Le Mans! Hats off to all three cars, drivers and crews for continuing the fight and completing the rest of our objectives, including the Porsche manufacturers' championship. The team can take great satisfaction in this result in what has been as competitive of a season as one can imagine. Of course, now we have to start focusing on next year, which promises to be even tougher."
It was perfect racing weather when the green flag fell at 2:45 pm PT on Saturday on 2.238 miles, 11-turn road course at Laguna Seca: sunny skies, a light breeze, and a balmy 80 degrees. There were 34 cars overall in the field, of which 15 were GT2 entries. There was some trepidation among the teams at race start that this could be an incident-filled race. Nearly every on track session prior to the race was filled with incidents and lengthy red flags to remove cars that had been embedded in the gravel traps which lined the track on nearly all sides.
Starting from second, Bergmeister quickly took the lead on the first lap, putting the No. 87 in second, the No. 71 in third, the No. 62 in fourth and the No. 46 in fifth. In the No. 44, Law moved quickly up the field to eighth. Just five minutes into the race, the No. 46 pitted unexpectedly under green with a tire puncture. The crew sent him back out again with new tires, but the unplanned stop pushed him back to the rear of the GT2 pack.
Just eight minutes into the race, the first caution was called to remove the No. 18 VICI Racing Porsche that had gone deep in the gravel. This set the tone for the remainder of the race: car after car landed in the gravel, unable to get out without a tow. Compounding the problem, each incident left the track strewn with gravel and dirt, creating a slippery surface and contributing to yet more incidents.
At the second yellow to remove debris from the track, the No. 45 pitted for tires and fuel. Bergmeister was out again in fifth. By this time, the No. 44 had moved to third and the No. 46, still recovering from their early race pit stop, was in tenth.
Just after the green flag restart from the second caution, 30 minutes into the race, the No. 45 went off course after impact from the No. 18 VICI Racing Porsche, which spun and then collected the No. 45. Sent flying deep into the gravel trap, Bergmeister slowed but did not stop and was able to maneuver the car back onto the course. Unfortunately, it was soon clear that there was significant damage and Bergmeister pitted immediately. The crew diagnosed a broken inner tie rod. They were able to repair the suspension component in the pits but the 15-minute repair cost the No. 45 precious time and pushed them to the back of the pack. Meanwhile, the No. 46 had also pitted for tires and fuel, putting them in 11th. The No. 44, which had not yet pitted, was in third.
Over the next three hours, all three Lizard Porsches worked to stay out of trouble and avoid the gravel traps which were catching cars like flies. The lead GT2 pack (the No. 62, No. 71, No. 21 and No. 87) traded positions as they cycled through pit stops and driver changes, but the Lizards were never able to get higher than fourth position. Neiman had taken over for Law in the No. 44, Henzler for Bergmeister in the No. 45, and van Overbeek for Pilet in the No. 46.
As the yellows continued, the rest of the GT2 field became further separated from the lead GT2 pack. By the 2-hour mark, the No. 46 was now in fifth, the No. 44 (after serving a stop and go penalty for a pit lane speed violation) was sixth, and the No. 45 was in twelfth. The No. 46 and 44 were now one lap down on the No. 62, No. 71, and No. 21 (all on the lead lap) and the No. 45 was at least 5 laps down.
With one hour left to go in the race, all three Lizard Porsches pitted nearly simultaneously under yellow for tires and fuel. Darren Law got back in the No. 44, Patrick Pilet took over again in the No. 46, but Wolf Henzler remained in the car in the No. 45. At the time of the pit stop, the No. 46 was fourth, the No. 44 was seventh, and the No. 45 was 11th.
With 10 minutes left to go, Darren Law in the No. 44 moved past the No. 007 to take sixth. The No. 46 held fifth and the No. 45 tenth. With night beginning to fall and the championships secured, the Lizard drivers focused on bringing all three cars home safely. The No. 62 Risi Competizione won in GT2, with the No. 71 in second, the No. 87 in third and the No. 21 Panoz in fourth. After the No. 87 was disqualified following post-race technical inspection, the No. 46 finished fourth, the No. 44 fifth, and the No. 45 ninth in class. Although the Lizards did not get the 11th consecutive podium finish that they had hoped for, it was enough to secure third in the drivers' championship for van Overbeek and Pilet, fifth for Neiman, and seventh for Law.
The Lizards will take some time off over the next few months. The team expects to return to the American Le Mans Series in 2009 and will announce their full plans soon.
Wolf Henzler, Driver No. 45 Porsche, "First of all, I want to thank the team and every single person on the team for giving me the opportunity and helping us win the championship. It was a great season for me driving with Joerg. We fit perfectly together. Everything went so well this season -- I felt like we really earned the championship. Laguna was a disappointing race; I wanted to have a good finish to end the season. We had the car to win the race for sure, but it's not easy when you pass a slower car, you never know how they will react. After the No. 18 hit us, we lost six laps in the pits for repairs. We'll quickly forget the race but we'll remember the championship year forever. We won the team, drivers' and manufacturers' championship -- that shows that everyone from our team and from Porsche were working together to do the best possible job we could. And this year, we didn't have any issues with the car at any race -- I don't think we even lost as much as a screw in the pits! Thank you to the Lizards and Porsche for making such a memorable year possible. "
Johannes van Overbeek, driver No. 46 Porsche, "I am glad to wrap up third place in the championship. Laguna Seca was a frustrating race for everyone; and unfortunately Patrick saw a lot of it this year! Congratulations to Wolf and Joerg for the drivers' championship and to the team and Porsche for a well deserved win."
Patrick Pilet, driver No. 46 Porsche, "This was my first season in the ALMS -- it was a fantastic experience. In the No. 46, we had some bad luck, but to get third place in the drivers' championship given all of that was a tremendous accomplishment. The team did such a great job during the whole season -- thank you to the Lizards, to the ALMS, and to Porsche for the opportunity to race this year."
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.