FlatSixes.com caught up with Porsche Factory Driver and Flying Lizard Patrick Long via phone shortly after the Lizards’ appearance at the ALMS race at Sebring. As most Porsche lovers know, Patrick is the only American Porsche Factory Driver. We remember reading about his induction into the Werks circle in Panorama and being so proud that we had him representing us in Stuttgart.
We start off by offering Patrick a long-term congratulation for his position at Porsche, and he humbly accepts. “Well, thanks,” he says, in his characteristic down to earth demeanor. “It's been an awesome ride and obviously a dream come true,” says Patrick, adding that he is grateful for the opportunity. “Every day I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity, because as you guys know, that’s half the battle in motorsports: getting a shot at it and then trying to do the best job with the opportunity given you.” He goes on to affirm what we all know: “I still think it's the surreal to represent a brand as prominent as Porsche!”
It is clear Patrick enjoys his work with Porsche. “They give me these opportunities and put me in such awesome positions to get results that I've been able to achieve.” And what an impressive list these achievements include the 24 hrs of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, Petit LeMans, and the 24 Hours of LeMans, to name a few.
Patrick's account of Sebring
Although we had intended to catch up with Patrick at Sebring, the time never materialized, so now we ask him to give us his account of the weekend from the other side of the pit wall.
“Everybody's been…sympathetic in the outcome of the race, and I've been quick to correct them and actually let them know that my perspective is much different from what they might get,” starts Long. “I come out of Sebring completely inspired and with positive vibes for a few things. I know how [the Lizards] operate. It just was great to be in there with them and to really get immersed.”
Although the Lizards came in fourth, says Long “I think we showed, maybe not in the finishing order, but with the lap times that we were really … one of the cars to beat. So, that's really, really positive for Sebring but extra positive looking toward the whole season which is all about winning a championship and as many races as we can.” Long sees the experience as positive. “With all of those factors, it was incredibly positive; to put points on the board is more than I could have hoped for after all the adversity we've faced and I know how important it is, especially in the first two or three races, to just put some points on the board.”
The PorschePurist team had watched Patrick and the Lizards at work at Sebring, and despite a few issues that put them a little bit back, we thought Patrick’s pace and the competitiveness of the car were fantastic. Long may be young but not short on wisdom: “I've understood through racing that you can no longer judge how your weekend went based on what the time sheets or the finishing order is because there's too many outside variables that are outside of your control. So you basically look at different factors. From a personal level, [I ask myself,] just how was I as a racing driver behind the wheel? [You] grade yourself on that scale rather than on the finishing order.”
Credit Goes to the Lizard's Team
Long feels like a great deal of credit for their 4th place finish, in spite of sustaining two hits, goes to the team preparedness. “For the car to sustain both of those hits—especially the second one—and still be running at the end, I just felt like we were incredibly fortunate and lucky. I have to give credit to Porsche and the Lizards because they obviously make a bullet proof car.” He nods his head and continues, “Man, that second hit Mark had with Ian—at that point I was pretty sure the car wasn't going back even to pit row, let alone finish the rest of the race and be on pace. It was just unfathomable that we could go back out and still run 2.05 which was probably faster than 90% of the cars still running!”
Much of racing is about strategy and Long recognizes that. “I think that this might be really obvious to some, but with extra points being given out at Sebring, it's so important not to turn in zero. Those first three guys, you know, get the extra points and they just have that much more of an advantage. This was so clear in my mind because last year, in our Spyder program, we didn't make ever the 70% at Sebring and it basically put us in a position that we never recovered from.”
His assignment with the Lizards puts Patrick back in the car with fellow Porsche Werks driver Joerg Bergmeister. Long is quick to praise Bergmeister, with whom he enjoys a great working relationship. “The thing about Joerg is we know each other and we know what one another needs, not only during the race, but all through the week leading up and of course the all important five or six days you spend at Sebring, or three or four days you spend at St. Pete.”
He provides some interesting insight into driver relationships, saying there are “guys that are purely professional and …show up, do their job and go their separate ways at night. While it is true that you don't have to like somebody to work well with them, I think if you can forge a personal relationship—or it comes naturally—it is such an advantage. The moments we're spending away from the track, talking about how we're doing things and getting to know each other means that we have such an advantage over others who may not have that relationship. Talent level aside, I think that the working relationship is number one.”
Wisdom Beyond His Years
For one so young, Patrick has been in motorsports long enough to acquire wisdom beyond his years. We ask him how it was that he came to be interested in motorsport – was his a motorsport family, as is often the case?
Patrick smiles. “Before I can remember making conscious decisions for myself I think I was already gearing toward anything with engines or wheels—not necessarily only race cars but you know, tractors, motorcycles, lawn mowers—whatever had wheels. I often hear stories of just naturally being drawn towards those things, but I do come from a family of racers,” he says, adding, “just to clarify, not really anybody in the professional ranks of motorsports, but spiritually. Two, three generations back on my dad's side of the family all group around cars and racing, so I think that I was just naturally drawn to that.” As is the case with many current professional drivers, Patrick received a go-kart for Christmas one year, aged six, and it became “my bread and butter from the get go.” The memory is a good one: “I'd never seen anything or dreamt of anything as cool … it was the first time I had taken the pedals and the steering wheel of a moving vehicle and all by myself and that's just what I did.” His dad, an hourly stair installer, put stairs in production homes in southern California and brought Patrick along. “I would be in the backyard on weekends … just driving around the backyard around two cones for hours on end.”
Patrick soon made the jump to racing. “In 1990, you had to be eight years old to race. The deal [with my parents] was I had to have a B+ average in school,” says Patrick, and “those grades were easily achievable with a go-cart on the end of that string! I started racing at a local level and that went from local to regional to state to national to international over the next ten years.” Patrick soon started going to Europe in the summers and, aged sixteen, got a paid ride to move to Europe full time and race for the Italians at CRG (one of the big three Kart manufacturers in the world).
From there, the transition was logical; Patrick moved into single seaters and formula cars, and spent six years living in Europe racing full-time.
As Patrick tells us about his formative years, we wonder: did he have an athlete he admired or wanted to emulate? He responds, “No, not one single guy actually … I never really was drawn to one specific athlete or persona[sic].” He seemed to be drawn to jacks-of-al trades: “I guess the guys that I liked had a bit of flair and flamboyance [and] they were quick in everything they raced,” he says, adding, “guys like Tony Stewart and Robbie Gordon.”
We ask, did he ever aspire to be part of Formula1? Patrick nods. “Yeah, Formula 1 to me was like the land so far off and so different, I would wake up early enough to see it live and watch it Sunday morning with my Dad.” It was the technique that amazed him: “When I watched the onboard shots of them driving, it looked closer to what I did as a go-cart kid than anything I could ever see on T.V. They way they used the curbs and the way they were quick with their hands, that's what I was drawn to, it wasn't the flair or the flash or the money or the girls, it was more about the parallel and that's what attracted me that and I remember thinking that's definitely what I would be best at.” This fascination continued when he moved to Europe and “Formula 1 was much more prominent on my radar … on Sunday if I wasn't racing go-carts, I was at the little Italian restaurant/bar with my friends from the factory and we were watching MOTO GP and Formula 1 all day and that's just what you did on a Sunday afternoon!”
On Becoming a Factory Driver for Porsche
How then was it that Patrick went from karting to open wheel to becoming a factory driver for Porsche? “The offer with Porsche was a bit of a crossroad in my career,” he begins. “I had been chasing a dream of a career in motorsport. I didn't have the family funding or the abundance of sponsorship to decide which series or what kind of driver I wanted to be—I just kind of went where people were willing to help me.” While competing in the Elf Campus Program (perhaps the most prestigious racing school in the world), Patrick lived at the university in Le Mans. There, he made contact with racing greats like Henri Pescarolo, an experience that no doubt played a huge role in his winning 24 of Le Mans.
After that experience, Long came home “flat broke and out of money after having begged and borrowed to make it to a Formula 3 level. Luckily, Red Bull brought forth a Formula 1 driver search program.” It was at the RedBull driver search that Long met Porsche representatives. “I wasn't chosen for the final four that went on for the 2003 RedBull scholarship season, but I made it to the final six. Along the way I met the folks at Porsche.”
An otherwise disappointing loss turned into a win. Continues Patrick, “there I was the next morning after not being chosen, knowing that I was heading home to California, so I was pretty down, and Danny called me the next morning and said remember those guys at Porsche? They want to talk to you, so I called them up and within a month I was over at Weissach, saw the facility, saw the race cars and saw just how incredible that company was. They were looking for a new candidate to replace Mark Leib who had been promoted to the factory team and they needed someone to join Mike Rockenfelter and I got the nod based on the run I did with them.”
Porsche told Long that they knew he’d been steered in the direction of single seaters, and that they wanted to “groom [him] to be our next factory driver and a star in sport car racing,” with one caveat: they wanted him to be completely focused on sport car racing. So did Long accept on the spot? “As lame as it sounds, I wasn't completely sold,” recalls Long, adding, “I went home and picked up the phone and called every adviser I had and anybody who was willing to answer my phone calls who had made it as a professional in the sport whether they were a team manager or a team owner, or star driver. They just all said one thing: sign with these guys, sign with Porsche because you're twenty-one, they’re willing to put their name behind you, they've done nothing but be loyal and win in motor sport and you don't find a better company than that.”
As for regrets, Long says, “I've never looked back and wondered what it would have been like to race in other types of categories or how much money Formula 1 drivers make or any of that. To me it's been a dream come true for so many reasons.”
Challenge of Factory Driving
We know better than to think the job is all about perks, so we ask, what's the most challenging aspect of being a factory driver? The biggest challenge is performing at 100% and maintaining that fine line between hero and zero,” answers Long, adding, “the line of being quick and focused and physically and mentally prepared, and really putting the car on that fine, fine edge, being able to do that is the same pressure and just not over step the boundary and not spill the car off the track and not lose your cool and not lose your physical conditioning through a long range.” Also important is not to become complacent; says Long, “I think that you're only as good as your last race and you have to … never become complacent.”
Gratitude is a recurring theme when Long talks about racing. “The days on the road, or the travel, or waiting in the security lines—I hold my head high and smile when I'm standing in a God-awful line in Atlanta airport connecting through because I'm working for a living.” He adds, “There are so many talented drivers that deserve the opportunity that don't get those days in the airport because there aren't enough seats out there for everybody, so it's pretty easy for me to know that there aren't many bad days as a professional driver.”
We next ask Patrick about those fabled Porsche training camps we’ve all read about. Are they as grueling as they sound, taking the drivers to exotic Mediterranean islands to get buff? Long laughs. “Well, they're definitely extremely challenging and tough, but survivable. If I don't do my homework, then it's pretty hard to take the test. But I've done seven or eight of them …” As far of what Long does to stay in shape in between camps, his regime includes cardio “but also sensory motor training, stability training, strength training and flexibility.
Avoidable Contact and Racecraft
Our conversation moves to racecraft and contact in the sport of racing. “I think that if you look back, there's quite a lot of contact in the '90's and in the early 21st century,” says Long adding, “these days, the cars are expensive and the style of racing has changed and become more professional. [The Porsche Cup] has more contact than ALMS or Grand Am on an average front, but I think you see just as much contact especially in the GT class as you do in the Super Cup these days. Also, once we went to water cooled cars with the radiators up front, that deterred a lot of drivers from using their front bumpers to make passes.” That is not the case for the side panels, however. “The cars are built incredibly strong and the wheels are pretty well protected by carbon fiber, so you can get away with a lot of side to side contact.”
So how does Long decide whether contact happens or not? In the pro league, says Long, “there certainly times where [contact] has to happen. If a guy spins me or runs me wide off into the dirt, he kinda knows he's got it coming back for him. Smiles Long, “it might not be in the next corner, in might not be in the next race but you know I definitely don't forget,” adding, with his trademark sense of fairness, “I think that's how racing should be: if you do something, you better expect it's going to come back whether it's good or bad.”
Long is one of the few drivers to have driven both the RSR and the RS Spyder. We ask him what it’s like to experience the Spyder—is it a complete assault on the senses? “Pretty amazing,” responds Long. “The first thought you have is just how cool it is to be driving such a technically advanced race car.” He continues telling us about the car: “the initial feeling of the torque, of the braking and stopping potential … and how much the down-force the car makes. It’s an ultimate race car!”
Porsche Purist Sidebar
PP: Do you actually listen to music before a race?
PL: You won't find me listening to music in the car or on the grid or any of that. I don't think that it would hurt; it's just one of those things that I've never wanted to depend on to get myself in the right mindset. I never want to be dependent on anything other than what I have in my brain, which is the only thing you’re guaranteed to have at all times!
PP: Do you have any kind of pre-race ritual?
PL: Not really. Hydration, nutrition and rest are what gives me my peace of mind. I think there is no right or wrong way to prepare yourself for a race. I tell people to do whatever it takes for them to believe that they're well-prepared.
PP: Do you have a win that was most memorable?
PL: You know, fresh in my mind is definitely the Rolex 24 Hour at Daytona this year. It helped me to get to that milestone of winning each one of the major sport car races. But, you know, Le Mans is still for me the race, from a sports car driver's perspective, and I wouldn’t trade that win for anything.
Special thanks to Patrick for taking the time to sit down with the FlatSixes.com team and Jennifer Hart of Flying Lizard Motorsports for setting things up.
Interview by Christian Maloof / Story by Valerie Roedenbeck