Utah: Tafel Racing preview

Tafel Racing to Use Salt Lake City to Keep Momentum from Season's Start into Second Half No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari Looks for ALMS Hat Trick, No. 73 Returns to Tafel Racing TOOELE, Utah, May 12, 2008 - After two GT2 class victories in the...

Tafel Racing to Use Salt Lake City to Keep Momentum from Season's Start into Second Half

No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Ferrari Looks for ALMS Hat Trick, No. 73 Returns to Tafel Racing

TOOELE, Utah, May 12, 2008 - After two GT2 class victories in the three American Le Mans Series races held thus far in 2008, Tafel Racing is enjoying a surge of momentum entering the Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park (MMP). The May 18, two hour and 45-minute feature comes after two straight wins in the Series for the No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC driven by Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) and Dirk Muller (a native of Germany living in Monaco) and precedes a seven week break on the schedule. A successful run at MMP can help carry early season momentum into the heart of the schedule for the Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.) owned effort. The Tooele, Utah-area track also marks the fulltime return of the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC to the Series. Open wheel and sports car standout Alex Figge (Denver, Col.) joins owner/driver Jim Tafel behind the wheel of the No. 73 for the remainder of the season.

The Bell Microproducts-backed No. 71 opened the season with a seventh at the 12 Hours of Sebring but rebounded to take victories on the street courses at St. Petersburg, Fla. (April 5) and Long Beach, Calif. (April 19). Muller, the 2000 American Le Mans Series GT2 champion, and Farnbacher currently lead the driver championship chase by six points while heading the privateer championship, the IMSA Cup, by five markers. The program trails in the team championship by two points to the three-car Flying Lizard organization. A "hat trick" would place the second-year American Le Mans Series team securely in the lead of each category with seven races remaining on the schedule. Round Five will come at Lime Rock Park, Conn. on July 12.

A new configuration to the Miller Motorsports Park awaits the Cumming, Ga.-based program. Unlike the proceeding two years of the event, the 2008 race will use the "outer loop" of the pristine facility. At 3.048- miles, the 15-turn design will be shorter than in 2006 and 2007. Regardless of the configuration, MMP's long, sweeping turns and wide-open runoff is a stark comparison to the tight, cement wall-lined street courses that the team and drivers faced on the way to the two victories. Tafel Racing Technical Director Tony Dowe (Cumming, Ga.) and the crew of both the No. 71 and the No. 73 will face a very different setup on the smooth Utah track versus the bumpy temporary courses. High speed aerodynamics will also be more significant as longer straightaways and faster turns allow for more time the Ferrari V8 is at full throttle.

A recent test at the team's home track, Road Atlanta, allowed for several key components to be tested for the Salt Lake City event. Perhaps the most critical component tested was newly signed driver Alex Figge. Figge returns to the American Le Mans Series after a two year absence to race in the Champ Car World Series (2007) and Grand-Am Daytona Prototype Series (2006). Figge closed his Champ Car career with that Series' final race at Long Beach on April 20. He last competed in the American Le Mans Series in 2005 earning a career-best third in the GT1 class at Portland. The Utah Grand Prix also marks Jim Tafel's return to the cockpit after finishing fourth at Sebring. The driver/owner has worked the sidelines for his team during the two wins but recommits himself to the cockpit at Salt Lake making his 14th career Series start.

Jim Tafel, Owner/Driver, No. 73: "You don't really realize how much you miss it as a driver until you aren't in the race. The only thing that got me through was concentrating on the efforts to win the last two races with the Bell Micro number 71. Being back as a driver I am really looking forward to starting off on the right foot with Alex and getting the results we want for the rest of the season."

Tony Dowe, Technical Director: "There really is no difference in 'mind set' for Miller Motorsports Park against Long Beach or any other circuit. We have just done a test at Road Atlanta where we tested a number of items for the Miller event and we came away very happy with our progress. The current ALMS testing format has been good because it has reduced the time that teams have available to test and this has placed a premium on sorting through the 'things' we feel we should test. So it's 'make a decision' and live with the results; good or bad. I suspect the number of 'things' we tested last year with the Porsche in trying to improve it has been, in hindsight, quite good for us because we have been able to pick out the problems that were primary and work with these items to a conclusion."

About the addition of the No. 73: "The return of the number 73 car is, on balance, a good thing for the team. Guys that were not working fulltime on the number 71 car now have a focus and so the spirit of workshop competition is back. It's also a much better 'economy of scale' to have two car than one."

Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71: "Salt Lake is a very wide and open race track. You are able to go over your limits to see where the limit is without risking too much damage to the car. If you spinout there are huge runoff areas and no holes or barriers which could hurt your car. The car only gets dirty. So that is good feeling and it makes it much easier. The track layout has changed a little bit but it is still the same, just a bit shorter."

About the momentum gained from the two victories: "After the two victories the team is highly motivated and the competition is looking up to us now. That is a very good feeling. But we should not be too lazy. We should keep working as hard as always and maybe we can do a hat trick. Tony and the guys are prepping an awesome car for Utah. I know it!"

Alex Figge, Driver, No. 73: "Jim and I split the car for the test day at Road Atlanta so that is more like a half a day for each driver. That is my only experience in a GT2 car so Friday and Saturday I will still be learning the ropes a bit. Hopefully in the race we can run a good pace and end with a good result."

Dirk Muller, Driver, No. 71: "For me it is the first time to Salt Lake. I am very much looking forward to getting one more track on my personal list. From the pictures, the track is really wide with wide runoffs. I am very open minded and from what Dom told me we will have a good weekend again. For sure the Ferrari needs a different set-up in comparison to a street track, which is done already by the team. We also collected very good data from our last test so I am very confident."

About maintaining momentum: "Originally there wasn't so much time between events with Le Mans, but now we have perfect time to go testing and to have a family break. For sure we need to carry the momentum as long as possible and with all the experience in the team we will do it. We need just to stay calm and to collect the points. The pressure is not on us." About his preparations for Salt Lake: "I am training a bit more in the heat of the day to get used to the heat, which I am expecting. The rest is just normal race prep."

-credit: tr

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Series ALMS
Drivers Dirk Müller , Alex Figge , Jim Tafel , Dominik Farnbacher