Dempsey is currently preparing for his return to the Circuit de la Sarthe for this weekend’s 90th running of the historic 24 hour race. In 2009 Depsey had his first taste of this classic race and to say it whetted his appetite for more would be an understatement. Hearing him talk about his past and current participation is like hearing a teenager talk about their first date, his thoughtful and knowledgeable answers occasionally punctuated by an enthusiastic giggle.
His team’s late and unexpected switch from a Mazda LMP2 car to a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the GTE AM class has gone smoothly and Dempsey says he is relishing the partnership with Porsche both on and off track. Indeed, Porsche have been quick to capitalize on their partnership with their new famous driver releasing a slick promotional video that you can see here..
Dempsey and his Dempsey Del Pierro team are competing in this year’s American Le Mans series and for Le Mans have partnered with the German based Proton Competition team for track and logistical support. Also new for the team’s Le Mans effort is American factory Porsche driver Patrick Long who will co-drive with Dempsey and his racing partner Joe Foster.
This makes the squad the only all-American driver line-up at this year’s Le Mans, and something the team is naturally very proud of. Long says he has gelled very quickly with the team, a fact borne-out by him setting the 3rd quickest time in qualifying for the race, his vast experience with Porsche and Le Mans without doubt a valuable asset for the team.
Merely finishing the race will be an achievement in itself but Dempsey, Foster and Long exude a quiet confidence that they have all the ingredients to be able to challenge for the class win. I asked Dempsey if he could see him and the team making Le Mans and annual event on their racing calendar?
“Yes, we would love to be able to do that. It’s such a great event, and to be able to come back here and experience this and to improve, and the more experience you have I think the better results you can have, so yes, this is something we would love to do if we’re fortunate enough to do it every year, yes.”
Porsche will also return to sportscar racing next year with an all new LMP1 car. Looking back to their Le Mans winning days the Stuttgart manufacturer has a history of selling these cars to customer teams to race. I wondered where Dempsey saw his team’s long-term future? If say in a few years, the opportunity arose whereby they could race in the LMP1 class for overall Le Mans/World Endurance Championship wins or would they prefer North America’s top-tier Daytona Prototype category in the United Sportscar Racing series?
“It would be great to race more in Europe,” said Dempsey. “WEC is a great event, we would love to be a part of that. Of course that’s all contingent upon sponsors and funding it properly so you can do it correctly and to expand our program.
Whether we would do it in an LMP1 car? Probably not, LMP2, yes, it would be fun to go back and do that, and I do love the GT class, too. It’s a very competitive series. It’s very rewarding and very exciting to be a part of, and there’s a lot less there in the LMP2 program that I would like to go back, and if I could test properly, see how competitive I could be. If I can’t do that I’m very, very happy with the program that we have going right now.”
You can read highlights from the media conference call with Dempsey, Foster and Long below.
Q: Can you just put into words what racing at Le Mans means to you and your team and how special it is for yours to be the only all-American driver lineup?
PATRICK DEMPSEY: Well, it’s an incredible honor to be over here, to be invited to race in this event, and I think anybody who’s a road racer wants to race here. Having done it in the past and coming back and doing it with an all-American driver lineup with Patrick Long and Joe Foster with a great team at Proton-Dempsey-Del Piero, it’s a tremendous honor. It means everything to us, and it’s humbling, it’s exciting, it’s inspirational, and it’s so moving to be a part of this event. It’s a dream come true to come back here.
JOE FOSTER: Well, I think definitely the program this year has taken a step up in terms of our relationship with Porsche and ALMS and at Le Mans. We obviously had a pole position and both cars led for quite a while at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Patrick did a fantastic job early in the race coming back from two laps down and it gave Andy a chance to win. We actually started that last lap in the lead and actually got helped off the road by a prototype.
But it’s been a great year, and the form that Patrick Long showed at the Le Mans test day and the 77 car that we’ve partnered with Proton on is also really encouraging, so we’ve definitely taken a step up in terms of the competitive level of the team this year.
Q: Patrick (Long), you were somewhat of a late addition to the driver lineup, replacing team principal Michael Avenatti, who was unable to compete due to several non-racing business commitments. That being said, you got up to speed pretty quickly at the Le Mans test on June 9th, where you ran the third fastest lap. You’ve obviously been part of winning lineups at Le Mans before. How would you assess this team’s chances for success?
PATRICK LONG: Yeah, it’s been great so far. You know, initially when I showed up to Misano I didn’t know quite what to expect. I got drafted in pretty late, and jumped in the car, found a good baseline. The team that we have linked up with in partnership is Proton-Felbermayr, and these guys really know what they’re doing. Once Patrick and Joe got in the car and picked up the RSR really quickly, I started to feel really positive about our chances, and that was sort of capped off by the test that we just had two weeks ago.
That was one timed lap that we were able to get because of all the rain, and it was good enough for a third and top of the class other than the two Aston Martins, who were sort of a few seconds out in front of everybody. I’m really confident, we’re having a lot of fun but we’re working hard in between, and that’s what it’s all about. These guys know how to balance the two, and we’re really, really confident that we can get up on the podium.
Q. Patrick Long, what do you see in Patrick Dempsey as a driver, and I know that obviously he’s got another career that people know him for, but how would you assess him as a driver and perhaps is he underrated because of the fact that this isn’t kind of what he’s most well-known for.
PATRICK LONG: Yeah, no, he definitely is underrated. I’ve watched him and Joe partner up and go very seriously at racing a little bit from a distance. I got to meet Patrick ironically the first time he came over here to Le Mans in 2005 and since then we’ve kept in touch.
Working alongside him has certainly been a different experience. He’s a very intense competitor, very focused, but what I underestimated is his fitness. We went testing in Misano, and the team was worn out. They were looking at me, I’ve run with them previously over here in Europe, and they were like, we’re out of tires, we’re out of fuel, and I’m like, this guy still wants to drive and he’s here to put the numbers up and not just show up and look the part.
It’s been a tremendous eye-opener for me, and it’s made my job easier. He’s very analytical. We do a lot of work on the data, talk a lot about the style. We’ve had Joe as a great teammate and partner, but with this RSR it’s new to both of them, so it’s been an has been an honor to sort of share what I know about this car after making it my office for the past decade. So it’s a special 10th Le Mans for me.
Q. Patrick Dempsey, could you talk a little bit about the transition to Porsche this year after spending so many years with Mazda?
PATRICK DEMPSEY: Yeah, we had a great run with Mazda. Mazda had been incredibly supportive through my career and getting me to this level at this point in my career. It was a great pleasure working with them. It’s unfortunate that the program couldn’t continue. We wanted to move forward with the LMP2 program and the engine just wasn’t ready for this season. We were already down the road with the documentary, so we were committed to coming, and Porsche has always been wanting to do things together and out of our obligation with Mazda we didn’t want to do that until we were clean and clear with respect to that contract, and it’s been an absolute joy to drive the Porsche. It is a blast. I love it so much.
My first car was a 1963 356 Porsche Convertible that I still have, so I’ve always had a fond, I just love the brand and what it represents, and now to be able to represent Porsche here at Le Mans in the RSR is such a tremendous honor, and it’s stepped up my game. It’s forced me to step up because what the brand represents and what the car represents, it’s won more races than anybody else here. It’s the 50th year for them, and to be next to a Porsche and to be driving a Porsche, it’s a driver’s car, it’s a tough car to drive, but once you learn how to sort of go with it, it is really rewarding. It’s just — I’m having so much fun.
I really love it and Patrick has been someone I’ve known, my first encounter here at Le Mans five years ago, meeting him on the plane and watching him race, he’s such a great man on and off the track, and he’s been so really supportive in getting with his understanding of the car and how to get us faster, it’s, you know, I can’t stop smiling, and I want to get in the car. That’s the thing. I love being in the car, and our test was really good.
It challenges you in the right way, and I’m really glad we had the experience last year with the LMP2 car because it helped this transition going into the RSR. I think it made a much smoother transition. A lot of things were similar in many ways. The driving style is different than a prototype and you have to get used to that, and there’s still a lot of work to do. I think just looking at the data and just slowly chipping away at certain segments in practice tomorrow night and that stuff, we can improve our pace and just be consistent with that. And our mantra is fuel and tires and one lap at a time, and we’ll see where we end up.
And driving over here with Joe Foster, so much sacrifice has gone into getting this program up and running, and his commitment to me and the team, it’s really nice that he’s here. It’s really quite funny because we’re in our hospitality, right, getting ready to have dinner and we’re all in different corners on cell phones having this conversation and communicating. But it is the camaraderie and representing Porsche that I just truly love, and I’ll stop talking now. Thank you.
Q. Joe, Patrick has touched on it a little bit, but needing to make the transition from the duel program last year to now the Porsche effort this year, can you talk about how the partnership with Proton became available and what you guys have been able to do with them?
JOE FOSTER: Absolutely. I mean, the Proton guys are obviously very, very skilled and experienced with the Porsche, and I think at this level when you’re transitioning from another manufacturer to a car like the Porsche, it’s important to know what you know and also know what you don’t know and bring in the experts and make sure that you get the best information, because at this level there’s not the time or the funds or the logistical bandwidth to figure it out. You’ve got to make sure that you get it figured out pretty quick as regards the car.
So hence you see Andrew Davis and Andy Lally driving with us in ALMS, obviously Porsche experts, and having won WEC races and won Le Mans before, it was important that we partner with a team and a driver in Patrick Long that understands the RSR and how to prepare one and how to run one and the ins and outs, so that’s where the partnership came from. And Chris Reid and everybody at Proton have really been helpful to get us up to speed operationally, as well.
Q. Patrick (Dempsey), when you first started racing, was this one of your ultimate goals, to race at Le Mans?
PATRICK DEMPSEY: Oh, yes, we would sit around the kitchen or in the trailer dreaming about when we’d go to Le Mans and getting on the podium. I think anybody who’s a road racer or who loves racing wants to come to Le Mans and experience it. So this has always been a dream and a goal. So to come back here — it was a dream come true and a turning point in my life to have done it in 2009, and I haven’t had a win yet, and I would love to if I could get my first win to be at Le Mans, it would just be so, so special. It would be deeply moving certainly. I know the drivers on the team can do it.
Q. Patrick (Dempsey), there’s been a lot of comparison with you and Steve McQueen because of your acting backgrounds and so forth. First of all, do you agree with that, or maybe is it a burden for you as you begin to build your racing career?
PATRICK DEMPSEY: Well, Steve McQueen is such an iconic figure. It sometimes is a bit of a shadow. There’s no way you can live up to that kind of expectation. It’s such an honor to be mentioned with him, but yeah, I think for me I can’t really think about that so much. I think the comparison is because he’s an actor and I’m an actor and we’re both coming to Le Mans, and certainly Paul Newman.
A lot of our documentaries is about McQueen and Newman and their passions for racing, and I think that’s what we share, a real love for racing, a real love for this event, and I really want to do well. I want to do well for myself, I want to do well for the team, and it’s a personal quest for me. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it. I was kind of the guy who was always watching it on television and finally have the opportunity to come here and do it, and I really appreciate it. I really love it, and I love the challenge of it, and I really am driven to do well. I want to have a good result here.
Q. Patrick Long, Porsche just announced recently that they’re returning to Le Mans next year with an LMP1 car. How important is that announcement and participation for sports cars in general, and Le Mans in particular?
PATRICK LONG: Well, I think it’s huge for certainly the Porschephiles of the world and people are so passionate about the brand and sports car racing in general. It’s been since 1998 that we competed for an overall win here at Le Mans, so this has been long anticipated, and in some people’s minds overdue.
In saying that, what it takes to go up against the Audis, the Toyota’s, is a huge, huge amount of money, much different than when they last competed here. I think it’s great. It’s very important for the sport. The rules and the technologies, everything has changed so much. These cars are much more sophisticated with alternative energy, different types of fuel, hybrid mixes. And so it’s a much different game. But I can rest assured that they’ll be prepared when they come back in 2014.
Q: Patrick (Dempsey) are you intending to drive in the remaining ALMS races after Le Mans?
PATRICK DEMPSEY: Yes, it is our intention to complete the season. We want to go after a championship if we can. We’ve had some good results, came close to winning in the last race. It was a bit of a heartbreaker losing out on the last lap. I thought we had a breakthrough victory there.
But you know, it just inspires us, and now we have a real sense that we can compete and win in that class, and I think that class is very, very competitive, and if you can do well there, I think it’s really satisfying. It’s built my confidence up. Andy has been really good. He has a great understanding of the car, and Andrew and now Patrick. So I’ve learned a lot from these guys. They’ve been very, very good about giving me the information I need to get quicker in it, and it’s very inspiring to be around them and racing with them. By James Foreman