Catching Up With Dale White
The Off Season (?) At Petersen / White Lightning
© Gary Horrocks

Just before Christmas was a significant period for Petersen Motorsports / White Lightning Racing, and Team Manager Dale White took the time to bring us up to date on the latest proceedings for a very busy team. While quite a bit of the news revolves around the recent announcement that they would be swapping their Porsche for a Ferrari, as always, there is more to the story. Or as Dale commented, “off season? What off season?”

First, the Ferrari. While the rumor mill had been suggesting that the team would be changing to the Ferrari F430 GT for the 2007 season, it wasn’t until December 20 that the change was officially finalized. “It’s interesting that there was some discussion here and there about us changing, but the deal honestly was not finalized until December 15,” stated Dale White. “We’d been talking to the team members for a while and even those guys with Porsche tattoos seemed to take an open mind to the change. The guys are excited and believe in the direction we are taking as a team. It’s an exciting time.

“Porsche approached us back around Lime Rock, saying that they were taking deposits on the new 997s. At that time, we had just bought a new (to them) 996, to replace the one that was destroyed at Le Mans.”

Earlier in the season, Mike Petersen (with Dale White, right, at the ALMS awards banquet) had stated that the team had reached a point where it needed to become financially self-sufficient.

“We needed to make it work as any other business. We felt we had the competition side working well, so we needed to address the business side – to turn a profit. So Mike said no and I had to tell Porsche that we did not have the money to make a deposit. At Portland, I was working on deals where I was hoping an individual might be interested in buying a car and then let us run it. You know, allow him to show up, get a team shirt and a pass and allow us to give his car some competition history. Well, that didn’t happen. But it was good of Mike to stand by his guns. We, as a team, need to make that next step.”

It was then at Mosport that the team was informed by Porsche that neither Jorg Bergmeister nor Patrick Long would be returning to the team. “They told us that we would have new drivers for next season. As usual, they would supply us a factory driver and we would come up with the other. But it was clear that both Jorg and Pat were to be somewhere else next year.

“These business decisions are probably the reasons that stories started to fly about Mike distancing himself from the team. And let me tell you, that is the farthest thing from the truth. His involvement is the same as always. The both of us, together, made a decision a while ago, that it would be the best thing for the team for us to step away from the drivers’ seats and take on other duties. But saying that, he is still a valuable member of the team as a driver. He and I have worked together for so long. We know each other quite well and as a test driver, well, I really like to have him in the car. I can send him out for a couple laps and he’ll report back to me clearly what the car is doing. He’s not concerned about times or his ego. He just gets the job done.”

So the team knew they would be looking at new drivers for the 2007 season, and when Ferrari approached them, they listened. “We didn’t switch because of any dissatisfaction with Porsche. In the last few years, I felt Porsche had done a great job technically, especially in keeping the Porsche field level.”

It all came down to a business decision and Dale made sure that Porsche was aware of that. “We’ve had a long and successful relationship with them (Porsche) and we are leaving with many friends there, but we had to look at the business. We had some sponsorship directly related to the Ferrari come our way, so that’s the direction we went. Through all of this, Porsche continued to state that they would hold a car for us. Who knows, but at some point in the future, maybe we’ll be back with Porsche.

“Right now we have some sponsorship in place for 2007, but we still need find some more. We are looking at taking advantage of the momentum the series has right now. Let me tell you, it’s really nice to be talking with potential partners and sponsors now and see that they know all of the right numbers and values for the series. They know about the series now and they realize the value that is there. We are working towards signing a deal with a major sponsor and while that will be good for us, it will also be good for the series. The ideal situation would find us with a marketing partner, which would add value to our team and utilize that partnership to help that company.”

It seems that Ferrari was quite willing to welcome the team to its side with open arms, something that was a pleasant happening for Dale White. “I feel we had a good relationship with Porsche, but this is a step up. They really wanted us; it was almost emotional. Maybe it’s an Italian thing, but it’s really nice. They want to help. I really like the feeling I’m getting.”

In the past, the word was that teams running Ferraris were, well, discouraged from making any changes to the car. “I don’t see us doing much differently than we did at Porsche. We had a great car when we were at Porsche, and I believe we have a great car with the Ferrari. When we ran Porsches, we ran them stock and concentrated on the preparation and I don’t see that changing now. It’s a great car, and from what I’m seeing, it is not necessary to make any changes. It’s really a nice piece. If there are changes needed, I have no worries; they will be resolved easily. We got along quite nicely with Risi this last year, even though they were our toughest rivals and I don’t look for that situation to be changing any this next year.

“It’ll be interesting in 2007. While I believe the Ferrari was slightly better than the Porsches in 2006, don’t forget, Porsche will be racing their new 997. They always do their homework and I’m sure this car will be another step beyond the 996. It should be a tough year.”

Ferrari will be supporting the effort in a similar way to Porsche with their teams. “Ferrari will supply us with one driver, but it will be one we both agree on. We will have the final say on it, much like we did with Porsche and Patrick.”

Further announcements will be forth coming on the drivers, sponsors and other developments, but these will only be disclosed when the team feels they are ready. “We’ve got a lot of work in front of us. As of now, it looks like we will be testing in Italy, as Michelotto has offered us 10 days at their facility to get acquainted with the car and their company. From there, we will take the car back to our new shop in Pahrump, Nevada, where we will do the final preparations for the race at Sebring. The plan is then to turn around and truck the car to Sebring where we will be testing the weekend before the race.”

Despite not getting an auto-invite for Le Mans, the team intends to be back to the event where they have won the GT2 class twice. They were not awarded the auto-invite because the Porsche teams in the ALMS ran the majority of the season (post-Sebring) with larger, or less restrictive, restrictors that the ones specified by the ACO. “I’ll have the entries filled out and submitted before the deadline. I’m sure we’ll be back.”

But before all of the Ferrari related activities occur, there is a matter of the team making its debut in the Dakar Rally. Dale (as well as Mike and some team members) had just returned from a successful test in Morocco, which “takes some shock out of going to Africa. It gave us a taste of what to expect and was a good experience for us. I’m really looking forward to it now more than ever, as is Mike.

“We are fortunate to be teaming up with an experienced team (Team SMG). Philippe Gache is so knowledgeable about this event and has been there before. After going there for this test, I can even further see how smart a move this was on our part. We will be able to learn so much from this association.”

The testing took place in the sands of Morocco, which Dale saw as very different from his experiences running Baja. “It was not gritty at all. From what we learned, this will the worst case for us to run in. It was a good experience to get us ready.”

The 2007 running of the event will start January 6 in Lisbon, Portugal and end January 21 on the Atlantic Ocean in Dakar, Senegal. The Euromilhoes Dakar, formerly known as the Paris-Dakar, covered 4,813 special stages along its 9,043 kilometers (5,619 miles) course in 2006. A similar distance and route is planned for this running of the event.

It will be possible to follow the progress of the team in this event on their website (www.petersenmotorsports.com - a very good website, incidentally) once it is underway.

 

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