Porsche is racing top-class prototypes in America for the first time since the late 1990s, as it will field a two-car factory-backed 963 effort with Penske Racing (as well as two customer-fielded cars) in IMSA’s new GTP category. With a clear sign that American racing fans are growing in number and the health of the IMSA series gets stronger every season, Porsche is diving in to North American sports cars with both feet. An announcement was made this week that Porsche would be expanding its “Motorsport Pyramid” in North America with its new Selected Driver Program and expansion of its Junior Driver program. Porsche wants to have a clear stepping stone path for drivers and teams from cradle to grave, so to speak.
To kick off its new pyramid, Porsche has developed a new program to help elevate young drivers from karting to door slammers. With a new Talent Identification Program, it sounds like Porsche will essentially be sending scouts to major North American karting events and nominate young talent to a four-way shootout where the winner gets a scholarship Cayman GT4 Clubsport ride in the Porsche Sprint Challenge North America by Yokohama. Maybe that will make it worth it spending all those weekends hauling karts around for your kid!
Porsche’s new Junior program has been billed as the bridge between one-make racing and factory driver status. Porsche will select premier Carrera Cup racers to be given special training and education, as well as access to team equipment, such as tires, chassis dynamics, media training, and fitness, as well as some financial support. Porsche hopes that this program will help accelerate drivers’ progress through the ranks, strengthening skills earlier and maximizing performance sooner.
As part of the announcement, Porsche has also named Canaidian driver Parker Thompson and Texan Trenton Estep (pictured above) as part of its Selected Driver Program. Each of these two drivers will received personal mentorship from Porsche’s most successful American champion, Patrick Long. The drivers will also get financial support and assistance securing seats with Porsche customer racing squads in 2023. After some success in Carrera Cup, Estep will be moving on to race with MDK Motorsports in the SRO GT World Challenge alongside Seth Lucas. Thompson’s plans are still in flux, but look for him to be on the grid in a Porsche next year. “A Selected Driver is neither an official Porsche factory driver nor a Porsche Junior but is highlighted for the open competition categories such as IMSA and the SRO.”
Patrick Long, Motorsport Driver Mentor, Porsche Motorsport North America.
“My role with this program is to help these drivers understand where I have sat and where I can help them with their learning curve. The goal is to help the mental approach as they transition from sprint to endurance racing. It isn’t about teaching them to drive faster. They know how to race, how to turn quick lap times, but if I can help them in their application and preparation, how they can work within their teams, then I have done my job.”
Theoretically someone who is really good at karting could develop through the ranks, running a GT4 Clubsport, a Carrera Cup, a 911 R, and then a 963 prototype without ever leaving the Porsche family. The prospect of that is really exciting.