Wright Motorsports Announces Its Rolex 24 Lineup
Wright Motorsports owner John Wright is pleased to announce that his Batavia, Ohio-based racing team will enter a 2009 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car sponsored by Phillips Way Racing in selected Rolex Series races in 2009, beginning with the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. on Jan. 24-25.
Wright has assembled an impressive roster of four drivers for that brutal test of drivers, teams and cars: car owner/driver Phillip Martien of Finksburg, Md.; veteran B.J. Zacharias, a native son of Cincinnati; and two factory Porsche stars, Sascha Maassen, a native of Aachen, Germany now living in Lontzen, Belgium, and Patrick Pilet of Le Chesnay, France.
Two classes of cars compete in the Rolex 24: Daytona Prototypes and GT cars. Wright Motorsports' entry for 2009 is in the GT division.
The white Wright Motorsports Porsche will carry the number 33 in the annual twice-around-the-clock enduro. Its sponsor, Phillips Way, Inc., is a $100 million construction company based in Finksburg, Md., that Martien founded and owns. It specializes in providing quick but complete and on budget construction and reconstruction for the health care and institutional industries. (See phillipsway.com.)
The Motorsports Country Club of Cincinnati (mccofcincinnati.com), the area's state-of-the-art country club for motorsports enthusiasts, is an associate sponsor for the entry.
Although Zacharias (age 35), Maassen (39) and Pilet (27) are professional race car drivers with many accolades, Martien will be competing in his first Rolex 24. The experience is a present he's giving himself for his 50th birthday on Jan. 19, five days before the race begins.
It's definitely not a whim for him though. Wright and Zacharias have been working with Martien for the last two years in other series in preparation for this challenge. Wright and his crew prepare Martien's car for combat, while Zacharias is his driver coach in a relationship not unlike a resident pro at a golf resort.
Wright said Martien's enthusiasm for competing in his first Rolex 24 has been infectious, and has energized the entire team.
The race is some five weeks away, but Martien is already counting the days. "The adrenaline is already pumping," the father of three admitted. "I think staying focused for the full 24 hours will be the hardest thing for me. I've been working with a personal trainer for a year to get in shape to do this. I'm hardly going to get any sleep during the race, so the thing for me at my age will be to try to be as sharp as I can be for the full 24 hours."
With a morning drivers' meeting, an autograph session and the pre-race festivities, the time span for the drivers to be awake is more like 36 hours. Most drivers attempt to get some sleep between their shifts behind the wheel, resting in motor homes parked in the infield. That can be hard to accomplish, however, due to adrenaline, distractions and noise.
But Martien got off to a good start when he and Zacharias tested the Porsche last month at Daytona. "That was the first time I was running next to the faster Daytona Prototypes and the first time I was racing at night, but I did well," Martien said. "I was calm and I didn't spin or anything. I'm just so excited to have this opportunity.
"B.J. and John are exactly what I need," said Martien, who holds a degree in engineering as well as one in business and finance management. "B.J. is wonderful. He has much more experience than I do, and he can drive the car and tell John what the set-up needs."
Martien was born in Paris, and the Rolex 24 is a step towards his ultimate goal: driving in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "I'm French, so I want to do Le Mans," he said simply. "That's my ultimate goal, and this is good preparation."
Martien said that the mindset for racing is completely different from the mindset he needs for success in his construction business, but he relishes the challenge. "I'm a go-getter, and in construction it works," he explained. "In endurance racing you have to be fast but you also have to be very patient. It's completely different than my business. You have to go as fast as you can, but you also must be patient.
"When I was young, we drove very fast in Paris, and now when I go into New York City, the cab drivers fear me," he added with a smile. "Everyone always said I should try racing rather than just go fast on the street, so three years ago I put my street Porsche on the track for the first time at a racing school. The instructors thought I had much more experience, and one thing led to another and now I'm going to be in the Rolex 24. I got my professional license, and then I did PCA [Porsche Club of America] races and five World Challenge races, where I was the top rookie and finished 16th in points even with only doing five events. I met [drivers] Andy Pilgrim, who always gives me good advice, and Randy Pobst, and then B.J., and now I'm on my way."
Martien hasn't met his factory Porsche co-drivers yet, but he's impressed by their resumes. "I couldn't ask for better co-drivers than B.J., Sascha and Patrick," he said. "Patrick is French; we'll talk French and have a great time, I'm sure."
Test Coming Up Jan. 3-5
The whole team will practice together at the event's official test on Daytona's 3.56-mile, 12-turn road course Jan. 3-5.
"It was good that Phillip and I did that last test day in November," said Zacharias, who has earned a reputation for being consistent and fast since he set the Sports Car Club of America's (SCCA's) formula car set on its ears when he won the SCCA Formula Continental championship in 1997 and its Formula Atlantic championship in 1998. "I think we have a really good package. Porsche has done some good updates. We still have some work to do to sort out the new Pirelli tires we'll use in 2009, but I think our team is one of the best ones out there. John has a ton of experience, especially in this race. He really preps the guys for it. I don't know if we'll have the fastest car there or not, but I think we'll be prepared.
"The Mazdas will be fast, the Pontiacs will have something up their sleeves and there will be a ton of good Porsches there, but I think we have a very good chance of doing well," he added.
"I think my strong suits are consistency, staying out of trouble and bringing the car back the way it was presented," Zacharias added. "I've always had two sayings. The first is, 'When you surround yourself with great people, good things happen.' I cannot think of a better saying that applies to this situation.
"The second is 'Chop wood,'" he added. "It's a long race, and it's just like a giant pile of wood to chop. The best way through it is one swing or one lap at a time."
Zacharias, whose best finish overall at the Rolex 24 was eighth in 2007 in the TruSpeed/Wright Motorsports Riley Porsche Daytona Prototype, has been giving Martien advice like that for the last two years while coaching him in PCA and SCCA SPEED World Challenge events. Zacharias, who finished on the podium at the Rolex 24 in 2001 in a Lola Sports Racing Prototype II, believes his student is ready for the challenge ahead.
"He definitely has the drive for it; he's very passionate," Zacharias said of Martien. "He's one of those guys that if he wants to do something, he'll find a way to do it. Doing the Rolex 24 is his 50th birthday present to himself, and he really wants to do well."
Maassen Will Add Star Power
Maassen's involvement will bring added attention to the team. He's most recently been seen driving a Porsche RS Spyder for Penske Racing in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) with great success. He's a two-time GT class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a four-time GT class winner at both the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans.
His involvement at Daytona in 2009 reunites him with Wright, who was his crew chief for one of the two previous Rolex 24s in which he has competed in a GT car. "I also did the race at least six times in the Prototype class," Maassen added.
"For a 24-hour race, I always hope to have no problems with the car and not to be involved in any incidents," Maassen said. "If this is the case I am sure we will be somewhere in the front at the end.
"I do not know the 2009 car, so I am looking forward to this experience," he continued. "The opposition is also very good every year in the GT class, and I am sure it will be the same this time."
Pilet Excited Too
Pilet finished third in the GT2 class of the ALMS this year in a Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911, and he won the Porsche Carrera Cup France championship in 2007 with Graff Racing.
"It has always been a pleasure for me to race in the United States, and especially at Daytona," Pilet said. "I think Daytona is actually the most impressive American speedway because of its banking.
"I feel pretty confident in our chances for the 2009 Rolex 24 because I know Wright Motorsports is a very good team," he continued. "I know John Wright, and I know he's very professional. That's why I'm sure we'll have all the means to be on top. "Daytona is a very difficult race," he added. "The key is to have a very reliable and easy-to-drive car, and also to avoid mistakes as much as we can.
"About my teammates, I'm very glad to race with Sascha Maassen, who is a Porsche factory driver as I am. I've heard very good things about my two other teammates, and I'm very happy to race with another French driver. "Our first challenge is to have everyone well prepared and ready for this very tough race," Pilet continued. "We will have to work hard on the set-up during the January test, but I'm convinced that we'll able to fight for the victory.
"I only raced once before at Daytona [2008 in an Alegra Motorsports Porsche], but it's a race I really enjoy and that I would love to win! I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to begin working with my co-drivers, as well as all of Wright Motorsports' team members."
The 2009 edition of the Rolex 24 marks Wright's 17th season fielding a car in this international event. Wright Motorsports has an excellent reputation for preparing top cars for any race it enters. Assisted by a crew of key people like Rick Curtin, Paul Nicely and Rob Gambrill, Wright has earned a stellar reputation as a team owner/manager and race strategist.
Every race is different, but Wright is optimistic about his team's chances in the 2009 Rolex 24, the 47th annual edition of an event that typically attracts a "who's who" of name drivers from other forms of racing like NASCAR and IndyCar in addition to many of the world's top road racers.
"For some reason I feel really good about it; I don't want to jinx it, but we have a brand-new car from Porsche and it's always nice going into the 24 with a brand-new car," Wright said. "The driver line-up is very strong. And some of Phillip Martien's enthusiasm is rubbing off on all of us. He's one of the most enthusiastic car owners that we've worked with. Phillip's passion and enthusiasm has brought a lot of excitement to our team because he's been willing to dedicate his time and his focus on getting us what we need to make it happen."
Wright said that his team will have to run its car at its full potential to be able to compete with the Pontiacs and the Mazdas in the GT field.
"It's going to take good race strategy and the reliability of the Porsche," he said. "We're going to have to run our car at its full potential the entire time, and I don't think the Pontiacs and the Mazdas are running at their full potential yet. My concern right now is that more can be gotten out of the Pontiacs and the Mazdas. When we go out and practice now, we're running as fast as the car can go. The Mazdas and the Pontiacs are purpose-built race cars, while our car started with street car construction and then was turned into a race car. It's good, but it's a different approach.
"If you go into a 24-hour race running at 100 percent of the car's capacity instead of 80 percent, you open it up for a failure," he added. "If you don't have to use the engine, the brakes and the gearbox at their full potential, you're not hurting the equipment. That's what I'm concerned about at this point.
"The other side of the coin is that the Porsche is a proven piece," he added. "It's a very reliable, well-engineered and well-built car. It has shown good speed already. The reliability of the Porsche is one of our main strengths, but a good finish is going to also take good preparation, good driving, good race strategy and good luck."