Flying Lizard Finishes Fourth in GT2 at the 24 Heures du Mans; Top Three GT2 Positions Held by Three Different Manufacturers
June 18, 2006--Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France--The Flying Lizard Motorsports No. 80 Porsche finished fourth in class in the 2006 24 Heures du Mans race in Le Mans, France. Drivers Johannes van Overbeek, Seth Neiman, and Patrick Long brought the California, USA-based team's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR home safely in a dramatic race that had twists and turns, multiple leaders, four manufacturers in the hunt for the GT2 win, and significant technical challenges across the entire entry field.
This year's Le Mans was characterized by technical problems for nearly every single team. Nearly half of the field did not finish the race and nearly every car made at least one trip to its garage for repairs. The Lizards, coming off of a 3rd place finish at Le Mans in 2005 had a challenging race. The team encountered technical problems early on, and in the middle of the night, needed driver Seth Neiman to make an on-track repair which required 90 minutes of off-track time to completely resolve and repair.
Hours 1 to 5 - Saturday June 17
The Lizards got off to a strong start, with Patrick Long moving quickly from fourth in GT2 (P4) to P1. With an early full course yellow in the first 15 minutes of the race the team made a strategy call to bring Patrick in for fuel and tires. When none of the other GT2 teams pitted, the Lizards moved back to P9. After the GT2 pack pitted 45 minutes later for tires and fuel, the Lizards moved up again to P1 but were out of sequence with the pack's pitting schedule.
Patrick commented on his early race approach, "So early in the race, it's important to take a conservative approach and not get caught up in any problems. That said, I got a good start and was leading early on. During my first stint I was able to get a good look at the cars that we expected to be our top competition, and at that point I felt comfortable that we had what it took to be competitive. For me at that point it was just getting into a rhythm, turning solid laps, and staying consistent and error-free."
At 7 pm, 2 hours into the race, Seth Neiman took the wheel from Long. Thirty minutes into his stint, Neiman reported a sudden problem when the rear locked up under braking near the Ford Chicane. After wrestling with the car for another lap under very strong vibration, Neiman pitted so the crew could replace all four tires. Johannes van Overbeek then took the wheel.
By 8 pm, three hours into the race, most of the GT2 cars had had some issues but they were beginning to sort themselves out. With the Lizards now in P7, they began to work their way back up the field.
When Long again took the wheel around 9 pm, he immediately reported an engine misfire on first acceleration out of pit lane. It was to be the start of a long run of bad luck for the Lizards. Within one lap, Patrick reported the problem was worse and the car went into the garage. The crew determined an electrical connection in the steering wheel wiring harness was causing the malfunction, so they disconnected it. This resulted in one-way communication between the crew and the driver. They could talk to Patrick, but Patrick could not communicate back. After directing Patrick to stay out if the problem had been resolved and not pit, the crew ticked down the minutes of the 4 plus minute lap and Pat did not pit. The crew was able to relax and began to plan their repair strategy for the next scheduled pit stop.
Ten minutes later, much to the crew's surprise, Patrick arrived unexpectedly in the pits having spun at high speed and flat spotted the tires. Because he had no radio, he could not notify the crew. The crew hustled to add fuel and tire and send Patrick back out to continue his stint.
Hours 6 to 12 - Saturday June 17
Entering hour 6, the Lizards were in P8 with Patrick behind the wheel. Patrick continued to do the fastest GT2 lap times in his session, closing the gap to P7. He turned the car over to Seth Neiman after nearly 2 hours in the car.
Seth had an uneventful first hour and clocked solid lap times in the darkness. He also stayed out for a second stint after pitting for fuel and tires. Just into his second stint, he went off track in the gravel near the Dunlop Bridge. The marshals pulled the car out, but it would not start. Seth radioed the crew and the crew began to diagnose the problem. According to race rules, a driver may work on his car alone on the track but may not leave the car. In order for the car to be able to rejoin the race, it must make it back to its garage under its own power. That left Seth with a portable toolkit and a flashlight to fix the problem on the track.
Working against time, the crew methodically worked with Neiman via radio, eliminating each mechanical and electronic issue until they determined the cause was a broken electrical connection to the starter. The crew was able to talk Neiman through fixing the problem. After an hour, Neiman was able to restart the car and continue slowly back to the garage. The crew carefully reviewed the car in the garage and were able to repair several other issues at the same time. Unfortunately, the hour and 30 minutes that it took to get the car back on track would be impossible to regain.
Seth said about his on-track repair, "The crew did an excellent job at staying calm and talking me through a complex situation that they could not even see. It was unfortunate that we lost so much time, but I'm very proud of the fact that we were able to get the car back on track and finish so well in the race."
Halfway There - The 12 Hour Mark
The team regrouped and focused on strategy for regaining as much ground as possible as quickly as possible. Next up in the car was Johannes for a solid 2 hour stint. At 5:00 am, the halfway mark, Johannes was still in the car and the Lizards had moved to P10.
Johannes said, "I appreciated all of the support from the team and the doctors who were able to make it possible for me to race this weekend after my bicycle accident on Thursday. It was definitely a group effort to get me there. During my stint, I felt very strong, considering. There was a lot of debris on the track and the conditions changed lap by lap and I really had to be heads up. Overall, I think the car ran very well all weekend - thanks again to the crew for getting us such a strong race car. "
Five am to 8 am - Sunday June 18 By 5:30 am, Patrick headed out for another stint, now in P9 . He pitted at 6:45 am for tire, and fuel, still in P9. After his 2.5 hours in the car, Long said "It's good and bad. Good because the car is fast and the team is doing an excellent job with strategy and pit stops. Unfortunately, we are no longer in the race for the lead but we've shown we have a car that can make the distance. It's enjoyable out there and it seems like everyone has calmed down a bit and are giving a bit more respect to one another."
At this point in the race, four different manufacturers in GT2 are still in the running for the lead - Porsche, Panoz, Ferrari, and Spyker.
At 8 am, Patrick turned the wheel again to Seth for his final stint in the car, still in P9. at a time that the leader of the race for most of the last 15 hours hours, the Spyker No. 86, was out of the race - again reshuffling the GT2 deck.
8 am to Finish
With nine hours still to go, the Lizards stayed focused and pushed as hard as they could to regain positions. By 1:00 pm, the attrition in GT2 had helped the No. 80 to move to fourth in GT2. For the last four hours of the race, Patrick and Johannes pushed, outpacing the field at times by 30 to 45 seconds, but the distance between the No. 80 and the No. 87 Ferrari in P3 was too great to close.
There was late-race drama from the leader No. 83 Seikel/Farnbacher Porsche, who had had gearbox problems since early in the race, as they struggled to keep the car on the track. With just 30 minutes to go, the crew of the No. 83 was able to repair a broken shift tower in the pit and the car was able to continue. But this last problem lost them a position to the GT2 winning car: the No. 81 Team LNT Panoz. Third in class went to the No. 87 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari and three different manufacturers were on the GT2 podium.
"This was one of the most dramatic races that I have ever participated in," said crew chief Tommy Sadler. "In GT2 alone, there were so many dramas unfolding constantly throughout the field. To have four manufacturers in the hunt for the lead over the course of the race and three on the podium shows how much support there is for this class and for endurance racing. We were disappointed not to finish on the podium, but I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish given the challenges that we faced. The crew did a phenomenal job in staying focused, thinking on their feet, and getting the car back on track, no matter what. What an amazing 24 hours!"