After a hectic opening to the year, which has seen the team go through three different cars, this weekend’s Six Hours of Nürburgring almost serves as a fresh start of sorts for Jon Fogarty and Tequila Patron ESM.
The two-time GRAND-AM champion has been on a steep learning curve, not only in acclimating to LMP2 machinery and the Florida-based team but also learning new tracks in his first season in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
“It still feels a bit of a whirlwind even though we’re heading into the latter half of the season,” Fogarty told Sportscar365. “The schedule is a little bit different from what I’m used to.
“Especially with how much change we had leading up to Le Mans, it almost feels like now we’re starting the season.
“We [now] know the chassis, we’re running the downforce package we’re going to run with for the remainder of the year. I feel like this is the start of the season.”
Fogarty and co-drivers Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown are coming off an encouraging seventh place class finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in what only marked the all-American trio’s second-ever race with the Ligier JS P2 Honda.
The team’s new LMP2 package, which debuted one race earlier at Spa-Francorchamps in May, has been one of the major new elements for Fogarty and the Scott Sharp-owned squad to wrap their heads around.
“Having a new car and trying to explore the limits on tracks I’m not familiar with, frankly has been pretty difficult,” Fogarty said.
“But it’s a good car and we’re still trying to find a setup we’re comfortable with. I think we’ve made some progress there.
“Personally, getting comfortable with the car, I still feel there’s quite a bit of improvement to be made. But within the team, I’m very comfortable.”
All six of the ESM’s drivers, including Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson in the sister No. 30 entry, are coming off a productive two-day test at the Nürburgring last month, in preparation for this weekend’s fourth round of the season.
For Fogarty, track time has proven to be crucial in helping him get up to speed with his new surroundings.
“Learning the tracks, without testing prior to a race weekend, has been the big challenge,” he said.
“You can watch videos, you can look at data but until you put the rubber on the road, you don’t really have any idea of what the nuances and the particularly grip level of each circuit is.
“Unfortunately, it’s been very difficult for us, logistically, [to test]. So to have the opportunity to get on the track prior to the upcoming race is a big deal.”
The WEC season has been all-new for Fogarty, who’s best known for his success with GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing in the U.S., although he didn’t have any previous racing experience overseas prior to this year.
Fogarty said the travel and time change hasn’t been an issue for him, although the 40-year-old Californian has a new-found appreciation for racing in different environments.
“It’s been an awesome opportunity but a big challenge for sure,” he said. “It’s cool to have three Americans running around the world, representing a global brand that’s American-based.
“But having raced in North America and being familiar with these tracks all these years, you don’t realize the learning curve that that a lot of these guys who come over Europe to run [in America] are up against learning all our tracks.
“It’s interesting to be on the flip side of that coin… But it’s a building year. Going into next year, we’re not going to have that same hurdle and hopefully we’ll have our feet under us a little more.”
One of the positive surprises for Fogarty, when compared to racing Stateside, has been the global impact the WEC has.
“The WEC is a good show,” he said. “There’s a lot of fans and the grandstands are packed. That makes it all the better.
“If I was running around the globe and there’s nobody paying attention, it probably wouldn’t be all that exciting. You really are part of a big deal.”
While currently sitting fifth in the LMP2 drivers’ championship, Fogarty has set realistic expectations for the final five races of the season.
“Personally, we want to be on pace with the leaders,” he said. “If we can get on the podium, that’s great. It’s competitive and a lot of things have to come together.
“First and foremost, you need to be getting the most out of yourself personally. Getting comfortable with the car and the tracks and being able to put down [good laps] in my stint is my personal goal.
“It’s a learning year, we all knew it would be. There’s competitive people in this group and we sometimes forget about learning and focus on winning or being competitive or being on the podium, which is natural.
“But we have to step back and be realistic to where we’re at.”