Pre-Daytona 24 Hours 2009

PL and JBHi everybody. It’s great to be back at Panorama on the Web for another year. The season always kicks off quite early with Daytona and the official pre-test. I had a very nice and relaxing holiday week off and then right after the New Year it was straight up to Daytona to prepare for the 24. This year is unique for me as it’s my first year back in a GT car at the Rolex since 2005 when I was with the Flying Lizards in one of their few appearances there. This year I’ll be driving a TRG car with Kevin Buckler and the Racers Group. The drivers are Andy Lally, Jörg Bergmeister—guys that I’ve had successful partnerships with in the past—as recently as the Salt Lake City finale for the Grand Am last year with the same crew line up and with Andy driving. Also joining us for the 24 will be Justin Marks and RJ Valentine. Justin will be making a full-time comeback to sportscars after a couple years of oval track ventures and will partner Andy for the whole season in the #67 car. RJ and I go way back and he’s both an accomplished businessman and driver and a good friend. The five of us have a great working bond, meaning that when you have the maximum number of drivers allowed at five during a 24 hour race, the challenge comes logistically and giving up the limited track time before the race starts. After that, having five drivers becomes an advantage, because we can share the difficulty of the long race—the workload is on the lighter side.

The test went very well. It’s certainly a different perspective than where I’ve been the last three years at the Rolex, which was in the “attacking” DPs rather than the “attacked” GT cars. I touched a little bit last season on how my progression and perspective on how to win 24 hour races has become more of a survival and consistency quest. I’ve begun to preach to my team members that if we’re flawless and mistake-free on the track and in the pits, our odds of winning the race become extremely high. The main difference being in a GT car at Daytona compared to Le Mans is the track distance. Daytona being significantly shorter means many more cars per square foot of racetrack, which keeps things interesting from green until checker.

The test went fairly easily. And as I said Daytona teaches you to be very patient. There’s not a lot of drive time for the number of days that you stay there with the pre-test being three days and then a couple of days before the race. I look forward to the race next Saturday. Today’s technology lends itself to being able to run the car close to flat out. That’s pretty amazing but it takes a toll on the crew and certainly the drivers. You need that much more physical endurance and you use that much more energy because you’re pushing as though it were a sprint race, for sometimes seven or eight stints over the 24 hours—of course staying mistake-free.

There will be plenty of competition. There will be a major contingent of Porsches—I think there are something like 24 Porsches entered in the GT class. Farnbacher Loles will really be on a speed level to be one of our toughest opponents. With factory drivers like Wolf over there, J”rg and I are going to have our hands full. And if you look at the Mazda success from last year’s race and also their pace through the year in the Grand Am, they are going to be tough. And the GM contingent with the Banner Racing guys set a pretty high bar this last season and are the defending champions of the series. There will be multiple competitive manufacturers, but I’d like to think that speed and reliability favor the 911s and TRG puts out a great car and has a lot of experience. A little sidebar there is that it’s been a little bit of a reunion coming back and running with those guys. They were the first team I ever drove for in the States, coming back from my European years. It’s been five years since then but it’s nice to be back.

We’re going to try something a little different here for the Rolex race weekend. As circumstances permit, I’ll be sending you periodic updates from my Blackberry. So for those of you who’ll be catching the race on television, come back to pca.org every now and then. As you know, anything can happen in a race, especially one this long, but when and if it’s possible, I’ll try to send you an update.

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.