Behind the scenes with Dempsey/Del Piero Racing
By Cole Scrogham

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Most sports car racing fans can't wait for the season to begin, with new drivers, car liveries and TV coverage sure to alleviate the winter withdrawal from their favorite sport. For some, the late season NASCAR events acted to soothe that withdrawal somewhat, but for diehard fans of the American LeMans Series only a return to Sebring would do.


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From the campers who wait as much as several months to be first in line, to the weekend fans and Internet followers, Sebring is the herald of the ALMS season. With unification of Grand Am and ALMS under one banner in 2014, the season will begin for all sports car fans at Daytona next year — but that is next year. This year the focus for Sebring was on the final appearance of the hybrid Audis, the continuation of some fantastic GT racing and a continued strengthening of the all Porsche GTC field.

A new addition to the GTC ranks this season is the Dempsey/Del Piero Racing Porsche GT3 Cup entries, No. 10 and No. 27. This team has never run Porsches before, and the most recognizable name among the driver lineup, Patrick Dempsey, had only spent time in a street 911 before testing the new racing car. The team is making a transition from tube-frame Mazda GT cars to the Porsche, and as you might expect that switch is not an easy one.

I was hired to help with that transition, having always raced Porsche 911s and achieving success as an eight-time entrant and team owner champion with the GT2, GT3R, RS and GT3 Cup. There are some things about racing that are universal, but many others require a solid knowledge of the intricacies of the Porsche. This behind-the-scenes look at the first outing of the new Porsche team is much deeper than what fan can see on television, and a glimpse beyond the flash and excitement that many think racing is all about.

Dempsey/Del Piero Racing
Cole Scrogham (left) and driver/owner Patrick Dempsey watch the team during the 12 Hours of Sebring race at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.

Our race week started about 10 days before the actual start of the race, with final preparations in the shop and loading for the track consuming many late hours. The cars were late arriving and many parts late in shipment as well, so the team was in catch-up mode from the beginning. Only the hard work and long hours of the crew would save the team from an embarrassing first outing.

The testing and practices before the race revealed some issues with our car setups and equipment. Due to the late arrivals, there was no time to test brake components, shock settings or even the length of the cars on the setup platforms. Everything had to be done at the track during race week, which added to the "time-compressed" nature of the event.

We changed brake master cylinders three times, brake pad compounds twice and also had our shocks on and off the car three times before qualifying. We finally had to resort to experience with known components, which fortunately lasted the entire race with no problems, but cost a lot of sleeping hours for the crew. During the last three days of the event, before the race even started, I counted 12 total hours of sleep!

During practice, we felt like we had cars that were stable but perhaps not as fast as they should be, so hopes were not that high for qualifying. A quick trip to Tech prior to qualifying showed we were too low to meet the mandated ride height, and the entire setup had to be redone in a timeframe of only an hour on both cars, creating a lot of worry from the team about how the qualifying would turn out.

As we barely made it to the grid, the track record quickly fell to the No. 22 Alex Job Racing entry with Jeroen Bleekemolen behind the wheel, and many cars were driven by a who's who of international Porsche specialists. Our drivers really dug deep, and on the last lap of qualifying, Andrew Davis ran his best lap in the No. 10 in fifth position, and Andy Lally pulled off a great lap in the No. 27 for a new track record and pole position. We were really excited and quite relieved in pit lane — now we could prep for the race.

Dempsey/Del Piero Racing
The Dempsey/Del Piero Racing team's No. 10 and No. 27 cars undero inpsections before the race.

During our final preparations, things quickly took a turn for the worse. We found a leaking shock on the No. 10, which would be added to a work list that included replacing every fuel pump in the fuel cell as well as the main and reserve pumps, axles, lower control arms, wheel hubs, complete servicing of the engine and transmission, revising the screen protection for the radiators, preparing 12 sets of wheels and tires for the start of the race, as well as four pages of system checks.

On the sister car, a transmission issue required a removal of the gearbox and repair at the Porsche Motorsports gearbox specialist who is onsite for ALMS races, as well as another long work list and preparing pit lane with wheel guns and fuel rigs. It was a long day and evening, we hardly noticed the line of well-wishers and autograph seekers who waited hours in line to see Patrick and the other drivers. While they saw glitz, glamour and cool cars; we just saw a never ending checklist.

All of the team's glazed eyes were on the cars for the warm-up, any small mistake during the extensive prerace preparations would require quick resolution since the formation lap would occur only an hour or so after warm-up. Fortunately, the cars got through the warm-up with no major problems and we were ready for the start of the race. While fans streamed in to pit lane for the Fan Walk, I streamed out for a little snack and a quiet place to do some last-minute strategy math.

After the race started and things began to settle down, the math must have worked pretty well as we were leading with the No. 10 car by Hour 3. The No. 27 had lost the lead to a pit-speed penalty, compounded by speeding again while serving the first penalty. As the race progressed, the No. 10 managed to stay near the front, leading again at the nine-hour mark before having to pit twice for flat tires due to car-to-car damage in the right rear and right front.

The race win was slipping away. The No. 27 rallied and was turning great laps, but a spin and subsequent gearbox issues slowed the run to the front for that car as well. In the end, we decided to soldier on, get points for the team and drivers and do the best that we could after getting laps down to the leaders. The team cars finished sixth and seventh after starting first and fifth, which all-in-all is not a bad result for a startup team, but not where we want to be.

As we began the loading process and fans streamed away to their cars, we began thinking about what could have been, and about sleep. The race itself was a grueling test of man and machine, but nothing compared to the effort required to get to the race. Maybe we will get them next time, or the next ...

Cole Scrogham is a strategy and team manager for Dempsey/Del Piero Racing, a start-up Porsche GT3 team in ALMS. Scrogham is a four-time Manhattan Concours winner and eight-time national champion team owner with Porsche brand. He is also a noted author of "Porsche 356 Carrera: Four Cam Production Car" and "Porsche 911 Engine Assembly Guide."