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."
Which is what Falken is looking at for 2010. The team has a truncated 2009 season, running at Long Beach, Petit Le Mans and the Monterey Sports Car Championships. The RSR qualified eighth at Long Beach-its first race-and ran well, with the Azenis RT slicks (specially developed for this series) holding up. "The car was extremely consistent for a long time," says Sellers. "I was able to run a steady pace for the whole stint, never dropping off more than four-tenths of a lap until we had transmission problems." Ah well, that's racing. The team is optimistic for the future, though. "We always prepare for every race, no matter which series we are running, to win," says Jones. "We show up to the track to compete at the highest possible level with our sights set on the podium every time." It's a hard game, but TFP have every chance of spraying some champagne around next year.
Drivers Cicero and Sellers bring their individual strengths to the table. A seasoned road-racer and Grand-Am pilot, Cicero is known for his technical skills, to shake a car down and give meaningful feedback to his engineers. Sellers also has Grand-Am experience under his safety belt, along with a sponge-like ability to absorb a mass of information.
The GT3 RSR comes from Stuttgart ready to race although Falken has, not surprisingly, added some real-time tire telemetry to monitor pressures and temperatures. The true Porsche fan will know that a 2008 GT3 RSR has a 3.8-liter naturally aspirated flat-six engine. This one is an upgrade that was made available toward the end of that model year and has been bored out to 4.0 liters. Power and torque figures now stand at 450 hp and 317 lb-ft.
The factory-supplied Sachs suspension is augmented here with Eibach springs. There are different spring rates according to the particular demands of each track, just as the gear ratios are chosen specifically from race to race. The braking system has also been swapped for one by Performance Friction, a company that supplies both emergency response vehicles and NASCAR. "Performance Friction has been great in helping us develop the car," says Jones.
These tweaks have made a great car even better. "The RSR is by far the best GT car I've driven. Porsche has done a great job in getting a good balance front to rear and found innovative ways to get extra aero grip in the car. You're able to brake very late and roll tons of speed through the center of the corners. Falken has done its homework and given us a tire that complies with the car for maximum grip," says Sellers.
Cicero has a different slant: "The Falken RSR is like riding a bull. A handful-violently fast and slightly out of control. I know when I'm on a good lap when the car is moving around under me and I'm pulled back in the seat." Keep an eye out for Team Falken; ALMS has just become even more interesting.
2008 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR
Longitudinal rear engine, rear-wheel drive
4.0-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve
Six-speed sequential gearbox, limited-slip differential
F: MacPherson strut with Sachs four-way dampers, sword-type anti-roll bar
R: Multi-link with Sachs four-way dampers, sword-type anti-roll bar
F: Single-piece six-piston aluminum fixed calipers, 15-inch steel vented rotors
R: Single-piece four-piston aluminum fixed calipers, 14-inch steel vented rotors
* Wheels and Tires
F: BBS one-piece wheels with center locks, 11x18-34. Falken Azenis RT slick tires, 280mm width
R: BBS one-piece wheels with center locks, 13x18-12.5. Falken Azenis RT slick tires, 330 mm width
Curb Weight: 2700 lb
Peak Power: 450 hp @ 7900 rpm
Peak Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 7250 rpm
Factory supplied carbon/Kevlar construction, single-plane, multi-adjustable, custom carbon-reinforced mounts.
Made from stainless steel with equal-length tubes, this system has been updated to 2009 specifications to match the 4.0-liter motor.
The venerable 24-valve flat six has been bored out to displace 3996 cc and makes 450 hp at 7900 rpm. Low-end punch has been improved over the 2008 model's delivery, although this car's peak of 317 lb-ft still doesn't chime in until a comparatively frantic 7250 rpm.
This comes pre-installed from the factory and is homologated by the ACO. Chromoly tubing ties into the unibody tub.
Six-speed sequential with a jaw-type shift. On one side of the three-plate carbon fiber clutch is a single-mass flywheel. On the other is a limited-slip differential that sends power to the rear wheels. It's set up for a 45-percent axle lock-up on deceleration and a 65-percent axle lock-up under acceleration.
Covered in flame-resistant fabric, this lightweight carbon/Kevlar bucket seat accommodates a six-point racing harness adapted for the HANS head and neck support apparatus.
Carbon door, Lexan window for lightness. The door is secured by just one bolt, so it can easily be removed for swift and convenient access to the cabin. Notice the inside of the car is Signal Yellow, this was a one-off paint job from the factory and Falken has applied its livery as a vinyl wrap.
Button controls include radio to pits (push to talk), traction control adjustment, digital display scroll, drink button, alarm reset and pit lane speed limiter.
An LCD screen shows digital displays of key parameters such as revs and mph; oil, fuel, tire, water, brake pressures; oil, water and tire temperatures.