BL: Growing up, I was such a huge fan of drivers like Mario, Dan Gurney, AJ, who would drive anything. You look at what someone like Mario was doing in the '60s, where he would be racing in the dirt at Terre Haute, then jump on a plane and race F1 at Monza. They were so versatile, and were able to adapt to anything that came their way. I think much of their success was due to drawing upon such a wide range of reference. If Mario was driving the Lotus, and the handling went away, he could throw it around like a dirt sprint car, because he had that experience. Whereas someone with a narrower frame of experience might just park the car and say it's undrivable. I very rarely turned down a ride, partly because I just love driving, but also because I really believe that you learn more with each new challenge. It can be frustrating learning a new car. My first few laps in the Porsche GT3 this year were like that. The first time that I drove it, at Sebring, I went into Turn One, and my first thought was, "I've made a terrible mistake taking this drive." I just could not get the car to do what I wanted. I'd never driven a car with the engine behind the rear axle, and it wasn't responding to my usual inputs, at least not in a good way. But in times like that you just have to not panic, and try to figure out by trial and error what the car is asking for. I was also lucky to have Alex Job's team help me get up to speed, which was invaluable.
ec: We spoke after the race at Long Beach (where you happened to win your class... again) and I asked about the fortunes of a professional race driver. In stick-and-ball sports, a trip to the minors is always a possibility. Racing is different. You went from a leading prototype team to a top team in the GTC class. Alex Job has the credentials, but a GT3 isn't a prototype. As a professional, how do you assess this? Or is it simply getting down to the task at hand regardless of the mount?
Bentley at Le Mans, 2001. Butch Leitzinger stands at far right next to the Number 8 car.
BL: I found out quite late that Dyson would not be doing a second prototype when some of their funding didn't come through. I had to do some thinking about what direction to take. Part of me said I needed to stick with prototypes no matter what. That if I fell out of prototypes, it would be very difficult to get back in. But another part was saying that I needed to be with a quality team, regardless of the category of car. That it was more important to be in a position to win races. The more I thought about it, I realized I could live with myself if I never drove a prototype again, but if I never won another race I'd be miserable. So when the opportunity came along with Juan Gonzalez and Alex Job Racing, I was comfortable signing on.
ec: Sebring made for great television with the speed differential of the four classes, although it was evident that the new GT3 Cup car has plenty of power and the Oreca LMPC prototypes had problems getting by you on the straights. As a former prototype driver, it has to be somewhat unnerving checking your mirrors yet not being passed-and then here comes an Aston Martin or Peugeot, different visuals altogether.
BL: I think all of us were frustrated with the relative speeds of the different classes. The LMPCs, GTs, and GTCs were just too similar in speed, and we tripped over each other throughout the race. The LMPCs were a particular problem, as they had some drivers who had very little experience with traffic, and they were making some very brave (to put it nicely) moves. I would see this happening in my mirror and have to take evasive action. The LMP cars were not really a problem, because they were so much faster that it was pretty apparent where they would pass and who had the corner. I think enough of us complained that there will be some adjustments to the different classes.