Tafel Racing Expecting Tough Battle from Tight GT2 Field at Sebring 12 Hour No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari and No. 73 Tafel Ferrari Eager for Action at ALMS Opener SEBRING, Fla. March 14, 2008 - As the two Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTCs start...
Tafel Racing Expecting Tough Battle from Tight GT2 Field at Sebring 12 Hour
SEBRING, Fla. March 14, 2008 - As the two Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTCs start the 56th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida tomorrow, they will do so in one of the tightest GT2 fields in event history. The American Le Mans Series season-opener, which takes the green flag at 10 am (ET) on Saturday, March 15, marks the second time the Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) owned team has entered the legendary endurance racing event. In 2007, the effort finished third and fifth in their Series debut but the 2008 GT2 class grid is even more competitive. The Cumming, Ga.-based organization is expecting intense competition and is eager to put the new No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC- starting second in class- and the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC- starting fourth- up against all comers for the full 12 hours.
Owner/Driver Jim Tafel and Technical Director Tony Dowe (Cumming, Ga.) have assembled a top-level, professional group to support their pursuit of a GT2 win here at Sebring as well as season-long driver and team titles. In a field full of top professionals, few teams can claim the kind of championship caliber driving talent behind the wheel of the two Michelin tire- shod Ferraris. The No. 71 Bell Micro Ferrari has sophomore driving sensation Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) who turned the lap to place the car second in Saturday's GT2 lineup. He will be joined by 2000 American Le Mans Series GT, now GT2 class, Champion and Sebring winner Dirk Muller (a native of Germany now living in Monaco). Making a formidable trio, 2007 Le Mans Series GT2 Champion Rob Bell (Northants, England) has been brought in to team with the two full season drivers in the 71.
The No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC is equally impressive. Jim Tafel, starting his second 12 Hour, will share driving chores with 2005 24 At Daytona GT class winner Pierre Ehret (who lives in Santa Rosa, Calif. but was born in Germany). Allan Simonsen (Danish-born but living in Melbourne, Australia), who will join Farnbacher and Muller at the team's 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in June, fills out the driving lineup in the 73. Simonsen, the '07 Australian GT Series Champion piloted the quick lap of the weekend for the car giving it fourth on the starting grid.
The incredibly tight competition that is expected to play out in Saturday's 12 Hour grind around the 3.7-mile, 17-turn circuit was epitomized by Thursday's negated qualifying session. In qualifying, the top six cars were separated by an unbelievable 0.939 seconds. The gap from the second position to the sixth was an even tighter 0.643 seconds. The equality of the class, made up of Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins, Panoz and a Ford GT, promises to provide one of the best battles in the impressive history of the classic event.
The team was given its last significant chance to study the performance of the two white, blue and silver Ferraris in practice this morning. In the 55-minute session Muller drove the No. 71 to a class leading time of two minutes, 1.72 seconds. Ehret gave the No. 73 its fastest lap of the day with a time of 2:05.090; good for sixth.
Final event preparations are now underway for the two Ferraris. Each crew will perform extensive work to ready both cars for 12 hours on the grueling and bumpy circuit. Each Ferrari will have its brakes (both rotors and pads), gearbox, driveshafts, clutch and other components changed to new, race-ready pieces as part of the standard pre-race checklist. A final, 20 minute warm-up will be held on race morning at 7 am (ET).
Jim Tafel, Team Owner/Driver, No. 73: "I think the GT2 class is going to be the toughest class here tomorrow. We have our work cut out for us. We have to make sure everything is reliable on the car and that we are error free. There is so much that can happen over 12 hours. If we can stay out of the pits we should be good. We have a world class group of drivers, not just in our class but in the race. It is the best of the best. Hopefully the hard work by our team will show who is the best of the best tomorrow night."
Tony Dowe, Technical Director: "We have only had the Winter Test in January and here this week with the Ferrari. The learning curve is still quite steep. Every time we have gone out we have made changes and they have all moved us forward. We are very happy with where both cars are right now."
Dirk Muller, Driver, No. 71: "I am very pleased with the last practice. Now the next thing is preparation for the car. I am really, really happy. Tafel Racing worked perfectly, like I knew already from the Winter Test. Everything went really perfect. All the drivers, Dom, Rob and myself, are working in the right direction. It is not a perfect car but for a 12 hour race you can't get a really perfect car. Here it is very difficult to find a really perfect car for one single lap. For me the track changes so much. But, I am very happy right now. I am really looking forward to the race."
Rob Bell, Driver, No. 71: "This circuit is very difficult. It is two things I think. You have two changes of surface with asphalt and concrete and then also it is very hot and a little dusty as well. Every other lap it seems to change a little bit. Just getting the car perfect for the 12 hours, I think, is impossible. What you have to do is get it balanced with all three drivers relatively happy and go into the race with a consistent car. I think that is where we are now. The competition is very, very tight. I honestly believe that in the final hour there could be four or five cars on the lead lap and all going for a win. It all depends on a little bit of luck and staying away from the prototypes when they are on a charge. It is going to be tough all the way to the end."
Pierre Ehret, Driver, No. 73: "Hopefully it doesn't get too hot because that is what kills you in the car. I think we can maintain a good, fast pace and keep it running until the end. If you are able to do that, you put yourself in the position for a good result."
Allan Simonsen, Driver, No. 73: "I am really looking forward to the race tomorrow; making my debut here in the American Le Mans Series. A bit different to the European Le Mans Series but I am really enjoying my time here. The Tafel team is very strong. I think our Ferrari is going to perform very well throughout the 12 hours. Obviously, endurance racing is not new to me so I am taking a fairly relaxed approach to it. I know what to do and we'll be there at the end."
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring can be seen live on SPEED Channel starting at 9:30 am (ET), March 15. Live timing and scoring of each on-track session and the American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast can be found at www.AmericanLeMans.com. The start and the finish of the race can be heard live on XM Satellite Radio Channel 166.