Flying Lizards – Chapter One
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”