Another ALMS regular was Thomas Blam, Flying Lizard Motorsports’ chief strategist. He’s been the brains behind Mercer Motorsports’ 25-hour efforts since 2009, and directed 2011’s race with pit stops that averaged 20 seconds for fuel and four seconds for tires (“borderline Formula One wheel changes,” said crew chief Nico Castellaccio). Word has it Blam stayed awake at his laptop for the entire race, but his take was rather modest: “The drivers never put a wheel wrong the whole race, so my job was actually pretty easy.” He also shrugged off a close call with a Scion TC late Saturday afternoon: “Obviously, (the GT3 Cup) took one hit to the right rear wheel, (but it) suffered no damage other than the wheel.”
The team’s performance during the hectic nighttime qualifying session foreshadowed the success that was to come. Van Overbeek, on his fourth lap, achieved pole position with a time of 1:46.102, before the course was closed due to a car that flipped off track, a Shelby Daytona Coupe replica. That lap was nearly three-and-a-half seconds quicker than the next-best time posted by ESR-class Team Factory 48’s Radical SR3. Meanwhile, SNT Motorsports put the Ford GT fourth on the starting grid, behind an ESR-class Norma M20F but just ahead of the only other 911 GT3 Cup entered, a 2008 model run by Team G22 Racing/Truspeed.
The Right Stuff
Mercer Motorsports hasn’t been shy about improving its equipment. For 2009, the team used a 2009 911 GT3 Cup, which was equipped with a 420-hp, 3.6-liter flat six but weighed 88 pounds less than a 2010 GT3 Cup at stock weight. The team used tires by Yokohama back then, and the combination was good enough for the team to go 761 laps on its way to the overall win, the most laps the team has completed at the 25 Hours.
In 2010, the team upgraded to a new 2010 911 GT3 Cup, which weighed 2,640 pounds stock and used a more powerful 450-hp, 3.8-liter flat six. Michelin tires were equipped instead of Yokohamas, and the new, French rubber took about a second off each lap, said team owner Scott Mercer. Anti-lock brakes were also added for 2010 and retained for 2011.
The 2010 GT3 Cup was upgraded further for 2011. The most notable modification (and the most talked about) was a solid-rod-operated sequential gearbox from a 997 GT3 RSR in place of the GT3 Cup’s cable-operated Hollinger sequential gearbox. In addition to faster shifts and lighter weight, said three-time Mercer Motorsports crew chief Nico Castellaccio, the new gearbox improves axle geometry (the RSR gearbox’s main shaft is below the pinion shaft, moving drive flanges above the differential and reducing CV joint angle, added Flying Lizard engineer Craig Watkins), which in turn improves their reliability. For downshifts, drivers still had to blip the throttle and use the clutch.
Heavy duty GT3 RSR components were also used in the suspension, said Castellaccio. This resulted in a “hybrid” suspension setup consisting of regular GT3 Cup, Grand-Am GT3 Cup, and GT3 RSR parts. All four corners used Grand-Am Cup lower control arms, and RSR upper links were used in the rear suspension. Grand-Am Cup adjustable front and rear “tuning forks” (control arms) that reduce dive and squat were used in place of the regular, non-adjustable units, and all four corners used Flying Lizard Motorsports-designed toe links, which are said to be stronger than stock Cup units. More importantly, “their design allows the mechanics to more quickly and accurately set toe [angle],” Watkins remarked.
While the team was quiet about what, exactly, was powering its “450-hp” GT3 Cup, rumors swirled. Numbers closer to 500 were tossed around, with some suspecting a 3.8- or 4.0-liter RSR engine was under the decklid. Others wondered if the car had a Daytona Prototype flat six without inlet restrictors. Whether Mercer’s Cup had its stock 450 hp on tap — as team personnel mentioned — or something closer to 500 hp was never clear.