Hello, fellow PCA members. When I was asked to do a blog for PCA.org I jumped at the chance. I look forward to sharing a little bit of the 2008 racing season with you. For this first entry, Betty Jo Turner asked me to talk a little about the Penske program and how I feel as the newest member of the team. So here goes.

I believe that so much of racing is all about opportunity and to have an opportunity like this with Porsche’s flagship prototype program and Penske Racing is something that I am elated about, but at the same time I know that these are very rare opportunities and because of that I’m extra motivated and really excited about the year. I’m looking forward to being in the RS Spyder for the whole season, after having had samples of it over the past couple of years both in long distance races and in a lot of the testing programs. I know that it is a different role that I fill now, being a main driver together with Sascha Maassen in the #6 car, compared to before when I was a third driver. Then I was coming in to be a support driver and to swing for par. Now I’m out there trying to come well under par, so it’s exciting and certainly a challenge that I’m ready for.

I’ve driven for a number of organizations under the Porsche flag since starting with Porsche in 2003, and they have been superb and unbelievably professional, but I think they would all agree with me that Roger Penske’s organization pretty much sets the standard in North American racing. That’s something that a driver looking to make a name in sports car racing like myself is completely attracted to and humbled to be a part of. There is a vibe and an energy that I’ve never experienced in my career. I guess I just can say that it’s unbelievably professional. They go that extra little way in everything they do and when all of that adds up, it really sets the bar.

PL and MaassenSome might imagine that puts extra pressure on a driver, but to me, driving for an organization that’s as professional and prepared as they are can be as pressure releasing as it can be pressure creating. You know that every single detail has been looked at, from the preparation of the car to the way that the team operates. That means that as a driver you are expected to perform and rarely will the successes be altered by team mistakes. And where it takes the pressure off is that you know you’re sitting in the best race car on the grid so you’re not asked to over-compensate or drive outside of your talents because you’ve got such a great team on your side and such an amazing car that’s been built and prepped by Porsche and Penske.

The routine. On race weekend, the plate is completely full from Thursday morning until the checkered flag falls and even after the checkered flag in the days passing. The amount of preparation and debriefing that goes into every session and every time the car hits the track is much higher than I’ve dealt with in the past and that forces you to look at every little detail even that much closer. I really see that as a positive. It’s more demanding on time, but it’s definitely feasible and it just takes a little bit of a different mind set and a little bit more organization. The team of people behind the scenes from Porsche and Penske have us very well scheduled and organized. It’s really one of those things where the scale moves evenly because as the requirements increase and the time is filled in, the organizational level rises. Before we show up at the track for the weekend the schedule is in place and we have a time table that we carry around our necks with our pit pass that tells us where we need to be at what time. It’s exciting for me at the moment because with the reception of the motorsport world of my new role, it’s great to fulfill requests of media and, of course, give back to our sponsors and partners.

Sebring. At Sebring, I didn’t get to drive during the race because our car suffered a mechanical problem very early. That was a disappointment, for sure. Not because of my own personal hope to get to physically drive the car—I’ve spent plenty of time in an RS Spyder—it was more the disappointment of starting the championship without getting any points on the board, not only starting with a zero but because Sebring pays more points than a normal race that made it sting a little bit more. But I’ve learned that with the highs and lows of motorsport you can’t let your emotion or confidence be affected by outcome. It has to be based on your own personal performance during the week. Things outside of your control, such as a small mechanical failure—the adversity of racing—I’ve trained myself to not let that affect my emotional state. So although it was disappointing, it was something that I’ve felt before, though very rarely in my career with Porsche. But it is something that I’ve faced. It’s not fun to not finish, but I don’t feel like I’m any further behind the eight ball without getting the time at Sebring. I’ve done the 12 hours of Sebring before and I was plenty comfortable in the car before the race started.

We stuck together as drivers—Ryan, myself and Sascha—within eyesight of the race car after we came off the race track because the Penske guys were not going to give up and they were going to do everything that was allowed to them within the rules of the ACO to get that car back out on the track. There was a period of over an hour when we had that car pulled apart and we were going to do anything within our power to get it back out there. We didn’t give up because if you get 70 percent of the race finished, that’s a good chunk of points. We were in the mindset of still getting back in the car and getting to the finish line. That is a really tough challenge when you know that theoretically you’re out of first place opportunity and you’re driving just for points in such a grueling race as the 12 Hours of Sebring, but we were ready for that.

St. Petersburg. There was more unknown for me at St. Pete than there was at Sebring because I hadn’t been on a temporary street course with the RS Spyder. How it would be being the overtaking car on a tight temporary circuit? I’d never driven the track and I knew that there were only two times that the car was going to be on the track before we’d be into qualifying and the race. So that was a wild one; it played on my consciousness for a while, but after the first session at eight in the morning of the first day of the weekend, when I got out of the race car I knew that we were in it. I had a good feeling going into the weekend and when I got out of the race car after only a limited number of laps, I knew that I had what it was going to take to not only get through the weekend but to do my best to put my own effort into getting that car as close to the top step of the podium as possible. And, of course, the Penske team had a great day, winning the LMP2 class and Sascha and I came home third.

Engineer Teamwork. Between now and Long Beach, I’ll fly to Salt Lake City for pre-testing for the upcoming Salt Lake race. So Monday I’ll be all day in the race car with Sascha—two of us take over the testing duties in the private tests. I’m the majority of the 50 percent of drivers for most of the tests because I’m the rookie in the team. So we’ll go from one day in Salt Lake and then we’ll travel to California where Sascha and I will meet up with Jörg Bergmeister. Jörg has been my teammate for the last few years and Sascha is my new teammate and Jörg and Sascha are close friends. All three of us are going to meet up in my home town and do a little bit of sightseeing and I’ll show them where I was born and raised.

Then it's off to Long Beach, about an hour south of home. The weekend starts with a track walk and pre-race preparation, meetings with the engineers, strategy discussions on qualifying and racing and our set up. Sascha and I spend the majority of the weekend together and we are working hard and discussing the race all through the down time. Whether it’s getting lunch at the track or dinner away from the track, we’re talking about the variables of the race—the car setup, how we think we can move forward, and so it’s so important to have that relationship with a teammate. I’ve been like that since I started in endurance racing and luckily my teammates have felt the same, so we really share a bond. You have to know your teammate well; you need to have that open communication and comfort to tell it how it is and to always be on the same page. And it’s almost to the point of knowing what your teammate is thinking before he even says it.

Sascha and I are as close in driving style as anybody I’ve ever driven with in my career. We like the same kind of setup and have a similar driving style. Some guys drive the car with the rear end hanging out, some guys carry lots of rolling speed through the corner, and there’s a lot of compromising in set up and how you drive a car. Working with Sascha has required the least amount of adjustment I’ve ever needed to make with a full time teammate and that’s great. We think a lot alike—how we attack a weekend, a stint, qualifying and all the rest of it and that helps a lot. But where we’re different is that Sascha has a lot to offer me in his experience as a top flight professional racing driver. He’s been at this game for a while and he’s got tremendous success both with Porsche and in his previous career, as well as being one of the most winning drivers in the ALMS history. He leads a lot by example but he also takes the time to stop and say, hey, this is something I thought about last night or this is something I found on the data—and that’s the ultimate teammate you want. There are teammates out there that don’t have enough inner security and their number one objective is to first demoralize the person that’s sharing the same equipment with them. That’s the furthest thing from what Sascha is and I’d like to think that I’m the same way. So far it’s only been two races and it’s been a great experience and I can see that our bond and the relationship with our engineers is only going to get stronger as the year goes on. We’re in a little bit of a hole in the championship based on the first two races. We’re up against our teammates and the rest of a really competitive field with the Dyson cars and the Acura contingent, but I always rooted for the underdog when I was a little kid and, without overstating it, that’s where we’re are at the moment. We’ve got to attack the rest of the season, go for wins and forget about all the rest of it.

PL and kidsLong Beach will be special because it’s in front of friends and family. I was born and raised about an hour from the track and grew up there as a go-kart kid, looking up to my heroes that raced with CART. We came off a pretty trying weekend at St. Pete and finished on the podium. With everything that we faced at the beginning of the race at St. Pete, I know that if we can get clean through the beginning of the race and qualifying, we’re going to have even a better result than a third place. In saying that, there are always a lot of unknowns in motorsport and especially on a street course, but it’s a track that I know and it’s a track I feel that I excel on and really enjoy driving. So I can’t wait. It couldn’t come soon enough and I’m looking forward to it.