Bryan Sellers looks relaxed as the Team Falken Tire ALMS crew readies the #17 Porsche 911 RSR for qualifying later in the day. Bryan and his teammate Wolf Henzler are coming off strong, third place, podium finish at Sebring and looking forward to a successful final ALMS season before the merger with the Grand-Am Series.
Bryan Sellers Interview
Chet: How did you get started in motorsports? Are you from a family of gear heads or something you found on your own?
Bryan Sellers: My Dad karted when he was young, but didn’t really do it very long. Maybe did it until he was 16 and decided there ware other things he wanted to do. So I grew up seeing pictures of my Uncles and my Dad racing. When I was 9 years old we switched school districts, and I had a hard time in school. My parents wanted to have some sort of motivation to keep me getting good grades and keep my average up. So my Dad said why don’t you pick a hobby, and we’ll try to do that hobby as long as you keep your grade point average up. I said, ‘Alright, I want to go racing’. And he kind of looked at me and said, ‘Are you SURE you want to go racing…?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m sure that’s what I want to do.’ He said he why don’t you sleep on it for a night, and we’ll talk about it in the morning. So I woke up early the next morning and said, ‘Yeah, I want to go racing’, so that’s what we ended up doing.
Chet: I’m sure you had natural talent and early successes; when did you decide that this is real and it’s what you wanted to do for your life?
Bryan Sellers: You know right away; I knew right away – from the moment I sat in the kart and drove it the first time. You had the feeling like, ‘Okay, I don’t know if I’m going to be good at this, but this is what I want to do.’ It’s an instant addiction. You fall in love with the sport so fast that you immediately start to want to live every child’s dream of being a race car driver. It happened very fast.
Chet: At some point there’s a fork in the road as to what specific discipline of racing will be your career. How did that happen?
Bryan Sellers: For me it happened in 2005. I had just come off open wheel racing and had some good tests with some Champ car programs at the time. And those doors closed pretty quickly. It was like a slap in the face really fast. To think I had done the right things and been successful at the right times and the right places and knew enough people. But there were no jobs available. So I was fortunate enough for Dr. Panoz to take a chance on me in 2005 and put me in a sportscar program. And again for me that was very much like the karting. As soon as I drove the sportscar and we did the first race I thought, ‘Oh, okay, THIS is what I want to do!’ For me it opened my eyes to a different aspect of the sport that I’d never experienced. It made what was so much of an individualized sport up to that point be more team related. That was a cool aspect for me to experience and something I enjoyed very much.
Chet: So its been sportscars since 2005 with a few organizations. How did you come to Falken Tire and Porsche?
Bryan Sellers: This will be my 5th year with Falken and it was a little bit of dumb luck that I ended here. They started their program in 2010, and i’d heard a rumor about this tire company’s is going to come in and start an ALMS program. So I picked up the phone and called, and they said funny you should call, we’re actually going into meetings in a couple of hours to talk about driver selections to do a test. So it ended up being perfect timing, I couldn’t have literally hit it any better. A couple of hours later and I’d have been out of the deal, and a couple of days sooner and maybe they don’t remember your name. They called me for a test a couple of weeks later, and it went well, and I’ve been here ever since.
Chet: When you get behind the wheel at a new track or race, what things are the most difficult, and what is the most natural?
Bryan Sellers: I like going to new tracks. I really enjoy going to new tracks. Unfortunately we don’t get to do it so often any more. I guess it depends on how you look at it – fortunately or unfortunately. Fortunately in that you’ve been around long enough to have driven most of them. But unfortunately in that one of the things that’s cool is going to a new place and really trying to figure it out and see if you can find certain line techniques or things that other people didn’t find or haven’t found and use them to your advantage. But it’s been a long time since we’ve gone to a properly new track. So it will be cool to go Austin this year and be able to see what that’s like going to a new place again with the car and evaluate it.
Chet: Now you are the leading Porsche team in ALMS; does it feel that way?
Bryan Sellers: Well, the good thing about Porsche is when you buy a car, you’re part of their team. They do a great job of supporting all of their programs. Certainly now you want to do everything you can to be the Porsche team and to kind of open their eyes and be the ones that they come to when they need something. But they do a great job with their customer programs in making everybody aware of what they do. It’s a good relationship and a good family to be a part of.
Chet: Did Falken Tire ever consider Le Mans?
Bryan Sellers: I think that is something that’s always in the back of their mind, for sure. But in my opinion, which doesn’t relate to the company at all, is I think what happens is you can dedicate your funds to one place basically. It’s such a huge commitment to do the American Le Mans Series properly, budget wise, that it doesn’t leave much else to do Le Mans. When you go to Le Mans it adds another $1M to your budget. So as a company they have to ask themselves is our money better spent here or is it better spent there. And for sure it’s better spent here doing our program here.
Chet: And this program is to prove the tire, right?
Bryan Sellers: Right, for sure. It is a program based solely on the tires. How do we increase brand awareness and show that it is a high performance tire line.
Chet: In the last two years you’ve had some really great success – especially when conditions are not perfect – right?
Bryan Sellers: Yes, fortunately now we’ve had good success in multiple types of conditions – hot conditions and super wet conditions. You know, Mid Ohio, when we won in the rain was unbelievable. It was one of the greatest races I’ve seen. And to be honest, Wolf’s two or three lap run was one of the greatest two or three lap runs I’ve ever seen. It was just a very special moment and a special race. The tire was fantastic; it was better than anything that was there. But then we went to Baltimore, and we were strong there in the dry, hot conditions. We lasted longer than everyone else and were able to stay more consistent. I think for the first time we were able to show some diversity, which was nice for the program.
Chet: So does this weekend at Long Beach stack up similar to Baltimore in some ways?
Bryan Sellers: There so many similarities in the fact that it is a street course and that the racing is very similar between the two, but the tracks are so different. I think a lot of times people lump street courses together, but they’re not necessarily all the same. For instance, this is a much higher speed circuit than Baltimore.
Chet: Passing is difficult at both, right?
Bryan Sellers: Right, the one thing that is very difficult about street course racing is the actual passing itself. Because you’re so restricted by what you have to work with, the passing zones are always difficult. In an ideal world, the best racetracks for passing are ones that have a slow corner that leads to a long straightaway that leads to another slow corner. And you just can’t always make that happen, and the street course races make that very difficult.
Chet: How do you decide who plays what role at a given track or race. Who qualifies, who takes what stints?
Bryan Sellers: It’s very simple. At the beginning of the year we go through and pick out a group of tracks that we want to qualify at and a group of tracks we don’t want to qualify at and then we see how that stacks up against the other persons and then just go thru the schedule and pick what and where. Because ultimately when you get to this point that’s what makes the difference from place to place. Do you like place A better than place B, because if you do you’re going to be a little better at place A. And it’s just such minimal amounts that it doesn’t really matter who’s in where at what time. So it’s not so advanced. Wolf and I decide and we give it to the engineers and let them go thru it and see if they have any changes, but it ends up being our decision on who qualifies where basically. Wolf and I have been together four years so it’s something that’s become pretty easy. I know which places he wants, and he knows which places I want.
Chet: Do you have a favorite track?
Bryan Sellers: I have a couple. I really enjoy Sebring. I like a lot of places – I like Long Beach; I like Baltimore., and I love Mid-Ohio, but unfortunately we’re not going back to Mid-Ohio this year. But those and Watkins Glen. And they all fall into the same group with me. I can’t pick a favorite, but I love those events and those tracks.
Chet: From a car setup perspective, are Wolf and you pretty similar?
Bryan Sellers: There’s very rare times that we actually want something different from the car. Our priorities might be slightly different at times, but the actual overall feel and what we want from the car is nearly the same every time.
Chet: How about here at Long Beach, what’s the program?
Bryan Sellers: It’s my turn to qualify this weekend. The last couple of years, Wolf has done all of the street course qualifying because he really loves it, and this year he decided he wanted to try and finish one, which is good for me because I wanted to qualify one. It just worked out that this one was a perfect fit: after Wolf qualifying at Sebring, I could qualify here, and we can just stagger throughout the year.
Chet: Looking forward to the rest of the season, it seems like there’s a lot of strong teams; who do you think are the top competitors in ALMS?
Bryan Sellers: Certainly everyone here has an opportunity to win every race, and I hope that we’re included in that. For sure, the competition now is stronger than it’s ever been. You look and you can name off on any given day a group of cars that can win – could it be a Corvette, could it be a Ferrari, could it be the Paul Miller Porsche, could it be either of the BMWs? You name it and on that given day that team can win, but that’s what makes this series so difficult. You can never have a down day, because if you have a down day, you’re tenth. And even if you have a good day, sometimes you’re fifth. Because to win you have to have a great day, and that’s what makes it cool. That’s what makes this series so, so special.
Chet: Your platform, the Porsche 997 RSR is getting a bit old (note: the 997 RSR first raced at the Spa 24 hours in 2006), how do you think you stack up against the competition?
Bryan Sellers: I think we still have our tracks where we should be very strong, and we will have our tracks that this current model car will continue to fight with some of the other cars, and then we will circuits where we struggle more. I think basically what everyone is hoping with the new car is that it’s better all around. That it’s a little bit more balanced the whole way through; that we’re better on a broader range of circuits than being more specialized. And from what I hear so far that seems to be moving in the right direction.
Chet: What do you consider to be the Porsche’s best circuits?
Bryan Sellers: For sure anywhere where putting the power down is a priority we will be strong; the Porsche will be strong. So places like this, Long Beach, places like Baltimore, like Lime Rock, you know places where it’s a little bit tighter, a little bit slower. That’s where we’ll be at our best.
Chet: So looking beyond this year, are you happy about the merger of Grand-AM and the American Le Mans Series?
Bryan Sellers: Yeah, I think it was a little bit of a necessary evil, and I mean that in the best way possible, obviously. But I think that, could both series have survived independently? Yes, I’m sure they could continue and would continue to survive. But the bigger question ends up being would they ever thrive separately? And I think no, they wouldn’t. Certainly it’s going to be difficult; they have a lot of hard work ahead of them to make it right. But I think that they’ll get it right, and I think it will be better for the whole sport when they do.
Chet: Can you talk a little about what comes after this year for the team and for you?
Bryan Sellers: That I wish I knew. That seems to be the $3.5M question at the moment. What do they do? Do they stay; do they invest their budget another year? Have they accomplished everything they wanted to accomplish? I wish I knew that answer.
Chet: I know your schedule is very busy, but what do you do for fun outside of racing?
Bryan Sellers: The race schedule is packed this year, which is a good thing. The more you travel in our business the better off you are doing. My wife and I have actually started training to do a couple of triathlons. That’s been a lot of fun. We won’t do anything too terribly intense, right. Like I don’t have an ironman planned anytime in the near future. But we did our first sprint triathlon to get our feet wet, which was really cool and really eye-opening to how good of athletes these people really are. I mean you live in your world and you work out a lot and think you’re in good shape. And then you go and compete against those guys and you’re not even close. It’s another world. That’s been a lot of fun for me because in a lot of ways it very much relates to motorsports. It’s the same kind of mindset – can you overpower it; can you not overpower it. So it’s been good. It’s helped in the car as well.
Thanks, Bryan, and good luck in the race.
Bryan Sellers qualified the #17 Team Falken Tire Porsche in second place later that day. On Saturday, Bryan enjoyed a strong first half of the race, but the team suffered a 10th place finish after an unfortunately timed full course yellow followed by a late penalty on his teammate Wolf Henzler for avoidable contact.