AP Auto Racing Writer
The only all-American lineup at the 24 Hours of Le Mans might very well be the one that draws the most interest from non-racing fans.
The No. 77 Dempsey Del Piero-Proton Porsche will be headlined by Patrick Dempsey -- you know, "McDreamy" of "Grey's Anatomy" fame. He is joining co-drivers Joe Foster and Patrick Long in the GTE Am division and driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
"I think anybody who's a road racer wants to race here," Dempsey said. "Having done it in the past and coming back and doing it with an all-American driver lineup with Patrick Long and Joe Foster with a great team at Proton-Dempsey-Del Piero, it's a tremendous honor. It means everything to us, and it's humbling, it's exciting, it's inspirational, and it's so moving to be a part of this event. It's a dream come true to come back here."
It will be the actor's second time competing in the endurance race in Le Mans, France, but this time he appears to have a legitimate shot at a class victory.
The 47-year-old Dempsey shared a Ferrari at Le Mans in 2009 with Foster, his motorsports business partner. New to the entry this year is Long, a two-time Le Mans winner making his 10th start in the race. Long turned the third-fastest lap in class during the one-day Le Mans pre-test earlier this month.
The team was also buoyed by its second-place result at Laguna Seca last month in Dempsey's last outing. The team appeared poised to win until co-driver Andy Lally was passed for the class lead following a restart on the final lap of the four-hour race.
To be considered a contender has Dempsey on the cusp of what once seemed to be an unreachable goal.
"We would sit around the kitchen or in the trailer dreaming about when we'd go to Le Mans and getting on the podium," he said. "This has always been a dream and a goal. So to come back here -- it was a dream come true and a turning point in my life to have done it in 2009, and I haven't had a win yet, and I would love to if I could get my first win to be at Le Mans. It would just be so, so special. It would be deeply moving certainly. I know the drivers on the team can do it."
It will be Long's first race teaming with Dempsey and Foster. He was a late addition to the team in place of Dempsey Del Piero team principal Michael Avenatti, whose business commitments outside of racing prevented him from competing at Le Mans. But it didn't take him long to feel comfortable with the team assembled.
"Once Patrick and Joe got in the car and picked it up really quickly, I started to feel really positive about our chances," Long said. "That was sort of capped off by the test that we had just two weeks ago."
Dempsey has been an active participant in sports car racing now for nearly a decade, and Long has been impressed by his progress.
"He definitely is underrated," Long said. "I've watched him and Joe partner up and go very seriously at racing a little bit from a distance. Working alongside him has certainly been a different experience. He's a very intense competitor, very focused. What I underestimated was his fitness. We went testing in (in Italy) and the team was worn out. They were looking at me. I've run with them previously over here in Europe and they were like, 'We're out of tires; we're out of fuel.' I'm like, 'This guy still wants to drive and he's here to put the numbers up and not just show up and look the part.'"
DOUBLE DUTY: Brian Vickers has a lot of road in front of him this weekend as the only driver attempting double duty in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races.
Vickers is scheduled to run the Nationwide race on Saturday at Road America for Joe Gibbs Racing before heading West to Sonoma, Calif., for the Cup race in a Michael Waltrip Racing entry on Sunday.
"I'm looking forward to both of them," said Vickers. "It's going to take a little different mentality and technique going from Road America which is a little bit faster place to Sonoma which is a slower, more technical road race, but I'm up for the challenge and excited."
In the past, most Cup drivers have spent the majority of their time in Sonoma and flew to the Nationwide race just in time for the start. Vickers, though, will spend most of the weekend in Wisconsin with JGR as he focuses on his Nationwide effort. He's currently 10th in the championship race, 100 points behind leader Regan Smith.