Le Mans Training 2008

Le Mans. I’m driving with the IMSA Performance Matmut team in their 911 GT3 RSR. They’ve become a real powerhouse team in the European Le Mans Series. We’re the defending champions of the class so it’s great to be back for a second year in a row with these guys. Our bond has really grown and they’ve excelled so much as a team in the last 24 months. I’m looking forward to moving forward with them. We ran the Spa 24-Hour after the Le Mans win last year and we finished a close second there, so this will be my third 24 hour race with them within 12 months. It is a completely different environment, culturally, driving for an all-French team that’s based not far from Le Mans, close to Normandy, at Rouen. They are a 100 percent professional/family organization. Raymond Narac is one of the principals of the team and also a driver. Then there is Richard Lietz, with whom I drove last year as well, a new factory driver from Austria. This is his second year as a factory driver. So Raymond, Richard and I will be the driving contingent. Culturally, like I said, it’s a much different world driving for a French team but it’s also great and enlightening because they do things, not better or worse, but different.

There is the language barrier, of course. It keeps my French tip-top and it’s great to be over there the whole month and to be immersed again in the Le Mans culture where I lived in 1999. Every June from 2004 on has been that way. So I get stuck right back in there and have the privilege of having a role in the team, not only as a driver. I share my game knowledge of strategy and engineering with the team who have very open ears to me and my experience, knowing that I’ve been at Le Mans a little bit longer than they haveā€”but not by much. So I take on a more extended role than I would do in an LMP2 situation. That’s a great feeling and a little of extra responsibility but very rewarding when the outcome is as it was last year. The other factor is that working for a French team at Le Mans adds a little bit of an extra home court advantage. The fans are behind us as a French team and they are very interested in what we are doing. The local media is very interested in us and who we are. Going up against the huge contingent of Ferraris this year, most of them from other countries, we really carry a home team flag and for an American to do that with a French organization at a French race is a special feeling.

Go Speed Racer. Speed Racer is obviously a special movie for 2008 and it has a great Le Mans flavor behind it. Men’s Health magazine had the idea to put Matthew Fox, who plays Racer X in the movie, on their cover for a recent issue. They wanted to do a story that was a bit more individual and creative and they wanted to say, “OK, Mr. Fox, we see that you can drive a car on a green screen, but can you drive a real race car?” And his answer was "I have no experience driving on a race track or in a race car, but I’d love to have a go."

And that’s where I was fortunate to be involved, as his pro for the day, if you will. It was a bit more than instructing, it was the two of us out on the track for a day with two brand new 911s, a 911 Turbo and a GT3, on the Streets of Willow, which I think, is one of the most underrated race tracks in the country. It was just an ultimate experience and a great opportunity for him to have a driver, two cars and a racetrack all to himself. For me it was neat to work with a guy who is so accomplished in his own right, but very down to earth, in good shape, methodical, and a perfect student. And for a guy that’s as successful and has such celebrity as he does, that says a lot about who he is. We really had a good time and we’ve stayed in touch since then. To be in a publication like Men’s Health, of course,was a great opportunity for me.

Ask Patrick


Q: There’s a long gap to the next ALMS race at Lime Rock in the middle of July. Do you lose the rhythm during the down time?

 

A: Actually, it’s a normal June Le Mans break and I’m used to that with the ALMS. From the RS Spyder standpoint, we’ll be out testing and the Penske guys are never ever on vacation. There’s no rest. I’m in regular contact with my engineers and my team managers and we’re working behind the scenes to better ourselves every single time we hit the track. I’ll be in the car in June for a couple of days of testing and we’re already hard at work on pushing forward. It’s a process of constant improvement. That’s really how championships are won. It’s super to have all those resources and to know I’ve got the best team behind me. We’ll be working intermittently between racing at Le Mans on Lime Rock and we’ll hit the ground running at Lime Rock and just continue our drive toward a championship.

 

Send your comments and questions to Patrick at askpatrick@pca.org. Although he can’t respond individually, he’ll get to as many as possible in his blog.