This is the 911 we would all love to drive, the one that doesn't bother about ride comfort or satellite radio. Give us a stripped-down GT3, a track and an almost unlimited supply of tires, and pigs in poop would look on in envy. As far as tires go, drivers Dominic Cicero and Bryan Sellers are lucky, they're driving for Falken's own racing team.
For anyone unfamiliar with the madcap antics of Japanese tire manufacturers, Falken has been the footwear of choice on many cars in the drifting scene for several seasons. Now the company feels it's time to get really serious and mature. It has entered this 2008-model Porsche 911 GT3 RSR into the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).
The benefits of doing so means that, through the crowds at the races and TV coverage (not only from SpeedTV, but also ABC and NBC), more people should become aware of the brand; the Falken name will be recognized not just by predominantly young, drift-mad, Asian-import fans. There's also the fact that competing at this level is a rich and fertile ground for research and development, with innovations and experience trickling down into tires made for the street. And of course there's the sheer fun of fielding a Porsche in the premier series of sports car racing.
Team Falken Porsche is headquartered in Fontana, southern California (conveniently, Fontana is also the location of the Auto Club Speedway track). It wouldn't be unreasonable to think that the transition from drifting to endurance racing might be a tricky one, but Falken has assembled the right people. As well as the aforementioned drivers (both of whom are well versed in the way of the rear-engined racer), the head honcho with the headphones is Rod Everett, a highly experienced team manager and no stranger to the tough world of GT2-class ALMS racing. Kevin Jones is the team's supervisor and our go-to guy for inside information.
It might also be reasonable to assume that endurance racing gets through fewer sets of tires than continually skidding sideways. That's not quite the case; ALMS races are longer, while much rubber is expended during test sessions with different compounds and constructions being evaluated. But at least the fronts and rears wear out at a similar rate.
Porsche is nothing less than a legendary marque in motorsport, especially in anything related to Le Mans. Yet TFP are not in the least bit misty-eyed about this shining heritage. Instead, they show the same kind of pragmatism that helped Porsche forge its reputation in the first place. "The 911 is a proven competitive platform that allows for definitive improvements in tire development. It's an industry benchmark in racing," says Jones. "And Porsche Motorsport North America is local to Falken Tire. This makes engineering/parts support much easier. Plus, it's the only manufacturer we know of with a parts truck at ALMS races." Not only that, it's been a winning partnership before. In the Japanese Super Taikyu series (think touring cars), a Falken Porsche took second place overall in 2003 and first overall in '04 and '05.
The old adage "don't buy a supercar unless you can afford two" is even more applicable in racing. "Spare parts may equal or exceed the value of the actual car," says Jones. "Then there's a race trailer, tire development trailer, pit equipment, tools, team members and drivers, entry fees, testing fees... to run a single car competitively for a full season can run upwards of $3,000,000."