PATRICK LONG/No.34 Fujitsu/GRM Holden Commodore VE is possibly the best Guest International driver the Aussie’s never heard of. Long admits he’s not a household name, and reckons that could be at least part of the reason why he was rated last by Auto Action’s ALEX INWOOD, with one star out of five. This has just added to Long’s resolve to do well.
Long, of California, was third fastest of the 18 drivers at the wet Wednesday test day at Queensland Raceway. After the test there started to be a buzz in the V8 garage including among some of the Internationals such as DARIO FRANCHITTI/No.17 Jim Beam Racing Falcon FG. Word had it that Long was impressive. Prior to that test day, Long had a three-lap test at Winton, the track closest to his team’s race shop – his first ever time in a V8. Long has never been to Australia until now, and was wide-eyed. “It’s like being in a candy store.”
In addition to everything else Long had to learn, it was the names of his team, and everyone had two names – the given name and the nickname. The nickname the crew hung on him was “PLongi” which was fashioned after French in Talladega Nights….”Frenchi can drive” became “Plongi can drive.” The two people with whom Long works the closest are Killer and Snake.
Long finds the Aussies very friendly, down to earth. The team and the media have all been relaxed and casual. Long likes wearing shorts as part of his team uniform. It’s almost a Southern California surfing environment. He finds Australia has an open-minded culture, status and is like America – a melting pot.
Long found that everything about the car was different to him including the left hand shifting, the smaller tires. To help prepare for that, Long changed his workout routine to include more sensory motor focus on his left side to awaken it.The cockpit temperatures were nothing new to Long, who is a Porsche factory GT driver, winning the American Le Mans Series GT2 title three times. He said the power to weight ratio on the V8 is close to the GT2 car. He also compared the car to the old Group C cars. But the V8′s are very advanced, with adjustable roll bars. “It’s a great to be in the work horse. We’re an under dog team.”
Long said V8′s have more horsepower than can actually be used. “I have to manage the power in the corners. The tires are smaller and there are minimal driver aids. Here it’s more driver than car.” Long has raced some NASCAR touring series cars to some success. There, he said, there is a big drop off when the tires wear down.
Before Friday practice, Long said he was “quietly confident” and would “rather do a good clean mature job” than being a hot-shoe. “It’s all about controlling his emotions.” He feels like he’s crashed a well-organized dinner party. Long was not treating this as a celebrity race. His goal was to become a V8 endurance driver and show the Australians that he can really race.
Long already knew some of the V8 drivers, such as Points Leader JAMES COURTNEY with whom he roomed in the UK.
On warm sunny Friday Long was ninth fastest of the 18 during the Guest-only practice on the Surfers Paradise street circuit. Later in the open practice session he and his co-driver, MICHAEL CARUSO, were twenty-first of 29.
Caruso qualified the car in ninth place, and Long was one of five drivers who didn’t start the race. Long started in eighteenth position and worked up to take the lead, one of only two International drivers who led the Saturday afternoon race – the other being SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS of France. Long handed the leading car to Caruso, whowent on to finish fourth.
What the promoters are learning, according to Long, is that there is a huge sports cars sub-culture in Australia, so that is an advantage to the lesser-known sports car drivers in the field, especially himself.
One thing will be equal for all drivers – the circuit configuration is new. The track has been shortened. The six IndyCar drivers have lots of experience on previous Surfers street track, as do the seasoned V8 drivers.
Long is one of the three youngest International drivers – all being born in 1981: WILL POWER of Australia 1 March 1981; Long on 28 July 1981; and RYAN BRISCOE of Australia on 24 September 1981.
Long’s future driving goals including one or two different kinds of racing each year, as it fits in with his contracted sports car schedule. He has a list, which includes NASCAR Nationwide Series. Long wants to do some rally driving, hopefully the Baja in 2011, and Japanese GT. His bucket-list racing has to fit into his off-season schedule. He wants to run a Porsche GT3R at Nurburgring, and the Porsche hybrid.
“I set goals. I see something and learn from it.