For Patrick Long, 2015 marks a significant change of pace, as America’s only Porsche factory driver shifts from full-time competition in North America to his first season-long program in the rapidly growing FIA World Endurance Championship.
Following one-off drives at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the past two years, Long is playing a leading role with the Dempsey Proton Racing effort this year, an opportunity that has brought the 33-year-old Californian back to his roots.
Long spent the early days of his racing career in Europe, having moved overseas at the age of 17, prior to landing a coveted factory seat with Porsche and go onto claim success with the German manufacturer, both in North America and abroad.
“This is certainly a different year for me, from where I’ve been the last couple of seasons,” Long told Sportscar365. “So far I’m really enjoying it. It has all the professionalism and resources behind it. But it’s a different flavor and I really like it.
“I don’t know if I would have been ready for it a couple of years ago but now that I feel like going at six-hour races and some of the new rules, it’s all really interesting to me. It’s things I have to get my head around and dig deep and learn. I’m really focused.”
While taking part in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races for Team Falken Tire, Long’s primary focus is with the Dempsey Proton organization this year, particularly with helping Patrick Dempsey acclimate to the globe-trotting championship.
The Hollywood actor/racer, whose 11-year starring role on the hit TV series “Grey’s Anatomy” was recently brought to an end, has been on an eyes-wide-open experience of learning a new series, new circuits and new cultures, something Long is no stranger in adapting to.
The pairing, who team with German ace Marco Seefried in the No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR, are coming off a positive test in Bahrain prior to heading to Belgium for this weekend’s WEC Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
“[Patrick Dempsey’s] in a transition with his schedule, so he’s been light on laps the last month or so,” Long said. So the first couple of races are trickier for him for sure. My role is a little bit different but I’m still growing into that.
“I think getting Patrick to blend into this scenery and to learn some new circuits, and also Marco, a new teammate of his, I think those are kind of my roles.
“But those are things that I thrive on. I would much rather work on the team spirit than on the engineering side. I know the car and preparation and engineering is dialed in, so it allows me to do what comes more natural.”
While coming off a rather challenging season-opener at Silverstone, which saw a sixth place class finish for the trio, Long realizes the challenge ahead, particularly with the high level of competition they’re up against.
“I underestimated how competitive the GTE-Am class is going to be this year,” he said. “To me, looking at it, there’s five or six cars that can win the race. That has me in a more positive spirit because I know it’s going to be full focus.
“The competition in this class is going to push me as hard as any previous year has.”
Long said they’ve set realistic goals this year, with one of the primary objectives being on Le Mans, and delivering a podium finish in the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic, something that’s eluded Long and Dempsey on the last two occasions after strong runs.
The difference this year, however, comes with the addition of Silver-rated Seefried to the lineup, a differentiating factor, according to Long, that will help achieve their target, not only at Le Mans, but for the entire season.
“The goal is always the same,” Long said. “You want to win races. At this point, it’s even simpler than that. You get in and if you hit your marks as a driver, the rest of it is pageantry and motion.
“It sounds cliche but after this [for] many years, you just figure out that you get the most out of yourself. You know whether you’ve had a good weekend or not, regardless of the result.”