Driver Profile: Jeff Westphal


What Happens When It’s Wednesday

7:28pm EST — In a continuation of the new Driver Profile series here at On Any Sunday, These Days (see the first profile, of Ian James, here at OASTD), this week’s driver is Jeff Westphal.  Westphal is another crossover racer, having competed in both open-wheel and sportscar racing after getting his start in karting at the (for the sport) elderly age of 18.  He won the Pacific F2000 championship in 2008, at age 22, for PR1 Motorsports.  He and teammates Max Hyatt, Thomas Merrill, and Rob Finlay drove for Corsa Team PR1 in the GT class of the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, where the team finished 17th overall and 11th in class.  He is also an instructor at the Jim Russell Racing School at Infineon Raceway.  I spoke with him at the Rolex, where we discussed working hard for sponsors, the difference between open-wheel and sportscar racing, being a Fernando Alonso fan, and having a documentary being filmed about you.

I saw the team qualified 8th for the Rolex, who drove for qualifying and how was he chosen?
Max Hyatt got the ok to do qualifying.  Originally, qualifying was based on being, ultimately, the quickest, and in this case it wasn’t.  He had quite a few laps in the car, I had turned up and did four.  It was a last-minute deal that came together for me to be in this program, and I actually went very quick, but based on not being in the car as frequently, they gave that chore to Max.  That’s fine, because in the end we are a team here, a 24 hour race can’t be won by one driver, it’s got to be won by the collective, and I’m pretty confident that we have a really good shot about it.  Starting in eighth, you’re in the top ten; it’s not pole, but to be quite honest, in a race this long, pole doesn’t  really mean much.  Maybe you’re free and clear for the first couple laps, but after that and when it spreads out and starts cycling through pit stops, then you’re back in the mix.

You said this was a last-minute ride for the Rolex, will it be for the entire season?
At this point, no it’s not a ride for the whole season.  That was kind of the nature of how this came about, a short, last-minute type of deal.  It’s not the longevity there to do the whole season, it’s definitely going to take some more stimulus from businesses and whatnot.

What are your plans for racing this year? Just working on sponsorship?
I would love to continue, this season, I think it would be great, but realistically, I have to look at it as a business.  If it’s not in the cards, it’s not in the cards.  If that doesn’t come through, then it would be more of a working towards 2011, I guess.

Speaking of sponsorship and contracts, how did you get started in the Red Bull Driver Search Runoffs?
That was actually my first introduction to racing, to be honest.  I had never raced anything.  I worked at an indoor go-kart track as a summertime job between graduation high school and going to college, and my boss that worked there was like “what have you raced before?”  Because in two months, I had broken the track record, and I was like “I haven’t raced anything, I just like to drive,”  and at that point, it was like lightbulb!  He sent me that way, got me kind of prepared, gave me the, I guess you could call it, the crash course in racing.  It’s even still a crash course.  You know, 2004 was that run-off [where he finished 26 out of 125], but the first car race I ever did was 2006, so I’ve only been doing this for about four years.

You were the Pacific F2000 champion in 2008, which is an open-wheel series. Are you more focused on sportscar or open-wheel racing as your future?
It’s really wherever I can race.  That was a decision made by myself a year ago, based on the way the economy was going and the opportunities available in the given scenarios.  Open-wheel, I think, is great, to be honest, I love the cars; I started in 2006 in an open-wheel car and I stayed there until 2008.  But, for my career and where it was going, sportscar was, I feel, the right move to make.

Easier to find sponsorships in sportscars…
The package that comes with the sportscar, as far as marketing value, for what I can say to a sponsor “this is what I”m going to do, and this is what we have available to us, and we can create things around that” is a bit more beneficial for the sponsors here, than, per se, an open-wheel series, that costs just as much [to the sponsor] and you’re, even then, not in IndyCar yet.  So, it’s kind of, you need to have a solid foundation to even make it to IndyCar, because it’s going to cost more along the way.  It’s a tough world for everybody right now, the economy is down, it’s not any one particular genre of job or style of work, it’s kind of hit everybody, it’s hit home.

It sounds as though, if you were to do open-wheel, you’d want to work toward staying in the States. Are you interested in a more Euro-centric series, say GP2 or any of the other junior F1 formula?
To be honest, I’m open to anything.  I guess, as any driver’s dream, Formula1 would be the pinnacle of motosports, because that’s why it’s called Formula1, and I would thoroughly enjoy doing something like that, but it really comes down to the business side of things.  Is that possible?  Can we make something like that happen?  and, with the right people in place, absolutely, we can make that happen.  Based on my career so far, I am obviously confident in my own abilities, though there’s always more to learn.  It’s not that I feel I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, ’cause I know I’m not.  Having said that, I would love to be given the chance to get out and experience more, grow more, show what I can do at the higher levels.

Speaking of growing, you have a documentary in the works about the life of a driver…
I have a friend that, actually, I met in the motorsports industry, who’s really a by chance deal, and he just came out of his tuning career, he used to tune, and went to film school.  He had originally got a degree in film, but he went to a more focused program, and that’s a shift in his career path.  So, it was kind of the perfect storm, if you will, because he was able to get some work, and at that stage in his career, you just need to be able to produce something.  He wants to be a producer, he needs to get some projects.  Talking to him, it’s a bit like the motorsports industry, with the economy, it’s hard enough because there are people with 20-30 years of experience who have been laid off.  So, as a new person breaking into that arena, how do you compete against someone with that much experience for the same job?  So, he’s able to get something under his belt, I’m able to use it as promotional work for myself, it’s kind of a he wins, I win type deal, and that’s how we were able to put it together.

Any news on a release date?
To be honest, we haven’t even really talked about that.  We’re just getting all the footage we need, like, we got fifteen hours of footage yesterday between three cameras, so, a good amount, we’ve done some stuff prior to the race, probably need to do a bit of stuff after the race.  It’s more encapsulating the entire lifestyle from a driver’s perspective, similar to “Truth in 24,” but that was focused more around the Audi team.  This is going to be what it takes for a driver to get there.  The training involved, the business involved, marketing, networking, still working to support yourself while you’re doing it.  It will be pretty cool, more of a no-holds-barred, no BS, this is what it’s really like.  I mean, you watch it on TV, and you see the cars going around and the drivers, and it looks pretty glamorous, but this is absolutely not that way.
As of right now, the documentary is in project stage.  It’s been very sensitive about licensing, so  our plan is to talk to Grand-Am, and see what we can do, and if they don’t, they don’t.  At this point, it’s produced for our own viewing, but [we’d very much like to make it a Grand-Am licensed production].

You were speaking of F1, and there has been a recent trend in drivers starting in open-wheel, moving to sportscars, then returning to open wheel. What’s your take on that?
If you’re good enough, yes, you can go back and forth, it’s no problem.  Definitely, the style of driving a sportscar does not suit driving a Formula car.  Those are more like fighter jets on the ground, if you will, and you need to be on the minute, ragged edge.  I mean, that last millimeter of the edge, all the time.  Whereas, in a sportscar, absolutely, you need to be pushing hard, but in a race like this, for example, the 24 Hour, it’s not necessarily best for risk management, to be doing that.  I mean, you start driving hard and you get the team owner on the radio, and he starts barking at you, “what are you doing?!  We only need you to do this lap time, slow down,” so, it’s kind of a figure out where you can get away with driving that pace, and not putting any extra associated risks on the car, your position.  Basically, that machine needs to last for twenty-four hours.  So, if we can minimize stress on it, we want to.

Finally, you are a F1 fan, who is your favorite driver or team?
It’s one of my types of racing to watch.  To be honest, a favorite driver of mine is Fernando Alonso, and it’s a very controversial pick of mine, because a lot of people that I speak to about him, they say “oh, he’s a baby and he complains.”  You know, every driver is couched the way the media wants them to be looked at, and in that example, I respect him for his development abilities, how he’s able to take the car, and not necessarily the most competitive car, and create it into something that is extremely competitive.

To learn more about the Rolex and the coverage offered both here and at Formula1Blog, check out “Finally Available: Interviews and More from the Rolex 24 at Daytona” here at On Any Sunday, These Days.  Expect another driver profile on Wednesday!

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2 Comments

  1. Thank useful share !!
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  2. Great interview! I hadn’t heard of Jeff but you got some really thoughtful comments from him and got me interested. I hope he does well and I’d like to see that documentary.


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