Wright Motorsports has put IMSA’s extended break between March’s 12 Hours of Sebring and the May 14-16 race at Mid-Ohio to good use. Led by Porsche factory veteran Patrick Long, the driver rotation in the championship-leading No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3 R has been a compromised affair since the season began at Daytona when Long’s teammate Ryan Hardwick suffered a crash and concussion prior to the race.
Minus Hardwick, it was Long, Jan Heylen, Klaus Bachler, and the late addition of Trent Hindman who went on to salvage P4 in the 24-hour contest after bending a chassis and preparing a replacement in a mad thrash before the race. With Hardwick out again at Sebring where the same line-up—minus Bachler — improved to P2, the extra recovery time prior to Mid-Ohio has helped Hardwick to prepare for a return to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship action.
“The reality is, it was a good break for us, but abnormal for everybody, including us,” Long told RACER. “Johnny Wright’s team never sits down, but this was good for Ryan and his recovery. It’s the time that we needed to let him heal up and get him back in the car when things were good. We’ve been able to test, and he did a great job the two days we were in the car.
“And no grass grows under my feet, so we’ve definitely kept busy trying to prepare for a crazy summer and fall of racing that’s just gonna be rapid fire. But it was nice to have a little bit of breathing room, which we don’t normally get right now.”
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Now it’s time for one of the most promising combinations of the 2020 season in Long and Hardwick to get back to business in the No. 16 Porsche.
“We finished P2 in the GTD championship in our first go, and Ryan’s a competitor in everything he does; he brings a level of expectation and precision to his own game that makes he and I a solid fit,” Long noted. “The season last year proved that we could challenge factory-supported, multi-car teams that were previous champions in the category. But maybe what was more inspiring was how we dealt with adversity at Daytona.
“You know, we lost race cars and a driver in the span of about three sessions and we had to scramble and buy and build another car, we had to find another driver. But our sponsors stuck by us, even though there were some major changes, and we kept the momentum and kept ourselves in the championship. They say you learn more about yourself when things are not going well. We learned a lot, if that’s true, and I’ve got to say, I’m proud of all the people at Wright making everything happen.
Long credits a “high 911 pedigree of talent” with helping the Wright team roll with the punches. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Hardwick returns to a No. 16 Porsche holding the top stop in the standings in the hyper-competitive GT Daytona class. Amid the early adversity with one of its full-season drivers, Long is continually impressed by the Ohio-based team and its ability to maintain a high level of competitive output.
“There’s a huge 911 pedigree of talent in that team; John Wright goes back probably 40 years with the brand,” Long said. “He ran the Rohr Porsche GT-1 stuff back in the late ’90s, with Larry Schumacher and so many teams. Bobby Viglione, who’s the chief engineer, he’s been with John a long time. The lead mechanics are guys that I’ve worked with at Flying Lizard, Alex Job, Falken Tire with Derrick Walker…
“Everybody in that team has a lot of lineage with being around 911s. And I think John, as a hands-on team owner, a mechanical team owner, he’s rebuilding differentials or whatever needs being done. Then you bring Ryan Hardwick in the Hardwick family — accomplished marketers, people who know how to grow businesses and build brands — and it’s just a great partnership. Take a look at all of the people involved, and it’s kind of insane.”