American racer Long looks for Daytona triumph in the new year
Porsche keeps Patrick Long, its sole American factory driver, busy racing around the world. The German manufacturer also leaves enough room in his schedule for Long to venture outside of sports cars into NASCAR and touring cars.
Long, 29, is very happy with the arrangement and it appears he'll be a Porsche driver for the rest of his career after signing a multi-year contract extension this winter.
You can understand why Porsche would want to keep Long. This will be his ninth season with Porsche and he's delivered, with co-drivers, multiple wins and championships. He's won all the major endurance races: the 24-Hours at Le Mans (2004, '07) and Daytona ('09) and Sebring's 12-Hours (2005) in the GT class. Long and co-driver Joerg Bergmeister won their second straight American Le Mans Series GT title in 2010. Long has 20 ALMS GT victories and three in the Grand-American Series' Daytona Prototypes.
GT is sports car's production-based class. It has deep and competitive fields and it's where Porsche, wanting to sell the cars that it races, primarily invests its marketing dollars. But GT cars aren't contenders for overall wins against the prototypes, which have far superior horsepower and aerodynamics.
Long will have his chance to add an overall triumph in the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 29-30. It will be his fourth attempt in the premier Daytona Prototypes, driving a Porsche-powered Riley for Flying Lizard Motorsports.
"My goal is to win some of the races overall I've won in class," Long said. "Daytona would be one of the biggest boxes to check off. It would be right up there, my sweetest victory. I love that we're driving for the overall.
"I always thought racing in GT was most difficult, trying to keep pace and staying out of trouble with the prototypes and other traffic. The biggest difference isn't the competition. Once I got in the Daytona Prototype, life became more difficult. When you're in a prototype, you're the decision maker and you have to drive aggressively. You have to pick your holes, go four wide on the [Daytona] banking and make decisions quickly at high speed. You can make up a tremendous amount of ground in traffic when you're in a prototype."
Long will be driving the same car that carried Brumos Racing to the overall victory at Daytona in 2009 and with his regular co-driver, Bergmeister. They'll be joined by Johannes van Overbeek and Seth Nieman.
Flying Lizard doesn't compete in Grand-Am's prototypes on a regular basis and that will make it a challenge against those teams who do, like Chip Ganassi Racing, Gainsco Racing, Mike Shank Racing and Action Express Racing, which was the surprise winner at Daytona last year.
Ganassi has a driver lineup of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, last year's Grand-Am driving champions, joined by Graham Rahal and Joey Hand in one of its BMW-Rileys and Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti in the other. Gainsco has former series' champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty and five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
"I think with Porsche's flat-6 engine we've got a chance on the roval [combination road course and oval] against the Ganassis and Gainscos in Grand-Am," Long said. "The test we had went smoothly. We were competitive and problem-free from the time we put it out on the track. Hopefully, that's indicative of how things will go in January."
Long's best finish in a prototype in three previous races at Daytona was third in 2006 in a Porsche-Crawford for Alex Job Racing. He drove the same package in 2007 and 2008, having mechanical problems in both races. The Riley chassis has dominated Grand-Am in recent years and it will be an upgrade for Long and Flying Lizard to have it.
Flying Lizard's full-season series with Long and Bergmeister will be a third straight year in ALMS GT2 in a Porsche RSR. Long and Bergmeister have won championships in both seasons.
"The continuity of three years in a row with the same team in the same series is something I really value," Long said. "At this time last year, our backs were against the wall. We weren't going into the season as one of the favorites. I'm in a more positive perspective even though the competition will be even higher in 2011. The BMW and Corvette teams will be more refined and Ferrari has a new car, the 458.
"We fought tooth and nail to win the driver's championship last year. We never had the fastest lap times per se, but we had good strategy, fast pit stops, drive mistake free and were fast as drivers. Putting it all together won the championship. We have some substantial updates on our car, but it will be the same car we had last year and we need to have the same kind of season."
Long hopes to make his Sprint Cup debut at Infineon Raceway in June. He's won NASCAR's K & N West Series races on the road courses at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah in 2009 and Portland International Raceway in 2010. Long made his Nationwide debut at Road America last summer, qualifying seventh in a D'Hondt Humphrey Motorsports Toyota and finishing 14th after a late-race crash with Brad Keselowski.
"All day, we ran fifth and sixth and under a caution, a bunch of cars dove into the pits and we took the lead [laps 28-29 of 50]," Long said. "We bet against them and our strategy was the right one. We were saving our tires, but with about 15 laps to go, I was surprised to see some of the stuff I was seeing, short track stuff at 170 miles per hour on a road course. I got in a tangle with Keselowski.
"I had a couple of interesting phone calls after Road America. Some people asked me if I was available for road courses. I've looked at it and it works out scheduling wise for Infineon [June 24-26]. My goal is to be in the Cup race at Infineon. I need to get clearance from Porsche. I'd like to think Porsche will be OK with me doing it. If it happens in 2011, great. They've allowed me to go out and race on free weekends and it's a lot of fun. It's part of the great fit with Porsche."
Long is a world-class talent, one of the best Americans driving a race car.
But he's sometimes overlooked in a group that would include Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Ryan Hunter-Reay because he races with a co-driver and in sports cars, a niche form of motor racing in the U.S. Porsche searches everywhere for drivers of Long's ability and he's the only American under contract, with it for nearly a decade.