SEBRING - Back in November, Flying Lizard Motorsports made the switch from Porsche to Audi. And Thursday at the Sebring International Raceway, the team was out in full force trying to get a feel for the new cars.
"The biggest difference between the Porsche and Audi is the car's behavior," said Flying Lizards driver Spencer Pumpelly. "The Porsche is very good coming out of the corner, while the Audi is very good coming in."
"We're also learning that the Porsche was somewhat more compliant," Pumpelly added. "The Audi tends to run stiff, which means this bumpy surface is giving us some challenges."
Perfecting the art of speedy driver changes has been a hurdle as well. Because unlike in NASCAR, where teams only have to worry about configuring the seat for one driver, endurance races switch out multiple people, all with different seating customizations. We can fix it to exactly how we want it."
"They only have to fit one guy in there," Pumpelly said. "Whereas we need to have a variety of ways to maneuver in the car. Someone who wants the seat up closer means we need to adjust more than just the seat, pads and inserts need to be accounted for as well."
Switching from the Porsche meant losing the sliding seat capability.
"It was definitely a lot easier to make the driver change in the Porsche," Pumpelly said. "Because the seat slid and the belts were longer. But even the Porsche's new model is using a seat that slides a lot less. It's going to be much sturdier, which means its much safer."
But most importantly, the difference in lap times between the two cars is negligible.
"That's where they're very similar," Pumpelly said. "It's a different direction for us, but we're learning every time out. Hopefully we can be as successful in these cars as we were in the Porsche."
The changes for Flying Lizard don't just end with the cars, though.
Last spring, American Le Mans Series executives announced a pending merger with the Grand-Am Series. By September 2013, the merger was nearly complete, and in January, it was official, the 12 Hours of Sebring was now part of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. However, the International Motor Sports Association remained the sanctioning body of the series.
Getting the Flying Lizard team acclimated after the merger has been fairly painless, Spencer said. Much of that was due to Flying Lizard keeping nearly 85 percent of its crew.
"I think where we also level the playing field is that a lot of our drivers raced in Grand-Am and ALMS. So we're familiar with all of the circuits. And we're really just getting some of the crew guys who are used to the ALMS procedures up to speed with how things work now after the merger."
"It's a learning curve for everyone," he added. "But things are going really well."
A veteran of the Sebring Raceway, Pumpelly is the team's unofficial historian.
"This course used to be an airbase for the military during World War II," he said. "And parts of the asphalt haven't been repaved since the 1940s. Some turns are still from the original design. It's like a living track."
Pumpelly said the age and history of the course are part of its charm.
"It's always interesting for anyone who comes out here for the first time," Pumpelly added. "This track, the event in fact, was born out of guys who had a love for racing but couldn't find the infrastructure. So they were invited here."
And after an upbeat day of testing, Pumpelly said that he's excited about this year's race.
"It's great to see so many different mixes of cars. After coming to Daytona and this race and seeing all the teams, it's almost odd to look in my mirror and see new prototypes. It's awesome to see that, because we're all passionate about what we do."
But the track is really good so far. The IndyCar testing left a lot of rubber. It's just been great."