St. Pete: Tafel Racing preview

Tafel Racing Revels in Challenge of Early ALMS Schedule Entering St. Pete No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari Prepared for St. Petersburg Street Fight St. Petersburg, Fla., March 31, 2008 - Despite being just the second race of the American Le Mans...

Tafel Racing Revels in Challenge of Early ALMS Schedule Entering St. Pete
No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari Prepared for St. Petersburg Street Fight

St. Petersburg, Fla., March 31, 2008 - Despite being just the second race of the American Le Mans Series season, Saturday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) marks the heart of one of the most difficult portions of the 2008 schedule. The first three races of the season take Tafel Racing from the Series' longest race to its shortest and to two of its three street courses. The challenge of the schedule provides a unique test for the No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC and its drivers Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) and 2000 Series GT2 Champion Dirk Muller (a native of Germany now living in Monaco). However, these are the kind of challenges that the Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) owned team revels in.

Street courses like the 1.8-mile, 14-turn course along the Tampa Bay offer a distinctive challenge to the permanent, natural terrain circuits that make-up the bulk of the schedule. Street courses are narrow, are lined with concrete walls and are typically bumpier than dedicated race tracks. They demand different approaches in car setup and in how drivers race. The one hour, 55-minute event becomes a street fight with survival being critical as any small mistake will leave the car damaged and out of contention. While victory is the goal, the season-long championship is paramount and fewer mistakes mean a higher finish.

The first three tracks on the schedule put a high amount of stress on the cars and the teams. While other teams struggle to ready their GT2 class entries for the abusive and hazardous circuits, advanced preparation for this streak has allowed the Cumming, Ga.-based effort to prepare not only for these events but for the next several months as well. Organization, a professional approach and a long-term strategic plan are critical to success during a tight and varied schedule. Technical Director Tony Dowe (Cumming, Ga.) and owner/driver Jim Tafel bring that forward- thinking approach. Over the two weeks since Sebring, the No. 71 Bell Micro Ferrari, which finished seventh at the season-opener, has been fully rebuilt after 12 grueling hours of racing. The No. 73 Tafel Ferrari, which finished fourth at Sebring, has also undergone its rebuild.

While the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC undergoes pre-Le Mans preparations, the No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari will be the team's sole representative at St. Petersburg for the second-year operation. Farnbacher and Muller will share the Michelin Tire-shod car as they will for the remainder of the season. Farnbacher raced to a sixth-place finish in 2007 co-driving with Jim Tafel. Muller will be making his debut on the St. Petersburg track having not started his season until the Long Beach round in '07. In 2007, Tafel Racing took fifth with the No. 71 and sixth with the No. 73 here at St. Pete on their way to third in the Team Championship.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg can be seen live on ABC starting at 1:30 pm (ET), Saturday, April 5. Live timing and scoring of each on-track session and the American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast can be found at


Jim Tafel, Team Owner/Driver, No. 73:
"Preservation of capital is the first thing you think of at a street race. After doing three street races in a row last year and coming away unscathed with two cars per race, Tony said he'd never seen that happen. We made up for it at Detroit but I learned a lot from that. You have to be thinking ahead. When you are on the track and you have nothing but concrete barriers on both sides of you, the object is to win the race but you can't win it if you don't finish it. I believe that we have in our quality of drivers and crew what it takes to survive and succeed in these two street races.

Tony Dowe, Technical Director:
(About work done following Sebring): "There really was not very much damage repair after Sebring. The Ferrari came through the race very well. Most of the work revolved around repairing the damage we did to the car when we were fixing it after we had to change the front splitter."

(About preparations for St. Petersburg): "There are always a number of different setup changes that a low grip street circuit requires. You can remove a lot of weight from the car without the need to have extra lighting and such that a car prepared for Sebring requires. I really look forward to races like this; very little grip, a circuit that is always changing as it builds grip, lots of caution flags and the need for instant decisions. It's a shame it's only one hour and fifty-five minutes."

Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71:
(About racing on street courses): "I love street courses! It is a big challenge for a driver because the walls are so close and you can't see what's behind the corner. That gives me a kind of kick."

(About racing at St. Pete with the Ferrari F430 GTC): "I think the Ferrari will be good in St. Petersburg but it will be tight between the two makes [Ferrari and Porsche] in that race. Our Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari is very quick during the race pace, as seen in Sebring. So, the key to win the race is to be in the front on the start and lead the race. The main key is the pit stop because it is going to be hard to overtake on the race track on that tight course. Dirk and me will rock like in Sebring; just without any problems."

Dirk Muller, Driver, No. 71:
(About making the transition from the traditional round course at Sebring to the temporary course at St. Pete): "To be honest, a modern race car driver has to be able to make the transition between a track like Sebring and one like St. Pete. You must be open minded and you have to be quick on all sorts of race tracks. Personally, I very much like the street circuits and I am looking forward so much to racing at St. Petersburg. But you still need to know that the walls are very hungry and they want to eat you!"

(About the approach to running a sprint race versus an endurance race): "It is like day and night. For the sprint races you need to be much more aggressive."

(About learning a new race track): "First of all, the whole Tafel Racing team and Dominik give me the right input and support to get to know the track and its secrets. And, for sure, I do really like these tracks. So, knowing that I learn new circuits very quickly, I am looking forward to get one more track on my list."


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Series ALMS
Drivers Dirk Müller , Jim Tafel , Dominik Farnbacher