Long, Wright Motorsports form potent operation for final 3 GT Rounds in 2016

Veteran racer Patrick Long has been through adversity before in his motorsports career. And he has come back from it to be victorious.

The 34-year-old Manhattan Beach, Calif., driver this year saw a victory in the season-opening Pirelli World Challenge GT race at Circuit of the Americas, a 145-mile per hour crash in the next day’s race and his racing team park his sports car after the seventh of the 19-round campaign.

“It was an unusual start to the first part of the season for me in Pirelli World Challenge,” said Long, the 2011 PWC GT champion who returned this year to the sprint-racing format. “We won the first race, got crashed out of the second one and I was looking for a ride after the Barber (Motorsports Park) weekend. Luckily, we had a gap in the schedule but we were scrambling.”

Unfortunately, Long (one win) and teammate Michael Lewis (two wins) were sent to the sidelines when the EFFORT Racing team was forced to park their Porsche 911 GT3 R sports cars for the remainder of the 2016 PWC season.

“Racing Porsches for over a decade you have many past relationships within the Porsche community,” said Long. “It’s a tight world and many people assisted us to put something together quickly with Wright Motorsports. One door closes and another door opens and John Wright (team owner) and Michael Schein (new teammate) saw an opportunity with me joining the team. It has worked out well since our first race together.”

Long wasted little time proving that statement with an impressive double GT victory weekend in May at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. And last week at Utah Motorsport Campus, Long took over the GT point lead after twin third-place finishes. Patrick now leads McLaren’s Alvaro Parente by 21 points.

Quite a comeback for a racer who saw his season nearly disappear in May and return to the front of the GT field with just three rounds remaining (Sept. 17-18 at Sonoma Raceway and Oct. 8-9 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca).

“Porsche Consulting and others helped us immediately and they are trailblazers in the sport,” explained Long, the two-time 24 Hours of LeMans champion. “With the competitiveness of the Pirelli World Challenge GT division, we had to hit the track aggressively to stay in the points hunt. And we weren’t able to test at some of the tracks due to scheduling conflicts. Now, with the point lead, we have a tough challenge ahead of us.”

Long knows the new version of the Porsche 911 GT3 R is a bit different from the Porsche which captured the GT manufacturers’ point title and three race victories in 2015.

“It’s kind of funny that the tracks in which the Porsche was fast at in 2015 aren’t the same in 2016,” admits Long. “Previously, the Porsche struggled at CTMP and we won both races this year. And last year, at Mid-Ohio, Ryan Dalziel won both races and we struggled there this year. We are a small team with Wright Motorsports as opposed to the Cadillac, McLaren, Acura and other teams. So Sonoma could be a tall order for us.”

However, the veteran racer has a solid squad behind him despite its lack of size with team owner Wright and engineer Bob Viglione leading the way.

“We have some of the most experienced Porsche people in John and Bobby as well as the crew guys and I feel good going into the final weekends of the season with Wright Motorsports,” said Long. “But we can’t be out there dealing with math for the point championship. We have to go racing and compete hard against these other strong manufacturers.”

Long admits Sonoma Raceway has been good to him over his racing career but he can’t expect to run at the front of the field with the impressive GT lineup set for the 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent circuit in the Napa Valley of Northern California.

“Look at how many different winners there have been in the GT division already this year,” Long said. “In addition to myself, you have Parente, Johnny (O’Connell), (Michael) Cooper, Michael (Lewis), Ryan Eversley and, most recently, Bryan Heitkotter at Utah. And others have been very close to victory too. So I can’t expect to have an easy run at Sonoma. I like the track very much but our team must have everything in order to run at the front of the field.”

But considering where Long was in the early part of May with no team or Porsche to drive in the remainder of the Pirelli World Challenge, he loves to be leading the battle for the coveted GT championship.

“It’s been a very interesting season for me and to pull off the GT series championship would be extremely special,” Long added, “especially considering the circumstances during the year and amount of talent and equipment in the GT class.”

Contact; Tom Blattler, 317.525.5692, tblattler@wcvision.com