Why is longtime Porsche hotshoe Patrick Long retiring at 40?

Steven Cole
By Steven Cole Smith
Dec 4, 2022 | Porsche, Endurance Racing, Patrick Long | Posted in Features | From the April 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Porsche

What will he miss the most?

Patrick Long, America’s only Porsche factory driver of late, pauses for a moment before answering. “Those days when you know you have the best people around you, and you’re sitting in the latest, greatest equipment, and the car is just perfect, and you’re going to go out burning through tires. That’s the unbelievable opportunity that I get.”

It’s 10 minutes before driver introductions for the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, the 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

Coincidentally, this is where it all began. And it’s here that Patrick Long, at age 40, is hanging up his helmet. This is his last formal points race.

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His ride in today’s Petit is the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R in the GT Daytona class, with co-drivers Jan Heylen and Trent Hindman, and it’s Long’s last outing in a season-long commitment. “Driving and racing will always remain part of my life,” he says, “but they will no longer be the majority.”

From now on, he’ll serve as a Porsche brand ambassador for the street car side, alongside his mentor, Hurley Haywood, who raced for decades as a Porsche factory shoe. Long will also serve as a competition advisor for Porsche Motorsport North America.

All that said, “I’m not ruling out anything,” he continues. “I mean, I love driving, I love racing, but it will be on my terms. There will still be plenty of driving, there will still be plenty of development work. I plan to continue to do testing for Porsche and I plan to do a lot of vintage racing. There are events I’ve never taken part in that I want to do–I get calls all the time: ‘Let’s go do a club race’ or ‘Let’s do a Lemons race.’

So I look forward to having some fun, but the first couple of years I’m pretty focused on the opportunity I have with Porsche. You know how much passion is behind the new GT3s and GT4s that are coming out, so that’s a big opportunity.”

High Achiever

So why retire now? Haywood raced into his 50s, and BMW’s Bill Auberlen, who was in contention for the 2021 GT Daytona title and is the winningest IMSA racer in history, is still going strong at 52.

One reason: family. “Someone asked me what’s the difference between a 40-year-old who steps out of full-time racing and a 50-year-old. And I think some of that is where they are in their family life, and I’ve been very open with Porsche that I’ve given the last 20 years of my career where racing has always come first,” Long says. “Moving ahead, I want to utilize the foundation that racing has given me to learn how to contribute in other ways, but also to prioritize a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old and a great wife.

“I’ve been given so much opportunity so early in my career that I feel fulfilled as a driver. There’s nothing that I think, ‘I wish I would have experienced…’ or ‘I wish I would have tried to win….’ You name it and I got the opportunity, from open-wheel cars to stock cars to sports cars to Australian V8 Touring Cars to Baja to sprint cars. And to get that opportunity through building a name as a sports car driver, what else could I ask for?”

Indeed, Long’s resumé is substantial and eclectic. He served his time in karts and open-wheel cars before getting a shot in the first Red Bull Formula 1 Driver Search. It was there that Porsche noticed him, making him a Junior driver and then, in 2003, a Factory driver. Long hasn’t driven exclusively for Porsche, but his two class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, along with class victories at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, were for the German manufacturer.

In 2003, Long drove the UPS-backed car for Porsche’s Junior Team. A year later, he was on the factory roster. One of his first assignments: perennial front-runners The Racer’s Group. Fellow Porsche driver Jörg Bergmeister, standing next to Long, was a frequent co-driver. Together they won Sebring in 2005 for Petersen Motorsports. Photography Credits: Courtesy Porsche (UPS, Bergmeister and Long), ALMS (The Racers Group), Photosbyjuha.com (Petersen Motorsports)

Long has also driven in the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series, and he won in the NASCAR K&N Pro series. He’s also driven in the FIA World Endurance Championship, earning three wins; he won the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and has a win and two seconds in the Bathurst 12 Hour. Though known in sports car racing for his GT victories, he has three wins and five podium finishes in Alex Job’s Porsche-powered Crawford DP03 Prototype.

A Post-Racing Racing Career

What’s the difference between being a driver at 20 and at 40? Long replies, “I certainly have more awareness of what it takes to put one of these cars on the track, what it takes for this organization to put on these races, and a higher degree of respect for everything we get to do. I have less to prove today than maybe at 20, but with that comes a different upside, and also maybe a little less speed than at 20.”

This event, and this track, have a special place in Long’s heart. “I came here to Road Atlanta in 2003 as a 21-year-old, debuting in IMSA, and I just saw a world I wanted to be a part of. And I was willing to do anything to be here. I remember going up to Dr. Don Panoz,” owner of both the American Le Mans Series and Road Atlanta, “walking to the banquet that I had no business being at, and I said, ‘Don, my name is Patrick Long and I just competed in my first Petit Le Mans, and I am just completely driven to make a career here.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Whatever I can do to help you, let me know.’

It was an amazing experience to come here in that era. I was completely freaked out the first couple of laps when the Audi R8s shot by me–I’d never had anything like that happen. It was like a manual reset of my mind. It took two laps for me to get back to any kind of tempo out there. I think I did the last 3 hours of the race. I’d never raced at night, it was still an H-pattern gearbox in the 911, and I was loving every minute of it. 

Long also drove prototypes for Porsche–including Penske’s RS Spyder program–while running some NASCAR races as well. Photography Credits: Photosbyjuha.com (Ruby Tuesday, RS Spyder), Johnathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR

“And here we are now. I think this has been 19 Petits in a row with some wins in different classes. And I think this is a great environment for me to walk out right now and stand by the front straightaway and smell the roses.”

Hurley Haywood agrees that Long is getting out at a good time. 

“I think it’s a wise move,” Haywood says. “He’s a great racing driver, and the new position he’ll be taking over, he’ll be perfect for. He’s certainly knowledgeable about the things going on in the racing world and in the consumer arena. He can talk with authority.

“You know, it’s difficult for a racing driver in this day and age to make a good living. The teams are focusing on the younger generation, and they sort of don’t want to look at someone who is over 40 years old, unfortunately,” Haywood continues. “From a racing standpoint, Patrick is way above the rest as far as his ability to drive a race car and his ability to think about what he’s doing.

“But today’s environment is really different from when we all started. Patrick has been racing for 25 years, and I’ve been racing for 50 years, so there’s a lot of difference, even in the 25 years that separate us. The younger generation, if they’re good at video games and good at analyzing information that is coming to them very quickly and react to it, that’s important in today’s age of being a racing driver. 

“Patrick and I grew up in the analog era. We didn’t have this information. And we were the ones who drove the cars and managed the power and managed the brakes, and now so much of that is done electronically.

“Patrick decided it’s time to move on to something different. He started Luftgekühlt,” described on its website as events that, in the Porsche vernacular, represents all the air-cooled cars in the manufacturer’s history, from the Pre-A 356 through the 993 model line, which ended the 50-year tradition in 1998. These car culture events center around “historically significant or interesting air-cooled Porsches” and pop up in cool venues, like a lumber yard. 

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“Luftgekühlt is a really big thing now,” Haywood continues, and “it’s supported by the factory, it’s supported by Porsche Cars North America.”

At the 2011 24 Hours of Nürburgring, Long drove something traditional yet also futuristic: the 997 GT3 R Hybrid, with auxiliary power coming from a flywheel-based kinetic energy recovery system. Back in the U.S., he took the 2017 World Challenge GT title. Photography Credits: Courtesy Porsche

Haywood and Long have discussed balancing family and being a professional racer. “I said, when he first had a child, that having a baby is going to change the outlook that you have on life,” Haywood reports. “You love racing but you also love your family, which is now a wife and two kids, so you have to be careful about what you elect to do. In this day and age, the racing is so close and so intense that you put yourself at risk all the time. I think he wanted to be able to spend time with his family, watch his kids grow up.”

Haywood says vintage racing may be where Long maintains his level of wheel-to-wheel skill, much like Haywood has. “Even before I retired, I was pretty involved in the vintage stuff with Brumos,” Haywood says, noting the Florida Porsche dealer that he has strong ties to, “but I said I’m not going to get lured into a racing program, whether it be with a vintage car or a pro team. It put me in a position where I can pick and choose, and luckily for me, Brumos has a pretty extensive vintage program that we race with when we’re comfortable about doing so.

“There are some very fast cars racing with amateur guys, so there’s a certain amount of risk there. Personally, for me, it was a good decision and I’m having fun doing it. I still keep my hand in it and I still drive really cool cars and reduce the risk level.”

What’s next for Patrick Long? As with Hurley Haywood, another legendary Porsche driver, look for Long at vintage race events. Luftgekühlt, his curated, air-cooled Porsche events, will also keep him busy and involved. Photography Credits: LAT Images (Long), Courtesy Porsche (Haywood, Luftgekühlt)

One Last Win

So how did Petit Le Mans 2021 work out as Long’s final race as a pro driver? It was a challenge. Contact in the first few laps resulted in a flat tire, and that put the team two laps back. But they made up the two laps and led for a time, especially when it counted: the periods when the points were tallied for the 2021 Michelin Endurance Cup, which the team won.

After starting off the 2020 season with a Sebring win for Wright Motorsports, Long wrapped up 2021 by helping the team claim the Michelin Endurance Cup. Photography Credit: LAT Images

“Today was a measure of teamwork,” Long says. “We went to work on the strategy. We easily did the most pit stops of any team today with an eye on a prize and goal, the Michelin Endurance Cup,” awarded to the team that does best in the four longest endurance races: Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit. “It wasn’t the overall championship, but it was the next best thing. This is a great way to cap off a full-time driving career. I am going to enjoy tonight.”

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Comments
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trigun7469
trigun7469 UltraDork
2/14/22 1:15 p.m.

Phenomenal driver, one of the very few to hang with the Europeans. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/15/22 10:24 a.m.

Yeah, it's bittersweet. I met Patrick at a Porsche press event about 15 years ago, and we'd see each other at events over the years. He's always gracious, polite and just so fast. (His World Challenge titles almost came under the radar.)

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
2/15/22 11:40 a.m.

I met him once; we had a very brief interaction at a small event, he was very down to earth guy and very gracious. 

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