Michael Petersen – Doing It Themselves

There's so much racing going on, there's almost no time to reflect on what has just happened before the next event is upon us. That was certainly the case regarding Le Mans. Gary Horrocks caught up with Petersen - White Lightning co team owner Mike Petersen at Portland, and finally, a week or so later, here is the result.

dailysportscar.comThis time they did it on their own. They won the GT class at Le Mans, and this time full credit will go to Petersen Motorsports / White Lightning Racing.

“It has been something that I have dreamed of since seeing Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans when I was a child and it has been a goal for Dale White and I since we got together,” remarked Michael Petersen – at Portland. “We had intentions to go in 2001, but circumstances dictated otherwise. Last year, we were presented with the opportunity to go to Le Mans with Alex Job Racing. It took us about two weeks to pull it together, and obviously it worked out. It was our intention to go that year, to get our feet wet, ultimately with the idea of doing it ourselves later.

“I’m sure many people were scratching their heads, wondering ‘can they do it?’ It was an awesome experience and the outcome was unbelievable. We had a delay about 10 hours in, when we had a problem with the shifter cable. We were up two laps at that time, but ended up three laps down after the 20 minute stop, in which we repaired the shifter problem, replaced a LF shock and also changed the brake pads. We had to chase down the Freisinger team from then on, but we were able to do it. It was incredible.”

The repair of the shifter cable was rather interesting. Instead of having to replace the entire cable, the team utilized the spare one they had installed earlier. “Having those spare cables really is a no brainer. From our experience in off-roading, we have learned to prepare and learn from mistakes and problems. Sometimes they are your mistakes and sometimes they are others. I feel that racing is 80% skill and 20% luck. You need to be prepared.”

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For a team that featured as strong a driver line-up as this one, it was strange that in almost every session, the car was into the gravel. “I was starting to wonder what was going on. Maybe the drivers put too much expectation on themselves. I don’t think we did, but in the end, I feel we had the ‘pick of the litter’ with Patrick Long, Jorg Bermeister and Sascha Maassen. We knew most of the lineup earlier, but it wasn’t until the week before the Le Mans test that we knew we would have Patrick in the car.”

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As far as the team goes, Michael feels that they have put together a group that can go anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that they are looking at moving out of the ALMS soon. “The ALMS is the place to be. The standards are set very high. We have the top drivers and teams involved and I like the tracks. The Grand Am was OK, but I didn’t see the caliber of competition there that I see here. Ultimately, I see the level even higher here.

“We are always looking at moving up and at opportunities for making money. It is possible to make money in NASCAR, but that is something that I don’t enjoy. F1 is a mess. What I would really like would be to have factory support and stay here in the ALMS.

“I feel that we have put together a team that can go anywhere and compete. The Supercup could be fun. I just think to go to Europe and hand their lunches to them would be fun. There appears to be an opinion that we can’t race over here, but if you look at the results at Le Mans, I would have to say that that is not correct. The FIA Series would be different, but ultimately I believe it would be a step down for us.

“Right now in the ALMS, the playing field in the GT class is more level that it has been in the past. The teams are stepping up to the plate and whittling away at the performance gaps. The teams like AJR are still going forward but everybody else is catching them. Competition is what it is all about.”

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Will we ever see Michael back in the car again? “I still get some seat time, but usually it is only in the test sessions. I broke my neck a while ago, and I just don’t want to risk anything at this point in my life. I can still get into the car and go for short stints. I was available as a back up for Sebring, but that would only be if we were in a stable position where I could ‘cruise’. The wrong sort of an impact could end it for me. I feel it is better to live life than to risk it that way.”

Oh, about the lion head on the car that debuted at Infineon? That was a present to his mother. It was from a painting that she had done, and as the race at Infineon was the first time that she would be at one of their events, it was decided to put a copy of the painting on the car as a tribute.

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