IN HIS OWN WORDS: PATRICK LONG
Patrick Long is preparing for the biggest season of his young racing life. When the 2008 American Le Mans Series begins, Porsche's lone American factory driver will pilot one of Penske Racing's Porsche RS Spyders for the full season. The groundwork for the seat at Penske actually began at the 2002 US Grand Prix. What was born then has culminated in a fantastic career for the 26-year-old with Porsche that could very well see its highest points this year.
Question: What was your first exposure to Porsche, and do you remember your first contact?
Answer: The first person I met was Uwe Brettel (now Porsche's Head of Worldwide Customer Racing Services) at the 2002 USGP. He was managing and running the Porsche Supercup race there, and we were introduced through Danny Sullivan based on their past relationship and Danny racing in Porsches. All of that was during the first Red Bull F1 driver search. There were 16 of us there to meet the press and were in the running. It was something that generated a lot of interest and publicity. Red Bull had hired the right people to find the right American, so Porsche thought why not keep an eye on it? From there, I was invited to test in their selection for the UPS Porsche Junior Team.
Q: When first joined the Porsche Junior Team, was an opportunity like the one you have now with Penske the goal?
A: The goal when joining Porsche was not to become a DTM or Champ Car driver. It was a decision to make a future with Porsche in motorsport at the top level. Even though they didn't have a prototype at the time, I knew it was just a matter of time before the tide turned and they returned. My goal was to become a professional racing driver and I knew that involving myself with a manufacturer like Porsche was the best way to do it. Porsche is so supportive of their drivers, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. You're employed by the factory and are exposed to so many teams, series and other countries. You never really know where you're going to go.
Porsche produces more race-ready cars than any other manufacturer in the world, so there is always an opportunity to race a Porsche. That's a beautiful thing for someone like me. The fans that are behind Porsche Motorsport are those that have stuck with Porsche from the beginning, and it's been great to meet all of those people through the Series who are so knowledgeable and have such a passion.
Q: How did stints with Petersen/White Lightning, Flying Lizard, Tafel and others in the American Le Mans Series prepare you for this phase of your career?
A: That was the main part of my development as a driver. Being there specifically with the Petersen/White Lightning guys for two years and achieving such great results was huge. They also helped me win at Le Mans for the first time in 2004. I've also had success with the Lizards and people like Kevin Buckler and The Racer's Group during my first full season in 2004. They took a chance on me.
My opportunities for 2008 really came thanks to Tafel and Flying Lizards at Sebring and on the street circuits this year. Those performances were huge chances for me to show the skills that I have been developing over five years. What's on my horizon is sports car racing and winning as many races as I can. Indianapolis holds a special place in my heart but I have plenty to chew on right now.
Q: What impact do you think an American driving for Roger Penske in a factory car will have?
A: I'm proud to support and represent the US full-time. But I've never seen myself being an American driver and having opportunities created by that. I've always seen myself as being the best driver I can be and letting that talk.
Q: Did you learn throughout the season or at Petit Le Mans that you may be making the move to Penske or did you consider it more of an audition?
A: It wasn't on my mind. I was aware of Ryan (Briscoe) and Sam (Hornish) and their potential moves and what that meant as far as an opening in the RS Spyder program. There is so much that goes into selecting a driver in a Porsche prototype effort. My goal is to do my best in every single session in every single race. There was never any discussion or promises made by Porsche. Fans would always ask me about it, but I've always let my driving to the talking. I never thought it was my position or mine to gain. It was one of those things where I saw my name on the news releases but I didn't think it was a reality. Honestly, it still hasn't really hit me yet!
Q: You have often spoken about Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Kenny Brack and many others being career influences. Where do you think Roger Penske fits in?
A: Naturally, he's a huge hero of mine. Any young racing driver from the US knows who Roger Penske is. I've started to realize what he's about, and that's winning. There is so much going on in motorsport these days, but racers like Roger are the ones who are passionate. It's a thrill to be working inside his effort. I really look forward to learning from his success. He's on the radio with us and he's even there coaching us during driver changes. He knows everyone's name from the tire carrier to the engineer. It's one of those things that we're all wanting to do one thing, and that's win.
Preparations for the 2008 American Le Mans Series, its 10th season of world- class sports car racing, begin January 28-30 with the annual Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway.
The 2008 season opens with the 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, March 15. The race will start at 10 a.m. ET and will be broadcast live by SPEED, which will begin its coverage at 9:30 a.m. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.