For well over a year, a major project and focus of my life has been the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not just for the Dempsey Racing team, but also because I’m an executive producer for the Velocity/Discovery International documentary, that’s been following the team around as they prepare and race at Le Mans. The pressure has been on to get here and be successful. Lots of eyes are on us – fans, sponsors, critics, networks, friends and family. Daunting to be sure and none more scrutinized than our leading man, Patrick Dempsey.
Well, we made it. From racing in the American Le Mans Series and the ACO invitation, to assembling the right race team. We made it happen and in a big way but it wasn’t all glory and roses. We’re not immune to the usual race team struggles. Sponsors not paying. Failed engine program for the LMP2 Lola. A new team partnership. So on top of the pressure to race at Le Mans, we had the pressure to keep it together. I’m not whining or looking for sympathy, just setting the stage for the adventure…
The 2013 season in ALMS has had its high points for the No. 27 car driven by Patrick Dempsey, Andy Lally and Joe Foster – from securing the class pole position at Sebring to a second place finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. We were ready for Le Mans with some positive momentum and clear minds: Dempsey Del Piero Race Team, No. 77 in GTE-AM became our focus for the next six weeks. Our new partnership with Porsche, created a driver line-up that quickly made us contenders with Porsche factory driver, Patrick Long. To top it off, out of a field of 56 Le Mans entries, we were the only all-American driver line-up.
This is where the fun really begins. We had a real chance for a podium. And the racing world took notice.
The proof came during testing in May in Italy. Our team partner, Proton Competition, and Long – didn’t know exactly what to expect from Dempsey and Foster. Keep in mind they hadn’t worked together before. Well, they didn’t expect what they got: two very talented drivers dedicated to winning.
As we made our way to the Le Mans test, we were excited about our little secret. We knew the world was watching and we were excited to give them something unexpected. Many naysayers said the rules didn’t favor the Porsche compared to Ferrari and Aston Martin and didn’t have a chance – but we knew better. Le Mans is more than just the car – it is strategy, skill, mental strength, and teamwork.
Prior to the official Le Mans test day on June 9th, we had a busy time with media commitments. We loaded up the guys with a press conference, interviews and filming. It’s the fine line that our team walks. The name Patrick Dempsey brings something special to sports car racing. It’s the publicity that makes our sport grow, the Hollywood glamour that captures imaginations. It’s a tie to the past with Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Garner. It’s respecting the fans.
However, it isn’t easy juggling so much attention with the demands of racing. It isn’t easy for Patrick to focus on driving. But we find that balance…we simply can’t ignore our responsibility at this level. We take it seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. There’s a difference.
The test day wasn’t easy. Poor conditions meant very few laps on track and experimenting with tires slowed us down. By the end of the day, we accomplished most of our tasks; and, Long quietly poised the team as the fastest Porsche in class – we made a statement. Dempsey Del Piero – Proton is a team to be dealt with.
After the test, most of the team went back to the US. Jim Hancock and I stayed and took meetings in Italy and prepped for the busy race week ahead. The media frenzy wasn’t over and lots of details were in the works.
Secretly, my number one priority in preparation was to make sure everyone enjoyed the event. You may think that lofty and even silly, but it is so important. To that end, I asked for security and coordination help from the ACO and Parade organizers to make sure everyone – the fans, the team, other teams and the event, walked away with a positive experience from our presence. Paul Newman raced Le Mans once, with a stellar P2 result, but he never came back because he was overwhelmed by the crush of attention. I wanted to avoid that at all costs. We want to come back.
Selfishly, I’m a fan of the sport and this race. I wanted to make sure that beyond my team duties, I was going to be in the moment and enjoy the amazing-ness that is Le Mans.