Patrick Long joined the Porsche Junior program in 2003 as a freckle faced youngster, so it seems impossible that Long, now 32, has been with Porsche for a dozen years and is the senior Porsche factory American driver in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Beginning his racing career in karts at age eight, Long became a big winner in karting and embarked on a plan that took him to Europe in 1999 at the age of 18. He progressed through the single-seater ranks from the British Formula Ford Zetec series and was one of six finalists in the Red Bull F1 driver search.
Along the way, his path has included GT victories in the four major endurance events worldwide; the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
He also has three American Le Mans Series GT driver championships (all co-driving with Joerg Bergmeister), a pair of wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and two wins at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, the most recent coming this spring.
Now, just as he learned the Porsche way by watching and listening to factory stars like Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr, Timo Bernhard and Joerg Bergmeister, Long helps school young Michael Christensen, 23, of Denmark, in all things Porsche.
Being a Porsche factory driver requires far more than just jumping into the seat of a race car and being quick. Speed is a given. Technical feedback, the ability to work with co-drivers, engineers and crews, and facing the ever changing demands of competition in races that range from two to 24 hours is demanding.
So are the appearances for media, sponsors and team activities as drivers become ambassadors for their respective marques. “My first year I was under Joerg and Sascha and then the second year I was full time with Joerg,”said Long.
“The jump is not as extreme now. The Juniors graduate through a well-designed program. Michael has already been to Sebring and Daytona, so the learning curve now is more about learning to work with a bigger team and all the resources.”
The debut in 2014 of an official Porsche North America factory team in the TUDOR Championship is evidence of the fierce competition in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, where Porsche takes on the factory squads from Corvette Racing, BMW Team RLL, SRT Dodge Viper and the lead Risi Competizione Ferrari team.
“Ten years ago, Porsche was less aggressive,” said Long. “The Porsche GT program was mostly customer teams. Now it is full on factory racing.”
And Porsche wasted no time in making its mark as the Porsche 911 RSR factory team debuted with victories at both the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona for Nick Tandy and Richard Lietz (along with Patrick Pilet) and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, where Long and co-driver Michael Christensen took the victory with Joerg Bergmeister (pictured right).
Long is not surprised by the early success of the new Porsche North America factory team.
“The cars had a full season of development in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and finished 1-2 at Le Mans in 2013, so we knew the cars were good. The bigger challenge was in how quickly the Porsche group and the CORE autosport team came together,” said Long, who drove with the Rock Hill, SC based CORE team in 2013.
Racing sports cars in endurance competition means a new mind set for Christensen after driving single-seater cars in shorter races.
“It is a completely new environment,” said Christensen, 23, who is visiting most tracks for the first time.
“For me, everything is new. New team. New races. New tracks and a new championship. The biggest adjustment is learning how to work here, working with the team and the engineers.
“The feeling is very relaxed compared to Europe,” said Christensen ‘but the races are intense.” And so is Patrick.