Flying Lizards – Chapter One

dailysportscar.comOK, what is a Flying Lizard? I spoke with Johannes van Overbeek (left) and Seth Neiman (below) [writes Gary Horrocks], both principals of the team, and I hate to say it, but I’m still not real sure. I think the closest I got to a straight answer on a meaning for the name was an off-handed comment by Seth, something along the lines of, “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.” Never mind. I may not have much of a life, but what I do have, I think I’ll keep.

dailysportscar.comBefore the season started, news was out about this team, Flying Lizard Motorsports, that was going to tackle the GT class in the ALMS. Hey Seth, don’t take it personal, but I was among those that thought, hmmm, nice paint job, but….. Then came Daytona, and, well, at first they were good for some journalistic creativity (fancy way of saying seven year old humor). You know the stuff. Aero Reptile, Frying Gizzard… The list goes on.

But there was something at Daytona. Somewhat sneaky, but there they were, entered with two Porsches in the GT class. But their sleeper was a Cup Car with the standard GT running gear. Unfair advantage or creative thinking? Put it this way, the reduced frontal area of the Cup car was a natural for the banking at Daytona, and despite finishing second in GT, who knows what a few more laps might have brought the team.

Seth, who is a great fan of dsc remarked, “yeah, I remember reading the comment on dsc from Mike Fitzgerald after the race, asking him if he thought that the Orbit car could have won overall if they had a few more laps. He said, ‘I think we still might have been second. I don’t think we could have kept the Flying Lizard car behind us much longer’. That was a good start for us as a team. We knew we could make the car fast, but we were still missing some cohesiveness.”

dailysportscar.comThen it was on to run with the “big boys” at Sebring, and while the team did not tear up the track, they quietly came away with a solid fourth in class for van Overbeek, Darren Law (left) and Jon Fogarty, with the team car of Neiman, Lonnie Pechnik and Peter Cunningham classified 17th in class (although it was a DNF).

But nobody was ready, at least publicly anyway, for the result at the next race at Mid Ohio, almost three months later. van Overbeek and Law stunned everybody by bringing the obviously Flying Lizard home first in class. “Did I think we would get a victory in ALMS this early? No. I thought that I would be ecstatic to win one. I was pleasantly surprised that it came together as quick as it did,” commented Neiman about Mid Ohio. From then on, it has been a series of podium finishes and also a lead in the points chase in the highly competitive GT class, until the latest race at Road America.

dailysportscar.comSome of what makes this success so out of the blue is the fact that it is being accomplished without any of the glamorous names usually associated now with Porsche. “We have very good drivers,” stated Neiman. “Darren, Johannes and Lonnie (right) are really doing well, but unfortunately Lonnie is paired with me. How do they compare to the Porsche factory drivers? I don’t really know. If the factory drivers are slightly better, I think it is that they probably can get more out of a car that isn’t just right or they may be quicker over a killer qualifier lap, but is the difference significant? I haven’t seen it yet this year.”

“I think one reason the competition is so tight this year is that the equipment is equal. I wasn’t in this last year, but from what I have heard, it wasn’t that way then. I see no evidence of anyone having an equipment advantage over anybody else right now. I also think that the new RSR has helped even things out. Everybody had to start with the new car, and maybe what previously worked with the old car would not be the way to go with the new car. Sometimes it is a matter of luck, a timely yellow, but usually it comes down to preparation, teamwork and strategy.”

“Our approach and set-up has allowed us to be easier on our tires over the course of a race, while the others tend to work their tires harder. We work better on longer stints, while two stop races might benefit the others better. Some race circumstances have favored us and some have favored the others.”

As far as testing, Neiman explained, “we have done a fair amount. I would have to say that most of it is a benefit to the team and to get Lonnie and I more seat time, as we are both new to Porsches. I’m sure we made some progress as far as development and learning how to make the cars work, but most of the progress has been for the benefit of the team. As a new team, testing is important, even if it is to try out new tools that you buy. Have we tested more or less than other teams? That I could not tell you. I don’t know what other teams actually do. You hear teams saying they wished they had tested more, but then you hear that they had been at a track for three days. You can’t tell me they forgot the keys. I suspect teams test more than they actually let on.”

Racing in the ALMS is what van Overbeek likens to “an arms race. This series is fiercely competitive. You are always having to up the ante and put your best foot forward to be competitive.” Neiman agrees, saying “you had better get it right. To race against unbelievable teams like AJR is not easy. I’m pleased with our results so far and how well it has worked so far, but we still have a lot more to do.”

The team came about because of a common desire to go racing its own way. According to van Overbeek, “it was after our race at Watkins Glen last year, that we won with Rennwerks in the Grand Am. We weren’t getting where we wanted to be, so we decided to start with a fresh effort. It had more to do with the attitude on how to go racing. They were looking at it as a business first, with the racing second. We wanted a different approach. We felt that if we put the racing first, the business part would follow.” That approach brought in ShoreTel, eSilicon, Brocade and Michelin as business partners.

“Seth and Lonnie rented seats last year and I was a paid driver for Rennwerks. I had known Seth for a while and met Lonnie through Seth. As a group, we had the same idea on what it would take to be successful.” In fact, in a round about way, van Overbeek is responsible for getting Neiman into racing. According to Neiman, “Johannes’ father and I have a business relationship, and it was he that suggested that I try it out. I started out at Skip Barber and got hooked. That was in 2001. I entered my first pro race last year, and here we are.”

dailysportscar.comSo, in essence, the seeds for Flying Lizard Motorsports were planted at Rennwerks. The team itself was formed late in 2003, with drivers van Overbeek, Neiman, Pechnik along with chief engineer Craig Watkins (right), crew chief Tommy Sadler and team manager Eric Ingrahram (below, left) as the team principals.

dailysportscar.comNeiman said, “make no mistake. We are here for the long run. We like to have fun, but we are serious about this team. It must stand on its own. Our objective is to be the best sportscar team that we can be; to be the best that we are capable of. We are building for the long run and look to be racing for a long time, but we don’t know enough yet. We are so busy with the now that it is difficult to truly look into the future. Maybe in the 11 minutes we have off in the off-season we can get the future planned better. Le Mans? We would be delighted to have the opportunity.”

A key component of the team arrived after Sebring, when Thomas Blam (below) came on board as Chief Strategist.

dailysportscar.comHe compliments the rest of the team, many of whom have no experience in racing at this level. According to Neiman, “as we are a new team, we have had some different approaches to what we do. Some of the crew are not used to our approaches to planning. The teams that they have been with have not planned to this level. Craig (Watkins) is a good example. He took to expanding his horizons. It may not be the way he has done things in the past, but he took to it well. We took a fresh look at things because we knew we had to. We are up against some serious opposition.”

“The crew have worked so unbelievably hard to be great and to be cohesive. It takes a lot to plan on how to be a team, to behave like a team, but we still have plenty to learn,” continued Neiman. “We are highly motivated, but the business world doesn’t really prepare you for this. About the closest would be in the high-tech start-up business arena where there is so much pressure, both team and personal. Starting with a group of six, you expand to thirty, thanks to backing, and then attack a market. I guess that is close to what we are doing, but racing is so much different. So, who are we? We are racing people. We are high velocity people who like each other. The way I see it, we are on chapter one of our story, and I have a feeling that there will be many more chapters to come.”
Gary Horrocks


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