The Factory Shoes

May 5, 2012

The Factory Shoes

May 5, 2012

The word “factory” conveys images of smokestacks, time clocks, lunch boxes and hard hats. The exception lives in the world of international sports car racing, where something magical happens when factory precedes the word “driver”.

A factory driver is, or is expected to become, a racing super hero capable of testing, developing and racing a car to great success while entertaining fans, dealers, sponsors, corporate executives and media in events around the globe.

As a racer, being a factory driver carries considerable benefits. Contracts are often multi-year deals, offering some measure of stability in a world filled with unknowns. A few drivers even earn goodwill ambassador roles that last long after their top-level driving careers end.

The factory gigs typically pay well, and best of all, factory drivers get the latest cars, updates and go-fast parts. Their cars are well prepared and raced by the best teams, with top mechanics, technical boffins and PR staff to help promote the drivers name and success. The firesuits, uniforms and team gear are first rate. Even the hotels and trackside amenities are better.

The trade out is that the factory driver’s true value is measured in results and tracked every lap on a timing screen for constant comparison to teammates and rivals alike. Unforced errors are unforgiven errors, sometimes temporarily glossed over, but always written in black ink in the factory’s permanent copybook. Even the most successful drivers know that they will reach a point where team bosses ponder bringing in the next young star.

Some of the best motorsports competition in the world today takes place in the ALMS GT class. With factory teams in the GT category, come factory drivers whose mission is simple — Beat the other factories!

Porsche, Corvette Racing and BMW fill key seats with drivers chosen and contracted by the factory. The Porsche roster includes American Patrick Long and Germany’s Joerg Bergmeister and Marco Holzer at Flying Lizard and Wolf Henzler at Falken. Bergmeister has 34 ALMS class wins and five ALMS championships while Long has 20 wins and three championships. In addition, Henzler has seven ALMS class wins and a championship he won co-driving with Bergmeister.

Corvette has successfully started the shift to youth, bringing in American Tommy Milner and Spain’s Antonio Garcia to pair with veterans, England’s Oliver Gavin and Denmark’s Jan Magnussen. Gavin and Magnussen have a combined 61 ALMS class wins while Tommy Milner secured his first ALMS win at Long Beach in April. He and Garcia teamed for victory at Le Mans last June.

BMW counters with Americans Joey Hand and Bill Auberlen, and Germany’s Jorg Muller and Dirk Mueller.   Hand will pull double-duty in 2012, joining BMW in the DTM Series (German Touring Car) as well as ALMS. The BMW quartet has earned 33 ALMS class wins and 4 ALMS Championships.

SRT Viper will soon join the ALMS fray, with its own cast of factory drivers combining veteran Marc Goossens with Dominik Farnbacher, Canadian Viper vet Kuno Wittmer and IndyCar’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

When the FIA World Endurance Championship teams appear at Sebring or next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, they bring a deep pool of factory drivers including Audi’s Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish, Dindo Capello, Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer. These Audi drivers combine for 18 Le Mans wins, including Kristensen’s record eight victories.

What do factories look for? In addition to speed, technical skills and the ability to deliver in a high-pressure team situation, one Le Mans winning team leader confides, “We want drivers young enough to be here a while, old enough to have good experience, and smart enough to realize that this is their career, not F1. They need to be team players, have their personal act together, and fit the team culture and chemistry. We don’t want whiners or prima donnas. They are going to represent a major company, big sponsors and a lot of people.”

Prospective drivers should note that unsolicited resumes are not necessary. The factories watch drivers on the track, in the pits and paddock, at fan events, airports and restaurants. They know who you are and they have your numbers both figuratively and literally.

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