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Walker’s Little Team Has Big Plans For The Weekend

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 20 2015

Team Falken Tires' Porsche 911 RSR wants a piece of the big boys in this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona. (Photos Courtesy of Team Falken Tires)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

As he talked about strategy for this weekend’s Rolex 24, long-time race-team owner Derrick Walker rolled out a version of the old hare vs. tortoise parable. Depending on circumstances in a twice-around-the-clock sports car race, he said, teams can opt for all-out sprinting, or slow-and-steady.

Asked how his Team Falken Tires GT Le Mans team would like to play it – hare or tortoise – in the 2015 Rolex, Walker said neither.

“We’ll be the fox,” Walker, whose Derrick Walker Racing runs the Falken effort, said. “While those two are busy looking at each other, we’ll be sneaking up from behind. We’ll be in mid pack with our teeth beginning to show.”

Walker’s decision to play it foxy on the infield road course at Daytona International Speedway this weekend is partially born of necessity. Team Falken, which fields a single Porsche 911 RSR, is competing as a customer team in a GTLM class which is loaded with factory-backed teams from manufacturers such as Ferrari, Corvette, BMW, Aston Martin, Audi and, even, Porsche.

Walker, a native of Scotland has who served in engineering capacities in Formula One for Roger Penske before moving on to team ownership in CART, INDYCAR and now, in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship series, says that while his team may not have the opulent food-and-booze hospitality tents that factory teams tote from race to race, it has more than enough of the things that are important to win races.

So, envy the money and logistics of the big teams? Perhaps. Fear them? Not a bit.

“We like to say that we’re the little team that could,” Walker told RacinToday.com during a phone interview

Derrick Walker has a sly plan for the 24.

on Monday. “And occasionally, we beat them. And it’s very satisfying when that happens.”

Like in last year’s Tudor season-finale – the prestigious Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta – where Walker’s drivers climbed to the top of the podium for the second straight season.

How does small topple large on a semi-regular basis in a sport where money buys speed? There’s a lot to be said for small, Walker said. Smaller teams can react more quickly. Smaller teams can foster better chemistry. Smaller teams often have more to prove.

“It all comes down to the drivers and the team,” he said, Scottish brogue still poking through after all his years in America. “And there, things are a lot more even. There, it’s a different ball game when you’ve got the car, the tires and everything in the same zone, and you’ve got equal engines power wise. Then it gets down to the driver skill, the strategy, the pit stops. And here, whether your a manufacturer team or a private team, it’s a matter of how much you put in it.

“It’s about the people and how they prepare and how they control themselves during the race and how we maximize what we can do. So when we see times when we put some numbers up there and get people turning their heads, it’s because we’ve had the car where it needed to be and the tire where it needed to be and it was just us and them. We’ve shown we can be as good as anybody.”

Besides, Walker said, it’s not like his team is on an island out there. More like a peninsula.

“We have an excellent relationship with Porsche. I think because of that relationship we don’t suffer too much from being a private team,” Walker said. “Certain manufacturers treat their customer programs, customer cars differently. Porsche, we’ve got nothing but praise for them. They’ve helped us a tremendous amount. And

The little team that can?

I like to think we’ve helped them too. We have, you know, information sharing so if we’re out doing our thing and looking at the same problems they’re looking at and trying to find ways to make it work, that, for anybody, is information that is valuable.”

In the end, he said, “We’re all Porsche guys.”

Bryan Sellers, one of the team’s co-drivers, put it this way: “It doesn’t matter to them (Porsche Racing folks in Zuffenhausen, Germany) which Porsche wins. It matters that a Porsche wins. We feel like we’re a mini factory team.”

Also included in the sharing between Walker’s team and Porsche Racing are drivers.

Two of the Team Falken Tire drivers in this year’s 24 – Wolf Henzler of Germany and American Patrick Long – are contracted factory drivers. Both have piled up massive win numbers in the top sports car races in the world.

Henzler and American Sellers, were on the Petit-winning Falken teams.

Sellers share’s Walker’s views on small going head to head with big in sports car racing. Not a factor, he said, not on race days or prep days. Shiny tools and tailored uniforms don’t win races.

“The thought never really crosses our minds that we’re going up against factory programs,” Sellers said during a phone interview with RacinToday.com. “Maybe the sum of all their parts is greater than the sum of all our parts. But every single weekend we go in just trying to do the best we can. I know it sounds a little bit cliched, but we feel if we do the best we can, then we’ll be close to where they are.

“We never use it as an excuse (when they don’t place well) is maybe the best way to say it.”

Another thing that Walker’s team may have going for it this weekend is momentum from the Petit victory in October.

The Petit, along with the Rolex 24 and the 12 Hours of Sebring, is a crown jewel in American sports car racing. Winning the 10-hour event is big even for the big teams. For Team Falken, Petit means huge.

“I can tell you that the difference between winning the Petit in the last race and not winning the last race is

A victory in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta last time out has Derrick Walker's team stoked up for the 24.

monumental heading into the off season,” Sellers said. “I don’t know if it influences what you do in Daytona, but what it does do is help with your motivation in the off season. It leaves everybody with a nice taste in your mouth. You relate it to a good dinner. You never want to finish with the worst bite. You want to finish on the best bite, right?”

The first bite at Daytona this year was a bit chewy. Sellers said the three-day Roar Before the 24 test earlier in the month did not go well for the Falken team. Goofy, cool, unexpected weather conditions that were different than the team had expected, slowed progress, he said.

Then rain cut into track time late in the test.

But that’s Daytona in winter, he said. On race weekend, weather conditions could be more conducive to the team’s strength. Nobody at Team Falken, was overly concerned by the test.

“We’ll adjust to it,” Walker said. “It will play out.”

Sellers shrugged and said, “We’re strong in these type races traditionally. Very, very strong.”

In part, because of Walker’s strategy, which this weekend would be the fox-like approach.

“We hope to end up with (hare) hair in our teeth,” Walker said. “We may have to pound away on tortoise shells. But this is a war of attrition and we plan to play it smart.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 20 2015
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