John Wright and his team from Wright Motorsports in Batavia hosted a group of about 60 Ohio Valley Region Porsche Club members for an open house.  On display in the middle of the shop is the Porsche GT3 that Wright will crew for the renown Flying Lizard Team in their assault on the famed 24 hour race at Daytona January 28-29, 2012.  Wright Motorsports finished third in the 2009 race with BJ Zacharias, Joerg Bergmeister and Phillipe Martien driving; the team led the race several times and was in a position to take the win right up to the checkered flag.  This year's program combines some of Porsche's top teams and talent to challenge for the top step on the podium.
 
The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona is the 50th running of the race that starts the season in North America.  The inaugural race was the Daytona Continental in 1962, a timed race for sports cars, GTs and prototypes that was won by Dan Gurney in Lotus 19 powered by a Coventry Climax engine.  As the 1962 race wound down with Gurney enjoying a large lead over the second place car his Lotus began to fail from the strain of the hours of intense racing. Fearing the car would expire before he could complete another lap Gurney stopped the car at the top of the banking just shy of the finish line, when the clock ticked past the hour the race could end Dan put the Lotus in gear and eased it over the finish line using the starter motor and claimed victory.  The race shifted to the present day twice around the clock format in the mid sixties and has been a fixture on the international racing calendar ever since and a playground for marques like Ferrari, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, Jaguar and Porsche.   
 
Porsche has put its stamp on the Rolex 24 with wins throughout the history of the event in both the GT and Prototype Classes with models like the 917, 911 and 962.  Last year the Flying Lizard Team took a flat six cylinder powered Porsche Riley and dominated the Prototype class for hours, it looked like the race would be a runaway for the Sonoma based team and then an on track incident with a slower car started to unravel the plan and the team fell back through the standings as more problems surfaced as a result of the damage and slowed the car.  For the  2012 edition of the race Flying Lizard has returned to their roots, fielding a car in the GT class in partnership with Wright Motorsports.

The No. 45 will be run in conjunction with Wright Motorsports. The driver lineup is Joerg Bergmeister (Germany), Patrick Long (USA), Mike Rockenfeller (Germany), and Seth Neiman (USA). Bergmeister and Long are Porsche factory drivers and co-drivers of the team's No. 45 Porsche in the American Le Mans Series. Rockenfeller has been an Audi Factory driver since 2007; this will be his first race with the Lizards since the 2004 Rolex 24, in which he finished second in GT in the No. 74 Porsche. Neiman is Flying Lizard team principal and drives the team's No. 44 ALMS Porsche.
This will be Flying Lizard's fourth year at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. In 2011, the GT team fielded their first prototype: the No. 45 Porsche-powered Riley DP. After a promising start from the pole (Bergmeister) and having set the fastest race lap, the No. 45 was retired at hour 23 after a challenging race. In 2010, the No. 67 Flying Lizard/TRG Porsche GT3 Cup finished second in GT. In 2005 the No. 75 Porsche finished thirteenth, and in 2004, the No. 74 Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 Cup was second in GT and third overall.
 
Grand-Am sanctions several pre race tests for the competing teams prior to the race, Wright Motorsports had the Flying Lizard car there and got the team dialed in for the race.  At the open house John Wright gave the crowd a tutorial on differentials and how they affect car set up and tuning and some of the changes made to the car to achieve the desired results.   The detailed explanation of the feedback from the Porsche "factory shoes" Pat Long and Joerg Bermeister was fascinating as John described how they can feel when the differential is loading the wheels on the acceleration side or unlocking the drive wheels as the decelerate and turn into a corner.  A series of graphs are produced by the onboard telemetry that the team layers over track maps and pinpoints right where the rear wheels can start driving simultaneously to get the car off the corner most efficiently.  With the wide variety of turns at Daytona that also include varying grip levels due to different types of pavements and the amount of sand blown across the course throughout the race, any advantage gained will add to the incremental gains needed to be victorious in international endurance sports car racing.  
 
Flying Lizard left Daytona after a successful test of the No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. Over the three-day test, drivers Joerg Bergmeister (Germany), Patrick Long (USA), Mike Rockenfeller (Germany), and Seth Neiman (USA) took the Porsche through its paces in preparation for the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona race, January 28-29.
 
Driver Perspectives after the test at Daytona.
 
Patrick Long: "The driver objective for Daytona test days is two-fold: get a balance with the Porsche and get comfortable with the car. By the time we get to race week, we need to have completely sorted through ergomomics issues and be 100 percent with the car. This week, everything came together seamlessly: with Flying Lizard and John Wright's team we worked through all of our objectives."
Long added, "It's a huge GT field this year. I'm confident that the Porsche will be competitive, but of course we won't really know how things stack up until the race. Over the last few days, we stayed focused on our own program; I think we're well on our way to having a solid car that drives well through the entire stint."
 
Mike Rockenfeller: "It's great to be back at Daytona. It's been a while since I've driven a Cup car so it was important to have the time to get used to it again. We had time this week to try a lot of things on the car. We've still got some work to do to get to race setup, but overall I'm happy with what we accomplished. GT competition is really strong: both internally with all of the other Porsches and the other manufacturers. It's going to be a wild race. We need to have an easy car to drive and find our rhythm early on. I'm happy to be back here and with the Lizards again."
Joerg Bergmeister: "We are still learning the car and the tires but we made a lot of progress over the test. The competition in GT is going to be tough: there are over 20 Porsches alone and a lot of other manufacturers with good cars and lineups. All signs point to GT being even more challenging than the DP class was in 2011."
 
Flying Lizard at Daytona
 
2012 will be Flying Lizard's fourth year at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. In 2011, the GT team fielded their first prototype: the No. 45 Porsche-powered Riley DP. After a promising start from the pole (Bergmeister) and having set the fastest race lap, the No. 45 was retired at hour 23 after a challenging race. In 2010, the No. 67 Flying Lizard/TRG Porsche GT3 Cup finished second in GT. In 2005 the No. 75 Porsche finished thirteenth, and in 2004, the No. 74 Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 Cup was second in GT and third overall.
Bergmeister has won three times here: in GT in 2009 (with Patrick Long), in GT and overall in 2003, and in GT in 2002. Rockenfeller won overall in 2010.
 
About Flying Lizard Motorsports

 
Flying Lizard also recently announced their return to the American Le Mans Series for the ninth season and the fourth consecutive season for Bergmeister and Long together in the No. 45. The Lizards have won two ALMS GT team championships (2008 and 2009) and have finished in the top three each year since 2004. The team has secured three ALMS GT drivers' championships: Bergmeister and Long took the title together in 2009 and 2010 and Bergmeister with Wolf Henzler in 2008. Bergmeister is five-time ALMS GT drivers' champion (2005-2006 and 2008-2010) and Long has won the title three times (2005, and 2009-2010), all with Bergmeister. Bergmeister is the only driver in Grand-Am and ALMS history to win the championship in both series in the same year (2006).
 
Flying Lizard has also competed in the 24 Heures du Mans from 2005 through 2011, finishing third in 2005, fourth in 2006, sixth in 2008, and sixth in 2011.  The privateer team is based in Sonoma, California
 
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Bergmeister has won three times here: in GT in 2009 (with Patrick Long), in GT and overall in 2003, and in GT in 2002. He was also the Grand-Am DP champion in 2006. He reflected on the famous circuit: "It's great to be back at Daytona. I've had a lot of success here: three wins, including one overall. And of course, last year, being on the pole in the No. 45 DP was definitely a rush. We've also had some tough breaks at this track. In 2011, we were the fastest car on track but weren't able to translate that into results and in 2010 we had a strong lead until a problem at the end knocked us back to second."  Bergmeister and Long have not driven with Rockenfeller under the Lizard banner but the three are long-time colleagues. Over his career, Rockenfeller has won numerous elite distance races including the Rolex 24 (overall in 2010), the 24 Heures du Mans (overall in 2010, GT in 2005) and several championships including the 2008 Le Mans Series title. In 2006, Rockenfeller and Long drove together in a DP and won twice overall during the Grand-Am season. "Rocky is a great guy and a very good friend," continued Bergmeister. "He, Patrick and I last drove together in 2007 but we know each other really well and should be able to hit the ground running at the test in January."
 
Flying Lizard chief strategist Thomas Blam added, "This is such a big event. We've never won here, but we've come close: after taking a break for a few years we came back to finish second in 2010, and last year had a superfast car. Of course, I don't think we will ever forget our first year here in 2004 (the last time Rocky drove with us) when we came within seven seconds of winning in class."  Blam continued, "We're pleased to be working with Wright Motorsports on the program; I'm confident we'll have a solid entry. GT is certainly going to be competitive: there are numerous new entries since we last ran GT in 2010 -- including Audi and Ferrari. It should be a very exciting race and we are very happy to be back."
 
Rolex 24 At Daytona is televised on SPEED  January 28-29.  Check your local listings for times and watch for the Flying Lizard Wright Motorsports No. 45 Porsche GT3.
 
Jennifer Hart and Linda Mansfield contributed to this article.  Photos from Wright Motorsports Open House courtesy of Mike Dreher.