In­ter­view: Pa­trick Dempsey

Ac­tor, rac­ing driver and now team boss: the owner of Dempsey Pro­ton Rac­ing talks to To­tal 911 about his Porsche pas­sion

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Ben Barry Pho­tog­ra­phy by Porsche

Known for his on-screen an­tics, Pa­trick Dempsey shares the highs and lows of run­ning a Le Mans-win­ning Porsche GT team

Pa­trick Dempsey is best known to his fans as neu­ro­sur­geon Derek ‘Mc­dreamy’ Shep­herd in med­i­cal drama Grey’s Anatomy. But car en­thu­si­asts might as­so­ciate him more read­ily with his pas­sion for Porsche. That’s both as an avid hoarder of Stuttgart road cars and as a race driver and co-owner of the Dempsey Pro­ton race team – a team for­merly known as Pro­ton Com­pe­ti­tion, which had raced 911s since the 1990s, but has teamed with Dempsey since 2015.

Dempsey is no multi-mil­lion­aire dilet­tante

– he’s stood on the podium at Le Mans in the GTE-AM class, and when To­tal 911 caught up with him at this year’s race at Cir­cuit de la Sarthe, one of his team’s 911 RSRS took vic­tory in GTE-AM. It topped off the per­fect week­end for Porsche, which scored a one-two in the GTE-PRO cat­e­gory.

“To do this with 70 years of Porsche his­tory just feels amaz­ing… it’s like a Hol­ly­wood movie end­ing!” said Dempsey af­ter the che­quered flag. “I was blown away [by our driv­ers]; you ex­pect a rookie to make a mis­take, but they just didn’t. They pounded out laps that were as close to the pros, and in some cases a lit­tle faster. To have 15 years bat­tling it out in this sport, try­ing to make a bud­get… what a great way to do it. I can’t tell you how in­cred­i­bly proud I am for Porsche, too.”

Just over a day be­fore that his­toric vic­tory, we meet Dempsey in his team’s trailer be­hind the pad­dock. These days the 52 year old has quit Grey’s Anatomy and stepped back a lit­tle from rac­ing af­ter fo­cus­ing fully on his co-owner re­spon­si­bil­i­ties since 2016. But still he de­scribes him­self as con­sumed by rac­ing; in fact, it was only three years ago that Dempsey put his act­ing ca­reer on ice to race in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship [WEC]. “My act­ing ca­reer took a big hit in 2015 be­cause I left the show to fo­cus 100 per cent on rac­ing,” re­mem­bers Dempsey. “I’m so grate­ful [to Grey’s Anatomy] be­cause it gave me vis­i­bil­ity around the world to go rac­ing, but it was too chal­leng­ing to work out a sched­ule and do both things – I knew I had to seize the mo­ment. But now it feels com­pletely nat­u­ral to be more on the man­age­rial side.”

You wouldn’t know that he’s be­hind the scenes this week­end and not the steer­ing wheel by the en­thu­si­asm with which he re­counts qual­i­fy­ing: the #77 car (driven by Matt Camp­bell, Chris­tian Ried and Julien And­lauer) qual­i­fied well with a time of 3:50.728 – 3.2 sec­onds off the 911 RSR GTE-PRO pole sit­ter, if still enough to clinch the GTE-AM pole. But the #88 car (Mat­teo Cairoli, Gior­gio Roda, Khaled Al Qubaisi) was re­peat­edly frus­trated, end­ing up with a 3:51.930 – good enough for third po­si­tion. “We were strong, we were up. I think we would have both been on the front row but the yel­low flag would come out right when the #77 car had a flyer. You could re­ally feel ev­ery­one push­ing. That level of com­pe­ti­tion, it

was a crazy qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion – it was good TV, but not so good for the peo­ple in the pits!”

Dempsey in­her­ited his pas­sion for rac­ing from his fa­ther, who ran a ‘short-track’ stock-car team. ‘I re­mem­ber get­ting a Match­box model ev­ery Fri­day night off my dad, lay­ing in the sta­tion wagon front seat lis­ten­ing to the Indy 500 on the ra­dio in the 1970s with AJ Foyt rac­ing, that whole gen­er­a­tion, and watch­ing prob­a­bly a helicopter shot of one of the pro­to­types speed­ing down the Mul­sanne Straight at Le Mans. It was be­fore they put in the chi­canes, it just went on and on so fast, and I thought ‘I want to do that!’ I never thought I’d get there, but as the years clipped it got closer, and then it be­came a re­al­ity – that was pretty re­mark­able.”

Dempsey re­grets not rac­ing un­til his 30s, but he started with a three-day course at the Panoz Rac­ing School and by 2009 got on the grid at Le Mans in a Fer­rari F430, fin­ish­ing 30th over­all and eighth in GT2 along­side Don Kitch Jr and Jo Fos­ter. “I felt well pre­pared the first time I raced at Le Mans. I’d done the Day­tona 24 Hours, Se­bring, I was very used to deal­ing with traf­fic, but at times I prob­a­bly did jump in the deep end and then fig­ured out how to swim to the side of the pool!” he ad­mits.

Dempsey kept up a di­a­logue with Porsche as his driv­ing con­tin­ued to im­prove, and in 2013 things stepped up a gear ahead of the planned WEC cam­paign. “I was like ‘I need to im­prove in or­der to be com­pet­i­tive here’. Ev­ery­thing changed dra­mat­i­cally af­ter that – Porsche knows ex­actly how to look af­ter its driv­ers, nur­ture them and an­a­lyse them, they’ve got that down, and I re­ally like the me­thod­i­cal step-by-step ap­proach. I’ve never spent so much time in a car as I did that year. Pa­trick Long was coach­ing me, and we were in ev­ery­thing: sprint cars, karts, off-road­ing, test­ing all the time, it was a lot of seat time.” Fit­ness, too, be­came a cru­cial fo­cus ahead of the lengthy stints Dempsey had al­ready en­dured. “There’s act­ing fit, which is a more su­per­fi­cial fit­ness, and there’s the [rac­ing] re­al­ity. You need the car­dio, the core strength – your shoul­ders, your neck – and you only re­ally get that if you’re con­stantly pound­ing out the laps and train­ing. I don’t think peo­ple un­der­stand just how phys­i­cally de­mand­ing rac­ing is: you have to deal with the high tem­per­a­tures, the lower body, the up­per body, it’s a real work­out.” A podium at Le Mans was the ul­ti­mate goal. Fourth place in 2013 brought Dempsey and his co-driv­ers tan­ta­lis­ingly close to the cham­pagne, and they re­turned to achieve the dream and clinch sec­ondin-class in 2015. The great­est suc­cess, how­ever, was re­served for Ja­pan, where Dempsey, Long and Marco Seefried won in GTE-AM at the chal­leng­ing Fuji Speed­way. Dempsey re­flects: “For me, that was it. It was like win­ning the cham­pi­onship!”

Achiev­ing such suc­cess also trig­gered a turn­ing point, and Dempsey re­veals he prob­a­bly won’t re­turn to Le Mans, at least as a driver. “I thought to my­self ‘how much faster can I get, what’s re­al­is­tic here?’,” he re­mem­bers. “But I also wanted to stay in the sport and make an im­pact, so start­ing the team and de­vel­op­ing young driv­ers felt very nat­u­ral.

“Be­ing a team owner is ab­so­lutely as sat­is­fy­ing as be­ing a driver,” he con­tin­ues. “One of our guys is Julien And­lauer. He’s 18, French and he was rac­ing at Le Mans for the first time – that’s re­ally some­thing spe­cial to be able to give him that op­por­tu­nity.” Later, Dempsey’s dol­lar will have helped put And­lauer on the top step of the GTEAM podium.

“With the right fund­ing and op­por­tu­nity you can still live the dream; that’s the beau­ti­ful thing about the GTE-AM cat­e­gory,” says Dempsey. “It is cer­tainly ex­pen­sive, not ev­ery­one can do it, but it is achiev­able, es­pe­cially with the in­fra­struc­ture that’s in place with the Porsche cus­tomer pro­gramme. That’s rare [at a high level] in sport.”

Talk nat­u­rally leads to Dempsey’s large col­lec­tion of road cars – and some­thing re­ally quite agri­cul­tural. “My lat­est ad­di­tion is a 1961 Porsche Ju­nior trac­tor; it’s com­pletely un­re­stored. It has a sickle and I use it to mow the fields. I own a 1972 911 T – it’s or­ange, which was the orig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion colour – and a 1982 model year 911 SC that I worked on with Pa­trick Long. It’s now run­ning a 3.6-litre en­gine con­ver­sion and I re­mem­ber see­ing the 1978 Turbo and hav­ing a thing for that, so it’s got the whale­tail spoiler – it’s a real out­law, a bit of a beast. I’m also for­tu­nate

to own the lat­est 911 R – sil­ver, no stripes, black rims – and to me that’s price­less be­cause of what it rep­re­sents.”

Dempsey’s links with Porsche mean he’s also cy­cling through the mod­ern stuff too: his wife – Jil­lian Fink – daily drives a 911 Targa, while a Cayenne hy­brid takes care of the prac­ti­cal stuff.

But it’s Porsche’s first car, the 356, that was Dempsey’s “first sig­nif­i­cant pur­chase”, and is likely to be his next. “I’ll never let my 1963 356 Cabri­o­let go. I’ve done some great trips in it, like Los An­ge­les to La­guna Seca, with the open top, cruis­ing along, and right now I’m look­ing for a 356 Coupe from the early 1950s – the sil­hou­ette is so iconic, and it’s still rel­e­vant when you look at the con­tem­po­rary cars – that DNA is still alive.”

Dempsey plans to en­ter ral­lies with the 356 Coupe he’s plan­ning to buy next. “I won’t be rac­ing at the same level as I once did, I want to leave that as a great mem­ory, but I’ll still be do­ing it – some kart­ing, some track days and race pro­grammes in the fu­ture – be­cause now I’m into it. I just need it for my soul.” Here’s bet­ting ‘Mc­dreamy’ will make that a re­al­ity…

BE­LOW Dempsey has mas­tered the art of swap­ping stage lines for rac­ing lines with his ca­reer switch, right

BE­LOW Dempsey has put his act­ing skills to good use for Porsche, ap­pear­ing in PR ma­te­rial

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.