Price of Poker Worth Every Cent in Pursuit of Le Mans Glory LE MANS, France, June 13, 2006 - It's called the 'price of poker' in Las Vegas. The cost, and risk, you take in an attempt to "win it all." For Vegas-based Petersen Motorsports/ ...
Price of Poker Worth Every Cent in Pursuit of Le Mans Glory
LE MANS, France, June 13, 2006 - It's called the 'price of poker' in Las Vegas. The cost, and risk, you take in an attempt to "win it all." For Vegas-based Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning Racing, the allure doesn't come at their hometown's famous poker tables but, instead, thousands of miles away at the world's most famous sports car event; the 24 Heures du Mans. For the fourth year in a row, the 2005 American Le Mans Series GT2 Champions will compete in what is considered one of the most prestigious automobile races ever run. While the cost has increased each of those years, the reward remains high for team owner Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev., USA) and team manager Dale White (Bozeman, MT, USA). This year, they have brought-on a primary marketing partner in Krohn Racing who shares that passion. The United States-based sponsor will back the No. 90 Krohn/ Petersen Motorsports/ White Lightning/ Michelin Porsche 911 GT3 RSR's winning potential in the June 17-18 24 hour classic event in Le Mans, France.
"It isn't cheap to come to Le Mans," said White who is responsible for managing the organization from budgets to pit strategy. "The financial rewards don't off-set the financial costs; I can tell you that. I guess you could say it is about bragging rights but it is more than that. This race has always meant a lot to Mike and me. Even before we started in sports car racing, even when I was a kid growing up about as far from France as it seemed you could be, Le Mans was something that I dreamed of. I know it was the same for Mike. Winning Le Mans means so much. Coming to this race is emotion driven. It's about getting more out of yourself than you thought was there. It's about beating the best in the world. You can't put a price tag on that. At least, we haven't been able to yet."
The high stakes game has paid off in the past for the Porsche factory supported team. It won in its inaugural appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in the LM GT2 class (then known as LM GT) partnering with the Alex Job Racing. They returned as a stand-alone effort in 2004 and dominated qualifying and the race taking their second LM GT2 title. In 2005, they again dominated the pre-event "Test Day" but an accident during qualifying started them towards the back of the field. They fought back to finish second, on the lead lap, closing on the winner as the clock ticked to 24 hours.
2004 Le Mans winner and 2005 American Le Mans GT2 Driver Champion Jorg Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany) will be joined by standout sports car racers but Le Mans rookies Nic Jonsson (a native of Sweden now living in Buford, Ga., USA) and Tracy Krohn (Houston, Texas, USA) in the 2006 effort. Bergmeister was sixth quickest on the June 4 "Test Day" (turning a lap of 4 minutes, 7.778 seconds) having only run five laps. Jonsson and Krohn each earned their Le Mans certification that day allowing them to compete on June 17-18.
How high is the investment that is made for an American team to compete at Le Mans? For Petersen/ White Lightning to compete with the potential to win again in 2006, Petersen and White had to acquire nearly US$1 million in marketing support. [Editor; all costs noted will be in the value of US Dollars at the time of the writing].
Chief among those costs are the mechanical requirements for the team to participate. In fact, the cost of pre-race preparation of the car; a freshly built engine tuned for Le Mans, Michelin Tires for the 42 hours and 45-minutes in which the team could be on-track in various testing, practice, qualifying and warm-up sessions as well as the race, a new six-speed, sequential transmission (pioneered at Le Mans for Porsche by Petersen/ White Lightning in 2004) and new axles is nearly four-times higher than any other expense the team will have to run Le Mans. It makes up nearly half the overall budget. The over $404,000 "mechanical" expenses are for pieces and parts unique to Le Mans and do not include the cost of the car, wheels and other parts that the team already owns.
The second greatest expense for the team is labor. Labor costs for technicians, drivers and all team personnel exceed $145,000 for the time associated with Le Mans only.
Travel expenses come in a close third. At over $128,000 travel includes everything from getting the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to France to transporting the crew to Le Mans. To fly the 60,000 pounds of car and equipment to Le Mans is approximately $100,000 while getting the 15 members of the team to Europe is $24,000. The additional cost of everyone taking the train from the Paris airport to Le Mans and back is $800, while rental car costs over the 21 days in France exceed $3,500.
Once in Europe the team must have lodging. Due to the massive popularity of the Le Mans event, hotels in the immediate area are priced extremely high, sending White into the surrounding country side to secure a bed for each team member. The private chateau that the team will use costs $40,000 for the three week stay. To feed the team, to keep them well energized and upbeat, White Lightning turns to Vanessa's Hospitality Service in Le Mans as they do on the American Le Mans Series schedule. Three meals a day, plus many of the comforts of home (including a washer and dryer for driver's uniforms between driving stints) and various other assistance from Vanessa's years of experience, exceed $20,000. While the Le Mans entry fee secures a garage, a transporter is rented to give the team additional shop, storage and office space. The cost; $15,000. Keeping the drivers well rested is also of paramount importance. Small, two bed and bathroom, air conditioned "cabins" will allow the drivers a clean, quiet and comfortable home away from home while at the track. The total for the two cabins, one each for Jonsson and Krohn-- Bergmeister will stay in his family motor coach on site-- is $11,000.
Miscellaneous expenses are the fourth greatest drain on the budget. Items such as pre-event testing at Sebring, entry fees and licensing to run at Le Mans, race fuel, 25 nitrogen tanks to run equipment and fill the Michelin tires, an interpreter and even propane to run the Le Mans-only tire warmer "tent" come to $113,250. Marketing costs exceed $74,000 including new team apparel to represent the first time association with Krohn Racing, the garage walls, lighting and more. To do the graphics in "Krohn Racing green" on the car for the one-off event is approximately $9,000.
While budgets have gone up since the team's inaugural showing in 2003 in accordance with inflation and technology cost increases, the strong Euro has done more to drive up the costs of racing at Le Mans than any other ingredient. The exchange rate alone cost the team nearly $10,000 in the month before traveling to France.
"When we started this in 2003, the exchange rate was very favorable for American teams to come race at Le Mans," said White. "Now, it is completely the other way around. That is probably why there are a few less teams from the ALMS racing over here this year."
Financial budgets are not the only investment being made to participate at Le Mans. Time, something that cannot be bought with any amount of sponsorship, is an even more valuable resource. Based on previous years, White anticipates that the 15 member team will spend 3,225 hours (215 hours x 15 people) hours at the track in the days leading up to, racing in and following the 24 Hours. From arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport to when they travel home, the members will be in Europe 21 days. Add to that 250 man hours in the air and the total expenditure by the team members to be involved in this prestigious event is 3,475 man hours, excluding work completed before traveling to France. Included in that time are 25 anticipated pit stops during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"Sure, it's expensive to race at Le Mans," said White. "But, more than the money it is hard on everyone emotionally. We race so much throughout the year in the ALMS that it can be a drain on personal relationships. Adding Le Mans into it means our guys won't be with their families for almost a month. And most of that time, because of the time difference and the workload, you may not even get to talk to them for a few days in a row. And, some of these guys have businesses they are trying to run back in the States. So, Mike and I make an extra effort to give the guys a few additional creature comforts. We try and give the guys time each day so they can get on-line and email family back home. All the guys pass around their cell phones to make sure that everyone gets to talk to their wives or girlfriends, their kids. It is tough but you won't hear a single guy on this team complain. We are all focused on winning and we know what we have to give up for that."
That is the true price for playing poker.