Words of Automotive Legend Guide Petersen/ White Lightning to ALMS Success
Henry Ford - "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."
LAS VEGAS, Nev., November 15, 2005 -- It is not uncommon for the words of a great leader and innovator to guide a group through tough times and on to ultimate success. It is more rare when those words could have the same impact nearly a century after being spoken. For Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing, these profound words on teamwork would help them carry the day in the face of what many considered an impossible task. At the team's low point- Portland International Raceway, its only time off the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GT2 class podium this season- the words rallied the small, close-knit group to four-straight class victories and to claim their first three ALMS GT2 class titles: Driver, Team and the IMSA Cup Championship. To top-off the season, Bergmeister and Long were announced to the All-American Auto Racing Team last week. The prestigious award, voted on by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, is a first for both drivers and for the team.
In a trophy case already loaded with accolades from Baja to Le Mans, the trio of titles marked firsts for the team and its drivers. The 2005 ALMS GT2 Team Championship was the first for the Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev.) owned team as was the GT2 IMSA Cup- awarded to the highest finishing, non-factory entry. The 2005 ALMS GT2 Drivers Championship was the first each for Jorg Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany) and Patrick Long (Las Vegas). In the process, Petersen/ White Lightning became the first non-factory team to ever win a GT2, formerly GT, title in the American Le Mans Series while Long became the first American since 1999 to win the title. Bergmeister was the first non-factory driver to win the driver title since '99-- the debut season for the series. In all, the No. 31 Westward Ho Casino/ MMPIE/ PAWS/ Michelin Porsche 911 GT3 RSR captured five GT2 class wins-- sweeping all three of the endurance events (four hours or longer) and the last four straight races-- two pole positions, nine of ten IMSA Cups and stood on the podium at nine of ten events. For good measure, the team set an unofficial track record in testing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and would finish second at La Sarthe pursuing their third-straight GT2 Le Mans title. They also played a major role in manufacturer titles for car maker Porsche and tire supplier Michelin.
While all of these things were firsts for the team, they were generated from the same underlying ingredient that has marked the Dale White (Bozeman, Mont.) managed team for nearly 20 years: teamwork.
"We have fined-tuned the program for the last few years, getting the right people in place, the right opportunities," said White. "But, there is one constant on our team and that is a commitment to teamwork. We want to win and we are serious about winning but when you look up and down the paddock, you won't find a group of guys as close as we are as a team. They build each other up. Even in the hard times you won't find fingering pointing like you do at a lot of teams."
You also won't find many teams as small. In all, only 30 people wore the Petersen/ White Lightning colors in 2005 including management, drivers and volunteers at both ALMS events and at the team's third appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At most events, however, the team was made-up of only 15 core individuals including Petersen, White, crew chief/ engineer Stefan Pfeiffer (Croatia), Bergmeister and Long. As a one-car team against a class full of two car efforts and factory-backed programs, the successes of the group caught many un-initiated off-guard. The former off-road champions converted many naysayers through their fastest in the Series pit stops, aggressive strategy calls, fast but intelligent driving, dead-on chassis setups and readily- approachable team members.
It is adversity that often sets the tone for a season. For the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winning team, that adversity came at Portland, the season's mid-point. Having won the 12 Hours of Sebring from the pole position-- with Porsche standout Lucas Luhr (Monaco) joining the team as a third driver-- and with podium finishes at Road Atlanta (2nd), Mid-Ohio (3rd), Le Mans (2nd, not included in ALMS point tally) and Infineon Raceway (2nd), the team held a narrow lead in both the driver and team championship chases. However, a series of problems including a left rear hub issue and broken radiator- the result of on-track action- dropped the team to second in the standings following their lowest finish of the season, eighth. While many thought this would be the end of the challenge to class juggernaut and Porsche factory team Alex Job Racing (AJR), it was there at a closed-door meeting that Henry Ford played his key role in the season.
White challenged the team declaring that he felt they could sweep the last four events. The natural leader left the quote: "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success" echoing in their ears. The team setout to do just what White envisioned for his group.
"Portland was definitely the turning point for the team," reflected Petersen on the season. "A lot of teams might have fallen apart there or changed what they were going to do the rest of season. We regrouped and came back swinging. Portland was the place that was our reality check and the whole team never stopped trying. I'd say Portland helped us win the championship more than any of the five victories."
Road America was the site of the next event of the ten race season. As the location of the team's first ALMS victory in 2003, the longest course currently on the schedule provided one of the best races of the year. Bergmeister's remarkable drive in the early stages of the race gave way to Long for the final stint. The young American, 24, made several daring passes and held off the charging AJR factory Porsche to return the No. 31 to victory lane for the first time since the season-opening round at Sebring. The head-to-head battle foreshadowed the remaining three races.
Petersen/ White Lightning traveled north to the dauntingly fast Mosport Int'l Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario, Can. They started second for the sixth time of the season-- the team never started lower than third in class-- and again showed their strength. They would take over the lead and be looking for a sure victory when, on the final lap, the axle broke on the left side leaving the car stranded on course. Despite the drama the yellow, white and red Porsche had enough of a lap lead to take its second-straight and third victory of the season. With 50% of the challenge met, Craig Stanton (Long Beach, Calif) rejoined the team for the 10 hour/ 1,000 mile Petit Le Mans endurance event. Petit Le Mans was an important event for the team in many ways. It not only would help them solidify their position in the point battles, it was also the remaining major international sports car event that the Petersen/ White Lightning team had not won. Having won the GT class at the Six Hours of the Glen in 1998 and at the 24 At Daytona in 2001, Le Mans in 2003 (with AJR) and '04 and Sebring earlier this year, Petit loomed large. It was, again, a combination of a remarkably good setup, amazingly quick pit stops and expert driving that took the team to the top of the roster. It was Long's, Stanton's and the team's first Petit victory. It marked an impressive third-straight at the eighth annual race for Bergmeister. The team clinched the first of three possible GT2 titles in Atlanta putting the 2005 IMSA Cup-- the initial goal for the team-- out of reach for its nearest, privately-entered competitor in the class.
Needing only to finish 70% of the final race to earn the '05 driver chase, Bergmeister and Long clinched their first ALMS championships just before three hours into the four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The team would lockdown its title when both AJR cars were not able to close-out an early assault on the Las Vegas-based team. To leave on a high note, the call came from pit lane for Bergmeister and Long to push for a victory and, as if to put any question to rest, the team took its fourth straight race win, fifth overall, for the season.
Having won 50% of the races, 90% of the IMSA Cups and earning podium finishes (top-three) in 90% of the events, Petersen/ White Lightning clinched the team championship by 18 points over the two-car AJR effort. Bergmeister and Long walked away with their title by 34 points-- more than a one-race cushion-- while the IMSA Cup was taken by an overpowering 58 markers!
"It was a learning year for me," said Long about his second full season of ALMS racing. "There was plenty of wisdom available from everyone and I did my best to take advantage of it. It was very mental behind the wheel, very challenging. I learned so much from Mike, Dale, Stefan and Jorg. It gave me the chance to prove what I think was my untapped potential. For me, it was a true black and white of what teamwork can do. It was a great learning experience. We were the underdog at the start of the season and even the underdog going into the last race. Petersen/ White Lightning is a great team and to have a team, the underdogs, to come out on top at the end was very gratifying to be a part of."
Bergmeister, one of the most accomplished GT drivers in the world, had this to say about his first ALMS championship: "I first started talking to Dale at the Porsche party last December and we shook hands on the deal there. I was very excited. The year started off really great with the win at Sebring. Even though we just knew each other from one race the year before [Le Mans, 2004, where Bergmeister and Long both joined Petersen/ White Lightning as it took its second win at La Sarthe] the team and the drivers had a really good connection. It was a lot of fun working with them. The end of the season was a lot of fun. Winning four races in a row was really special; especially with the competition we have in GT2. I am really pleased and hope we can do it again next year. I really want to thank Mike and Dale for giving me the chance and, of course, the whole team for doing such a great job all year long."
"Mike and I have a great friendship and working relationship," said White. "He sets the goals and I work to put together the group that can accomplish them. Then we all work together to make it happen. This has been building for a long time; we didn't stop knowing how to win when we left the off-road business. We probably have the smallest team out there but there is no group of guys I'd rather have my back in a race. A few guys on this team go back almost to when Mike and I started this. Only two are brand new this year. To me, that is the perfect blend. These guys spend a lot of time together at the track and then they spend a lot of time together, by choice, away from the track. That is pretty uncommon and it shows the tie that binds all of this together. It's pretty cool to be a part of."
Heading the list are the veteran members of the team: lead technician Dennis Chizma (Seattle, Wash.) who became the 2005 ALMS GT2 Mechanic of the Year, and his right hand man, Nico Castellaccio (Lathrop, Calif.). Both have been with the team since 2000 and entered as part of the three-time race winners on Petersen/ White Lightning's World Challenge Porsche. They work closely changing tires and making needed repairs during stops. Troy Hildreth (Las Vegas) joined the team shortly thereafter but began attending every event in 2004 as the team's tire technician. Media relations director Tom Moore (Franklin. Tenn.) began representing the team in 2003. Crew chief/ engineer Stefan Pfeiffer joined the team in 2004 making an immediate impact on the program. Pfeiffer is credited by Petersen, White and the team for much of the success since. It was also in 2004 that Sam Andrus (Santa Clara, Utah) began driving the team's transporter on a regular basis and became the fueler during pit stops. '04 also marked the first year for one of Michelin Tires brightest engineers, Brian Monprode (Oxford, Mich.) as the fulltime liaison between tire supplier Michelin and Petersen/ White Lightning. The newest additions to the team for '05 were Joey Seely (Newcastle, Wash.) who began turning wrenches and working with 2004 alum Drew Cushman (Las Vegas) changing tires during stops. Ethan Bregman (New York City) was the final piece of the puzzle in the making of the 2005 championship team. Bregman joined at mid-season, '05, overseeing data acquisition. 2005 was the first full season for Bergmeister and Long behind the wheel of the team's Porsche but both had experienced success with the team at Le Mans in 2004.
2005 Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing team members
Full season --
Mike Petersen, owner and driver- Las Vegas, Nev./ Southern Calif.
Dale White, team manager -- Bozeman, Mont.
Stefan Pfeiffer, crew chief -- Island Krk, Croatia
Jorg Bergmeister, driver -- Langenfeld, Germany
Patrick Long, driver -- Las Vegas, Nev.
Sam Andrus, fueler/ transportation director -- Santa Clara, Utah
Ethan Bregman, data acquisition -- New York City, NY
Nico Castellaccio, technician/ tire changer -- Lathrop, Calif.
Dennis Chizma, technician/ tire changer -- Seattle, Wash.
Andrew Cushman, technician/ tire changer -- Columbia, Calif.
Troy Hildreth, tire technician -- Las Vegas, Nev.
Brian Monoprode, Michelin Tire Engineer -- Detroit, Mich.
Tom Moore, media relations director -- Franklin, Tenn.
Joey Seely, technician/ tire changer -- Newcastle, Wash.
Jodi Shamaley, marketing and promotions consultant -- Southern Calif.
Partial Season --
Lucas Luhr, driver (Sebring) -- Monaco
Craig Stanton, driver (Petit Le Mans) -- Long Beach, Calif.
Eugene "Gino" Bassett, deadman valve operator -- San Francisco, Calif.
Claire Chizma, deadman valve operator -- Seattle, Wash.
Bill Raifsnyder, tire technician -- Houston, Tex. (Le Mans and Petit Le Mans)
Phil Rhea, MoTec data acquisition -- Mooresville, NC
Dean Richardson, deadman valve operator -- Atlanta
Ulli Upietz, photography -- Duisburg, Germany
Le Mans --
Timo Bernhard, driver -- Dittweiler, Germany
Samuel Fournis, Scorer -- Le Mans, France
Charles Queguiner Scorer-- Le Mans, France
Severine Rapicault , French Liaison in Le Mans -- Le Mans, France
Tammy Terry, videographer -- Simi Valley, Calif.
More on Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing can be found at www.PetersenMotorsports.com. Learn more about Porsche at www.Porsche.com.