Seth & The Lizards
dailysportscar.comSeth Neiman Tells How It’s Been, How It Is… & Perhaps How It Will Be

Flying Lizard Motorsports has been the most successful privateer team in the 2004 ALMS GT Class, and the thoughtful Seth Neiman is just the man to put that first complete year into perspective.

So Seth, would it be true to say that as a team you arrived without a huge fanfare, and that you simply went about proving what you could do on the track?

“Absolutely. We knew we were stepping up to what everything indicated was the premiere sportscar racing series. We knew the challenge would be a difficult one, and we knew we had a mountain to climb.

“We’ve got an expression here in the states: ‘All hat and no cattle’. We didn’t want to be like that. We admitted we were new, and above all it was always going to be a learning year.

“So that was the perspective a year ago. We performed reasonably well in our first ALMS year – it would be disingenuous to claim otherwise – but Lonnie, Johannes and I actually started out by entering three Grand Am races in 2003.”

Quite successfully, I believe?

“We entered the Six Hours of the Glen in 2003, and we came away with a class win (beating the Ferrari of Washington 360) – and scoring a win first time out shocked us. We were running as Rennwerks back then, before we’d even thought of becoming Flying Lizard Motorsports. Our second race was at Mont Tremblant, where we finished second (beaten by the Wagner / Martini Ferrari this time) – and then we decided to run at the Finale at Daytona, if only to gain some experience before the 2004 Rolex 24. We finished second again there."

So we need to ask you about the two series, and your view on starting out in one, yet ending up in the other.

“Well, once we’d raced in one series, until we got to Sebring, we wouldn’t really know about the other – except that we obviously listened to what other people were saying. But anyway, the changing GT rules and car specs. made it too hard predict what would happen in one series, as we made our decision for the 2004 season.”

Why do you go racing Seth?

“I want to see if I can be competent as a racer and I want to see how good we can be as a team. The bulk of the people here at Flying Lizards have careers in professional sportscar racing, and they’re here because this is what they do. They like the objectives of the team – and the target is really to find out how good a sportscar team we can be.

“We met a core group of people at Rennwerks (Tommy Sadler, Craig Watkins), and that was the foundation for this team.”

So the Lizards’ real race debut was at Daytona, for the 2004 Rolex 24 – and they came away with a spectacular third place overall, second in class (again – that made three seconds and a win in GA competition), just 6.97 seconds behind the Orbit Porsche. That was the classic Rockenfeller chase of Johnny Mowlem, the latter hanging onto the lead, just, despite lacking a rear window. What if…. the organisers hadn’t cut out five hours of racing? We’ll never know of course, but another three laps would have seen the GT class lead change hands, and the overall leader, the Doran DP of Bell Motorsports, was in real engine trouble… but ‘ifs’ don’t count in motorsport.

dailysportscar.comSo on to Sebring, and Flying Lizards’ ALMS debut. That was a rather special event, wasn’t it Seth?

“I’m sure it was Johannes who set our qualifying time, a 2:05.2, which meant we started fifth.

“Now you need to understand that we didn’t appreciate to what extent the TV and the media needed things explaining to them…"

Quick explanation that in a typical ALMS event, our Tom Kjos is trying to follow four classes simultaneously, and that ain’t an easy task……

“The same problems would apply if it was one class – there are still 25 to forty or more cars and teams, each with a story to tell.

“Now remember, we were a new team, racing at Sebring for the first time. We hadn’t anticipated that we’d wear out the front brakes – we were learning! But what we did know was the quickest way to solve that problem: we changed the complete calliper on each side.

“David Murry in the Petersen-White Lightning Porsche, with all his Porsche experience at Sebring - well, he knew that his brakes were going, but he spotted it early enough to back off and save them, rather than change them. So he slipped into the 2:16s – while we had Jon Fogarty at the wheel, with new pads.”

And at this point, Jon Fogarty – first sportscar race for him, first race for the new team – set a 2:04.353, the fastest legitimate GT lap of the whole meeting.

“Jon was nine and a half seconds behind, after 12 hours of racing – nine and a half seconds! At the rate he was catching Murry, we only needed another lap, two at the most.”

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So it wasn’t a podium first time out in the ALMS – but it was a very, very competitive fourth place… which is better than fifth isn’t it? All the top teams had been dialling in their new GT3-RSRs of course, and based on that fastest lap, Flying Lizards was one highly professional, fast-learning team.

Are you such a good team because you’ve been doing a lot of testing?

“We did a lot initially. You know, we ended up having long discussions with the ALMS management: they came to me because they wanted to know what we got out of testing, and what we didn’t. But it’s a fact that a fair amount of the testing was to help me to learn how to drive a Porsche.”

2004 was, of course, Seth Neiman’s first year of professional racing…..

“We chose tracks that would help us get the most development out of the cars, for the tracks we were going to race on this year.

“What we were up against was the Job team with cars set up so well that within 20 minutes of the first session at any given track, typically they were already running as fast as they were going to go.

“So we chose tracks that saved us set-up time when we arrived at each meeting, but we didn’t do nearly as much testing as people have speculated.

“For 2005, I’d anticipate that we’d be doing nine to ten days of testing under the new rules, and as a ‘second year team’, I’d say that’s enough for us.”

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Have you heard the rumour that Alex Job will be entering one car?

“Yes we have, and I don’t know if it’s true, but even if he has only one car, I’m sure it will be driven by some very special drivers, as usual. If it’s true about one car from Alex, it’s probably all about making the field more balanced.”

Seth Neiman is aware that discussions are often bubbling away just beneath the surface, regarding any perceived inequalities between the ‘factory’ and the ‘privateer’ Porsches, and on that subject, he had this to say.

“Our experience is that if there are differences between Porsches, they are remarkably small… remarkably small. They’re so small that they don’t determine the outcome of races.”

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So what happened to Flying Lizards’ form at the mid-season point?

“After Mosport (above), we had a rough time – but by the time we got to Petit Le Mans, I’m absolutely convinced that we had cars that were equal to or better than anything else in the class. In contrast, at Road America, Alex’s team was so much better than us. Being brutally honest, they adapted much better than we did to the taller Michelin tires."

dailysportscar.comMosport had seen pole position for Lonnie Pechnik (left), in the Seth Neiman #44 Porsche - while as early as Round 2 of the ALMS, the Flying Lizards had taken their first win, at Mid-Ohio. Then, post-Mosport, came the taller tyres...

“But the way we look at it is this: Alex Job Racing probably hadn’t been pushed as hard as we pushed them in the first half of the year – in fact all year – probably since they were racing against the BMWs. We pushed them into mistakes on their strategy and pit work, but as a result of that pressure, they raised their game. Alex’s team was under enormous pressure to not lose on the track, so they got better. But we put them under that pressure: just look at Timo (Bernhard) spinning at Petit Le Mans, and Marc Lieb crashing at Mosport.

“But although we got beaten in the end (to the GT Teams Championship), I’m very pleased with the fact that we got as close as we did. But we’ve looked at what we didn’t do in 2004 – and we’re doing everything now to make sure that we can take the next step up the ladder.”

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The Flying Lizards have a set approach to qualifying.

“Outside of deviations caused by the weather, the ALMS meeting is a set piece. Our target in the first session is to dial the car in so that we have an acceptable, raceable car, with good pace. Then it’s a matter of getting the drivers enough track time, but for us, qualifying is an afterthought. Our egos are at least as big as everyone else’s, but we do not invest an awful lot of time and effort in qualifying.”

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The Lizard team scored seven podium finishes in 2004 (missing out in the endurance races at Sebring and Road Atlanta), but for such a newcomer to professional racing, Seth Neiman is very pleased with the results that he and Lonnie Pechnik achieved….

“We had a few sixth places – but we were heading for a very good finish at PLM (below), then we ended up in the wall, after an argument with one of the Lamborghinis. I don’t think we were the only ones to lose out in that way.”

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With the clock ticking away remorselessly, we had time for just one more subject – Le Mans.

“We didn’t anticipate earning an entry in 2005, but Lonnie and I and four of the team went along in 2004 – a sort of whirlwind tour of the meeting, just 48 hours ‘on the ground’, to learn as much as we could about the race.

“We don’t want to go there and get tripped up by little things – but only our strategist, Thomas Blam, has been there before… although he does have a Le Mans victory to his credit.”

Thomas’s record at Le Mans reads as follows:
1980 - Bob Akin 935
1991 - Joest Racing 962
1993 - Joest Racing 962
1999 - Audi Team Joest - R8R - Finished third
2000 - Audi Team Joest - R8 - Finished 1,2,3
2003 - ACEMCO Ferrari - Leading the GT class when engine retired.

“I never did find an accurate track map or any in-car video, but we got to look at as much of the track as possible. We came to three conclusions.

“One, the Mulsanne, even with the chicanes, takes your breath away. Before the chicanes – my God, what was that like? Secondly, we had very little appreciation for what the run to Indianapolis was really like. And thirdly, having looked at the Porsche Curves, well, I’d like to get more than five or six looks at those curves before I find myself going out for the first time in the race.”

If 2004 was a remarkable year for the Lizards, 2005 – with a Le Mans trip thrown in – looks as though it has the makings for something even better. But there won’t be a fanfare or a fuss beforehand – just an even more ruthlessly efficient ‘racing machine’, from Daytona onwards.
MC

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