Sports car racing fans will get to cheer on the Falken Tire team as they transition from the American Le Mans Series to the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship next season, and with a rare customer Porsche 991 on the way, the Derrick Walker-owned program is ready to make a significant step forward.
Coming off a win at the ALMS season and series finale at Petit Le Mans, the Japanese brand waged its most competitive effort to date, claiming the 10-hour/1000-mile event in style as its tires proved more than capable of taking on Michelin in dry conditions.
Up next for Falken Tire is the move to Porsche’s latest and greatest GT car for an assault in the TUDOR Championship’s GT Le Mans class, where it will face a factory presence from Porsche’s Core autosport, along with the rest of the factory giants.
Falken Tire has taken the odd win among victories and championships by BMW, Corvette, Ferrari and others, and despite its place as a privateer fighting among the auto manufacturers, Walker believes Falken’s elevated status with Porsche could help to level the playing field.
?In some ways, our relationship with Porsche will probably be similar in some ways to what we have now, but there are also areas that are new and closer than we’ve ever been,? Walker (RIGHT, with driver Bryan Sellers) told RACER. ?Falken value the relationship and they value the brand and the brand association of what it really means to be involved with Porsche, even though we are not a works team.
?For Falken, it’s a challenge a challenge and a privilege if you like, to be designing tires for the great company Porsche. So for them, they’ve had this appreciation for almost all the time they’ve been with Porsche and it’s only got stronger. The relationships of Falken North American and Porsche North America is very close which has clearly helped in our receiving the new 991.?
With their burgeoning relationship away from the racing circuit in mind, strengthening the competition bonds between Falken and Porsche for 2014 made sense.
?There’s a business relationship there, there’s a commercial relationship in the sense that they both work together and share brands,? added Walker. ?When it comes to racing, when you’ve got so much work that’s been put into your tire development around a Porsche street and GT style of car, then the continuity for Falken to carry that into competition is very important.
?So staying with Porsche, from the Porsche standpoint, you really probably have to ask them why they think Falken should get a car (laughs)! We’d like to believe that we’ve demonstrated that this company is a good partner on and off the track. So I’m sure any Falken person would tell you they’re pretty pleased that Porsche has approved them, the only customer car in North America that is not a works car.?
Due to the timing involved with producing the new 991-based 911 RSR, Falken Tire expects to miss the TUDOR Championship season opener at Daytona. Unless the company makes a quick decision to enter its 2010 Porsche chassis that won Petit Le Mans, Walker’s crew could find themselves at Porsche Motorsport in Germany assembling its next challenger while the 24-hour race takes place.
?We’ll be getting a 2014 car, a brand-new car, and it’s going to be built in Weissach and our employees will go over there and work in the final assembly,? he explained. ?That’s another huge concession by Porsche to help us. So again, it points towards the really close cooperation that Falken has with Porsche so that their employees will help build the car. The timing of when we’ll actually see the car is where it gets a little problematic. The 991 is still in competition this year, and they have more tests to do before the season ends.
?So what that would tend to suggest is as they continue to work on the current, call them prototypes, that are racing now, the final spec that will be ultimately given to all of us over here in North America will be finished up when the testing ends and the new cars start arriving. So it doesn’t look like we’ll see a car till after Daytona. Unfortunately, we will not be able to race at Daytona with the 991. Now, whether the company decides to race with an older car, whatever their plans are, I don’t know at this stage. But certainly, the 991, as we understand it, won’t be ready for us.?
Armed with a perception-altering win at Petit Le Mans, and with a Le Mans-winning Porsche 991 on the way, Walker says the motivation to take the Falken Tire team to La Sarthe is greater than it has ever been.
?I can’t speak for Falken but just knowing what I’ve heard them say and what I think is important to them, the interest to go to Le Mans inside the company is very strong,? he noted. ?That’s probably been something in the back of their minds ever since they got into the ALMS. So I think when you look at Petit Le Mans, if I’m Falken Tire and I’m looking at those results, you’re looking at trying Le Mans in a different light. You’re not saying that Le Mans is Petit Le Mans by any means; they’re two quite different tracks and two huge challenges.
?But I think when you measure, if you’ve got any benchmarks in Falken’s tire development, you’d have to say that their succeeding in the wet, winning twice in the street circuit. Now winning on a very traditional road course, one of the most challenging road courses of the season for a 10-hour race, I think you’d have to say that they’re beginning to make serious progress. They need those kinds of benchmarks to be able to think about going to Le Mans, and many of those benchmarks have now been achieved. I’m sure it’s piqued their interest but I think they’re going to be a lot more strategic in their planning.?