RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — Story by Race Chaser Online Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Performance Motorsports Network audio — Michael L. Levitt/LAT for IMSA photo —
TUDOR United SportsCar Championship driver Bryan Sellers and the rest of his GTLM counterparts did not compete at Lime Rock Park on the final weekend of July.
Like all racers, Sellers constantly has his eyes on the next prize. There’s still another week until he gets to hit the track again with Team Falken Tire at Road America.
But this year, Sellers isn’t rushing anything.
The Continental Tire Road Race Showcase is one event closer to the season finale at Road Atlanta. It’s one week closer to the end of a lengthy partnership with colleagues who double as family. Most strikingly, it’s one day closer to the unknown that lies ahead for everybody in the coming years.
Falken Tire announced in May that it was leaving sports car racing, thus ending the popular Porsche program run by Walker Racing at the conclusion of 2015.
And before a new beginning, there will be a bittersweet farewell.
“Saying goodbye is never easy to do, but especially when you’re in a position where you’ve been with a group of people for so long,” Sellers said. “All of a sudden, it’s something I’ve actually started to really dread having to do because I like going into the race track every morning knowing all the guys, being able to say hi, see our guys—the same faces we’ve had for so many years.”
Falken’s business decision was not predicated on an absence of worthy results. Since Sellers was paired with German Wolf Henzler full-time in 2010, the duo of close friends has led the team to six major sports car victories, including the last two Petit Le Mans and the Six Hours of The Glen in June.
The eye-catching blue and green Porsche 911 RSR has become a fixture in GTLM. Team Falken Tire carried on through the American Le Mans Series/Rolex Sports Car Series merger and now it touts the longest driver partnership in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship. As a testament to both performance and personality, Sellers was also named ALMS Most Popular Driver in 2012.
Sellers and Henzler haven’t accomplished this on their own though.
“I feel lucky to be able to say that for the past six years, I’ve woken up every morning and got to go into work with a bunch of guys that I like working with and I enjoy spending time with,” Sellers said. “These are all guys that I would go and have a beer with on a Saturday night even if they weren’t crewing on my team.”
That crew includes lead engineers John Ward and Brian Junger, crew chief Alex Zaric, and of course team manager Derrick Walker. But further behind the scenes, several mechanics whose names aren’t recognizable to race fans are responsible for working hard to keep the only customer Porsche in the field performing at its peak.
Falken’s decision to withdraw will force everyone outside of the team comfort zone and into new roles still-to-be-determined. Despite the unsettling reality that awaits them all in just four races, the entire operation is savoring this season. The GTLM triumph in the rain at Watkins Glen was their most meaningful conquest yet.
“For me, it was emotional because you want to say thank you to your guys; to the guys who have busted their butts for us for six years, the guys who have been there through the thick and the thin—when we’ve been good, when we’ve been bad, and haven’t complained once.”
If that winds up being the climax of the goodbye tour, then it’s one to be proud of. However, it’s worth noting that just because Falken Tire is withdrawing its support doesn’t mean they’re taking Walker Racing with them. Any degree of continuation is contingent on the right sponsorship package, but hope remains that the team could be saved in time for at least the 2016 endurance races.
“Anybody that follows racing knows Derrick and knows what he’s capable of. Sometimes, he is certainly capable of miracles. The guy is famous for doing what he’s done after all these years with all these teams he’s been a part of. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually did find something and find a way to make this thing be able to continue.”
Sellers and Walker have discussed the various scenarios that could present themselves, but he knows he can’t sit back toss coins into a wishing well. Focus doesn’t waver from the team’s task at hand, but Sellers has no choice but to actively pursue another long-term endeavor.
“At the moment, I would say that I’m just putting out as many feelers as possible and trying to speak with as many people as I can. I would say there’s nothing firm in place, but there’s a lot of conversations.”
“In our business and any business, everyone always says that you can never think the deal’s done until the papers are signed and I’m far from any of that happening,” he added. “But certainly, I’m trying to continue to put myself in a position to move forward from this.”
Team Falken Tire’s season has had its ups and downs. By Sellers’ own admission, they’ve been stricken with bad luck on more than one occasion, most recently a mechanical issue at Mosport that ended their race with only thirty minutes remaining.
As of now, they’re sixth in the GTLM points standings, trailing the No. 62 Risi Competizione entry by six points and the No. 3 Corvette Racing machine’s overall lead by a seemingly-insurmountable margin of 23. A high finish in class would be ideal, but Sellers and company are striving to achieve something more on a personal level.
Each team member holds the pen with which they’ll finish writing the current chapter of their respective careers. The Watkins Glen win was one of both emotional and sporting significance, but now it’s time for the two to scribe their storybook ending together.
“As a program, we want to continue to come out and show that we’re strong and show that we’re fighters and show that just because we’re going away, we’re not giving up.
“It’s a very fortunate situation to have been in and a very unfortunate situation to have to leave.”
Team Falken Tire hopes to go out with a bang at Road America, VIR, Circuit of the Americas, and Road Atlanta. But as far as Bryan Sellers is concerned, simply being involved with something so special in first place is a big victory in its own right.
“Formula One Racing PLUS” on the Performance Motorsports Network is hosted by Joel Sebastianelli and Steve Aibel. Listeners will be in the middle of the action with up to date results from Formula One, IndyCar and sports cars.
Catch “Formula One Racing PLUS” on Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m., and Sunday at 6 a.m. (all times Eastern)
Listen in to Sellers’ recent interview with Formula One Racing PLUS on the Performance Motorsports Network below: