Flying Lizard Motorsports has won just about all there is to win in sports car racing. Multiple ALMS drivers’ and team’s titles championships with Porsche and victories at almost every circuit they’ve raced fill the team’s resume. But a trophy case loaded with more than a decade of success isn’t enough to dull the sting from having their first win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona overturned.
The controversial last-lap battle between FLM’s Markus Winkelhock and Level 5 Motorsport’s Alessandro Pier Guidi resulted in a penalty that initially awarded GTD class honors to the Sonoma, Calif.-based team, but after a long period of deliberation by IMSA’s review board, the penalty was rescinded, elevating Level 5 to first place (LEFT).
By the time IMSA got its affairs in order, FOX Sports 1 interviewed the winning team, FLM’s No. 45 Audi R8 had been pushed into Victory Lane for celebratory photos, drivers Winkelhock, Spencer Pumpelly, Nelson Canache Jr. and Tim Pappas had visited the media center for a Q&A session, and all seemed to be right in their world.
As FLM team manager Eric Ingraham tells RACER, even for a team with so many major wins to its credit, going from the heights of winning the biggest sports car racing in America to handing the trophy back hours later is hard to reconcile.
“Spraying champagne never gets old, is what I’d say, and you don’t want it to be for nothing,” he said. “It’s a huge race, and only winning that race lives up to your expectations. Winning Sebring, winning Le Mans – they’re all big races, and Daytona is the same. From a personal, emotional involvement, there’s no way to not let it feel like a loss. You understand the rules – IMSA’s supervisory board and how that works – but we could use a little better understanding of when it works and where it works.
“It’s been unfortunate for our crew, our drivers and the series, too. Under what circumstances might we be thinking about this in the future? Where can we learn from this to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Those are the kinds of things I’d like to see addressed.”
Ingraham, like many others who watched the latter stages of the race, hopes the frenetic pace and hard driving between his drivers and those in Level 5’s Ferrari F458 won’t be forgotten amid the penalty debate.
“That to me is, unfortunately, what was lost in a lot of this,” he added. “There was some amazing driving going on in the final hours between our guys, Level 5’s guys, and they ran such a fast, such a clean race, so that’s the thing I hope people don’t forget. I wish we’d been able to settle it on track. With the penalty being called and then rescinded, unfortunately, it’s a distraction to how hard the racing was.”
Winkelhock and Pier Guidi made contact at the Bus Stop a few laps before their side-by-side dance through the Kink, leaving the silver and red R8 with damage that affected the Audi’s handling. In hindsight, Ingraham is amazed the German was able to keep going, much less fight for the win.
“The reality was it was several hours of pushing as hard as we could, and what Markus did with a hurt car in the last three laps was unbelievable,” he noted. “How he reeled in the Ferrari is beyond explanation. The right-rear suspension was bent, the wheel was broken; it had about four inches of flange broken off, so the fact the tire stayed on is an unbelievable thing. I’ve been on the timing stand to watch many incredible race finishes, and this was right up there for excitement.”
The best salve for FLM’s disappointment at Daytona would be to go out and win the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, but Ingraham says the negative outcome at the Rolex 24 won’t necessarily add any fuel to their competitive fire.
“That’s fair to say, but our troops don’t suffer from motivation,” he explained. “As a racer, you know how it is. If you’re not in it to win, you’re in it for the wrong reason. The best thing we could do – and there’s no bad taste in our mouths; we’re rational people – is to go out and win Sebring. The reality is, no matter what, championship-wise, it doesn’t really matter because it’s just a three-point swing for finishing second.
“The bigger thing is how many times do you get a shot like that to win Daytona? Andy Lally has a wrist full of Rolex watches, and I wanted Markus to get one, Nelson to get a second one… You just hate falling short on a big win like that when you’re so close. But that won’t make us do anything different at Sebring.”
RIGHT: The Level 5 team shows off “Sharpie Rolexes.” (photo courtesy of Townsend Bell)