Patrick Long & Racer's Group top Daytona Testing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. The Racer's Group, defending overall and GT Class champions of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, set the quickest lap in GT class testing last weekend in preparation for the 2004 edition of America's most prestigious sports car event.

The Racer's Group New Century Mortgage Porsche GT3 RS is being driven by American Patrick Long and teammates Kevin Buckler, Timo Bernhard, and Jorg Bergmeister.

The team set a fast lap of 1:54.785 at 111.652 mph.

This will be Long's first-ever 24-hour endurance race. Last season, Long raced in Europe as a member of the UPS Porsche Junior team, contesting the German Carrera Cup and the Michelin Supercup. Long's endurance racing debut came last year in the Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta, where he helped The Racer's Group place fourth in class.

"We're looking strong for Daytona," Long explained. "The Racer's Group really knows how to set up a car for endurance racing, and we have a strong driver lineup. Kevin Buckler is quick here and Timo Bernhard, Jorg Bergmeister and I are all Porsche works drivers with experience in European Carrera Cup racing. But as defending champs, the other teams, particularly BMW, are shooting to knock us off."

But it won't be easy. The Racer's Group not only won the GT class last year, they were the overall winner, besting the supposedly quicker Daytona Prototypes. Over 24 hours, the GT cars were more than equal to the Prototypes, to the chagrin of race organizers.

This year, though, Grand American rules makers have attempted to slow down the GT cars by restricting fuel capacity and adding 200 pounds. In testing, the fastest Daytona Prototypes were six seconds quicker than The Racer's Group Porsche. Still, Long thinks The Racer's Group has a shot at a second overall title.

The Grand Am GT Porsche differs slightly from the German Carrera Cup Porsche that Long drove last year "They Daytona GT Class Porsche is similar to the European Cup car," he said, "but it runs stiffer dampers, harder tires, and lacks ABS brakes, which is the biggest aspect to adapt to."

For 2004, Long's American LeMans Series assignment will also be with The Racer's Group. Long was elevated from the Porsche Junior team to "works driver" status after only one season in Europe, a process that typically takes three years. He is only the second Porsche Junior team member to be promoted early (the other being German driver Lucas Luhr).

Long will contest all nine ALMS races for The Racer's Group, beginning with the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. The 22-year-old American will also compete in select sports car races in Europe with Porsche.

The past six years Long has lived and raced in Europe, where he won international events in karting, Formula Ford, Formula Renault, and the German Porsche Carrera Cup. He speaks Italian, French and German. For more information on Patrick Long visit his website at: