Porsche Club Racing – Living life in the fast lane
Motorsport has always been one strand of the Porsche DNA. It is the testing ground for all technologies implemented equally, on models destined for the road and the race track. This “shared passion” resonates with Porsche clubs in 70 countries throughout the world, even more so with Porsche Club of America, covering over 140 regions in the U.S. and Canada.
The PCA events list takes hours to go through, which makes sense, since it caters for the needs of over 100,000 members. PCA activities include racing, rallies, autocrosses, tours, and shows, as well as driver education, Porsche restoration and technical sessions. All events are massively supported by the friendliest fanatics and the camaraderie developed among them is the gluing agent that keeps the PCA thriving, since its foundation in 1955.
Still, the one thing that stands out on a global scale is the PCA racing calendar, which could keep someone busy for the entire year, hopping from one racing event to the next. PCA Club Racing enters its 26th year by featuring more than 2,000 licensed racers and 32 sanctioned races per annum, more than any other single-make racing organization in the world. According to PCA Club Racing: [It] “was established around guiding principles that remain true today. In summary, they provide a class for all Porsche sports cars; fun, safe and clean racing; and uniform organization and operation”.
Club racers are -generally speaking- people with little or no involvement in professional racing.
Like everyone else, they have demanding jobs, families, commitments, limited time and priorities that inadvertently affect the expression of this passion. Trying to understand the mechanics in the head of a Porsche Club racer, I have come across Matthew Partsinevelos, a PCA member from North New Jersey, who started racing at the turn of the century, stopped when life needed adjusting and got back to it, to become a Driver Education Instructor.
Black: What is the driving force that leads an everyday sports car enthusiast/owner to the track?
MP: Some individuals race for their ego, others for the experience and fame and the rest of us, for the pure love of speed; taking a corner at high velocity, pushing the car to its limits. During the track-out, after a perfect Apex, feeling your palms sweating, as it all happens in seconds…it’s the most exhilarating feeling in the world!
Black: Ron Dennis former McLaren boss once said that every time he lost a race, he was experiencing physical pain the morning after. Is this the case for club races to some extent or is camaraderie dominant?
MP: Let’s be realistic; nobody enjoys losing. The stakes are not that high in club races and generally on race weekends we try to make the most fun of it. We talk about a difficult turn, giving advice amongst each other, or go out in a run session together with friends. It really puts a smile on you.
When the track gets cold and in most cases after 6:30pm we get together and talk about our experiences or look at the camera footage.
Black: What cameras do you use to record?
Black: Did you start racing with Porsche?
MP: My love for Porsches started back in 1998, when I found out that the Porsche Club of America was offering events right in New Jersey. That was the start of the best hobby ever. I signed up for my first autocross event in June of 2002. I finished the year with first place in my class, which opened the doors for a seminar I attended about high speed track driving on Driver Education events.
At the time, I owned a Porsche 993, which I started modifying little by little for the track.
Black: What are the steps to becoming a DE Instructor like you?
MP: DE events are broken up into classes; Green (novice) class, Yellow and Blue classes, all with an instructor present in the car. Then you go up to White (intermediate) with no instructor present, Black which is considered advanced and Red which is the highest class, but particularly intimidating. Within three years and less than 10 events later, I was advanced to Black.
Black Tacho: Quite impressive considering you are also a family man.
MP: For me, that was a huge accomplishment. I started racing just over a decade since arriving in the U.S. and I was setting up and running my own business at the same time, apart from being also a husband and a dad.
Black Tacho: Sounds like a busy schedule.
MP: Yes, but a very fulfilling one. A dream come true.
Fast forward a few months later, I purchased the Porsche 2004 40th Anniversary Edition, with 1963 units made in total.
I bought it with 355 horse power and pushed it to about 385. At the time, I was running faster than the GT3. But soon I had to make a pause.
Black: With all this power available, is there a fitness routine you follow or can you easily handle with the physical demands of the sport?
MP: My advice would be: Sleep well, no alcohol, no energy or sugar drinks, no sugar in general. Very good breakfast and don’t bring your life’s problems to the track, only bring a mindset for driving.
As an instructor, having multiple students under your wing can mentally drain you, besides the physical fatigue of getting in and out of cars all day long, with few to no breaks in between.
Picture it as riding a rollercoaster for 20 minutes at a time and for 4 hours a day, with short breaks in between.
Black: How many people have you introduced to racing?
MP: I will say 6, one is a semi Pro and I am very happy for him.
Black: Are you more aggressive the more you race, or do you find those “awakening moments” make you more conservative?
MP: I like to think of having an on-off switch. There are moments, where you will need to be aggressive and intimidating to keep ahead of the cars that have 100-150hp more than you do, all the while having safety in mind. It’s time to switch to being conservative, when you begin to notice variations in track conditions, debris and flaggers.
Black: Unlike Pro racing, I imagine you are the primary sponsor of your activity. Damage is always a possibility. How does that affect your driving?
MP: Damage is always one of the biggest concerns, from the moment you enter the track. Of course you are responsible for the cost of the damage you incur. That’s why we do multiple inspections on the car in the fastest race tracks, to ensure a collision would be the only case for damage. Your life also depends on the condition of the car. There is no room for error driving on a straightaway about 1450ft (442m) long, exceeding 150mph (241kph), before you make the sharp right turn.
Black: An unpleasant moment you will never forget?
MP: In 2006, I was involved in a major accident at around 140mph. A Porsche that had a rear collision tossed its rear axle over my car. It is important to be alert and anticipate anything at that kind of speed. I was fortunate enough to walk away with only minor damage to the front of the car.
Black: Is that when you took a break from racing?
MP: 2006 hits, and I find out my wife is pregnant with our third child. There was a big concern within the family regarding racing cars and my overall safety. So, I “retired”. I got my boating license and spent all summers on the boat. For some reason, life was just…not the same. It’s not pleasant knowing all your friends are at the track but you. It took me about 6 years to go back.
Black: Was going back an easy process?
MP: When I stopped racing I decided I had to sell a brand new 2004 996 40th Anniversary Edition, with just 2,300miles on the clock, along with a custom-made trailer. To begin with, I had to find a car.
I purchased a 997 with minor suspension modifications and hit the track in the state of Ohio.
Unfortunately, there were some mechanical issues, causing the engine to blow up on the track, at the front straightway. This damage was pretty costly, which pulled me away from the track for a full year. Allocating an engine for the car wasn’t an easy task, but as soon as I found one, no time was wasted on modifications.
Some changes that were made in 2012 included a deep oil pan, direct oil feeder to the IMS bearings, racing flywheel, clutch 3 radiator, racing seats, harness and roll bar. Along with the engine, I remember dropping $36,000 in total.
Black: Sounds like a lot of work. Did you get the result you were looking for?
MP: My lap records were amazing, pedal transitions were smooth, but I still needed to keep up with the GT3 of 400 horse power. So, more improvements were made. After a few years of determination, I was put on the watch list for Instructors. These amazing news were followed by my 2017 appointment as a national instructor for the Porsche Club of America.
Black: A wait worthwhile then. Something you were anticipating during “the dry years”?
MP: I never stopped my membership with the Porsche Club. I still had one garage spot in the house dedicated to my Porsche parts; I knew that I would return eventually. My little one, Alexander, was 6 years old when we started attending events again. It was good to be back and some of my old friends and mentors were also excited to see me at the track.
Black: Are you a dedicated Porsche fan or do you allow other cars in your garage?
MP: I’ve always had a love for cars. Since I moved to the U.S. in 1989, I have owned 51 cars, ranging from Mercedes Benz AMG to Range Rovers. My current collection includes a Porsche 991, Porsche 997 S, Porsche Boxster S, Porsche Macan and a Chevrolet Suburban. We also own a Mercedes Benz CLA and a Volkswagen Jetta, which my kids drive. Everyone in the neighborhood assumes I own a car dealership [logical assumption], but in reality I am involved with interior construction.
Black: Have any of your children announced an interest in racing?
MP: My son Aristotelis is following in my footsteps. He started driving 2 years ago with a Golf GTI, a very fun car to drive. Occasionally, I let him drive my car as well.
I coach him at every event and he is an amazing driver, but he also spends a lot of time on the simulator learning all the tracks.
This year it was time to move on and I got him his first Boxster.
Black: I understand you have a little girl. If your future son-in-law doesn’t like racing will you keep him in the house? What if he turns up in a Fiat 500?
MP: I grew up in Athens, Greece and left for the U.S. when I was 24 years old. My first car was a modified Fiat 600 and my second one a Fiat Ritmo. I don’t mind seeing my future son-in-law show up in a Fiat 500…as long as it’s an Abarth! [no answer on the racing question though!]
Black: Assuming he does want to pick up racing, what would you tell him?
MP: As a beginner, learn your car on the track and spend time listening to it. The car communicates with us constantly. Street driving has nothing to do with track driving. You need to spend time to learn how your car handles, braking zones, apex, track out, weight transfer, smooth inputs, etc. PCA offers many seminars either during track sessions or in the classroom, at the beginning of the year. That would be a very good start.
Black: And what about modifications?
MP: I would recommend investing on modifications, as soon you have reached all the limits of what the stock engine has to offer. Then the first step would be a good suspension. Lower the height for better handling. The list also includes a better set of tires with softer tread wear for better traction, a good air intake, better lightweight exhaust and a good chip tune that will give you a good 30HP. This works for most of the drivers, for a very long time.
Black: Surely there’s more to it…
MP: Now, if you really are in a hard-core mode and you need to be at the top of the game, make sure that you have an additional $50-60,000 to make that car race-ready. Bear in mind, only the yearly service will set you back more than $15-20,000 without taking into account tires, at a $4-8,000 range a year.
Black: I know you’re working on your car and you enjoy it, so give me some engineering insight.
MP: I can spend hours talking about all the options available, but I’ll try to give you an idea of what it takes in modifying cars for club racing.
First, you strip the car of all unnecessary useless metal, carpets and generally heavy components, replace the factory seats with bucket sets, aluminum brakes, all airbags out, a/c unit, hoses, door panels, speakers etc…you get the idea, complete strip. All that can easily attain a weight of 250lbs.
As for mods, all 3 racing radiators, JRZ RS-PRO suspension (highly recommended), replacing all your rubber brake lines with stainless steel lines, upgrade the brakes with 6 pistons 380 in front and 4 pistons 355 at the rear, along with pagid racing pads for the high temperature braking. I bleed the brakes fully with SRF Castrol racing brake fluid, at least twice a year, depending on driving hours.
Then you upgrade drop links, sway bars and all the rubber bushings, with full metal adjustable; that way you are stiffening the car and you eliminate every single inch of body roll.
Heading over to the engine, you replace and remove the rubber engine mounts, deep oil sump pump, direct oil feed to the infamous IMS bearing.
For performance, big bore throttle body with racing plenum, straight cats, stainless steel race headers and of course muffler delete for amazing sound.
Replace factory shifting cables with racing cables and add a short shifter for clicky, rigid gear placements.
The last of upgrades waiting to be done to my current car is the racing limited slip differential. All the modifications were done by a Porsche shop that specializes in performance.
I love working on my car, but you can only do so much in your garage, before you run into corner balance, alignment, suspension etc. The experienced mechanics will set the car based on your comfort driving level, both in the car and on the track.
Black: I have noticed your technical library, you are obviously entrepreneurial and seem very knowlegeable indeed. Has it ever crossed your mind to build a Pro Racing team?
MP: I try to keep myself up-to-date with the latest models. As an instructor I must be in a position to assist a student, who shows up in a new Porsche and explain how he or she can get the most out of driving it. Having knowledge about certain modifications can certainly be very beneficial when talking with fellow drivers. Now, regarding the team…[big grin]
My best track buddies and I, wanted to run a 996 GT3RS back in 2005, with our overall goal to partake in Daytona 24H. It would have been a very challenging decision as we would have to pour hours upon hours into sim racing, on top of practice sessions in the real world. Then for the actual race, we’d have to come up with about $250,000 to run a successful team, with good pit stop strategies, crew chief, mechanics, extra parts, replacement parts, tires. I would have loved to partake in such a daunting race, but family must come first.
Black: This partly answers my next question. I have just enough money to invest, either on modifications on my Porsche to come racing with you or have a really good marble job done in my house by your experts at Marmo. What would you recommend and why?
MP: I would say split the cost 70/30. House first, toys second. Having a good, well-maintained house brings balance in life. In turn we reward ourselves with our toys. Having both balance and reward is a good starting point for further progress, which will always enable you to both improve the house and mod your car.
Black: Wise words. How old are you?
MP: I turn 54; I started racing late.
Black: How many years since you started racing?
MP: 16 total.
Black: What are your goals for the coming season?
MP: Lots of practice on the racing sim in preparation for future trips to Atlanta, Sebring and Daytona Endurance races.
Black: Any racing outside the U.S.?
MP: Future plans include Nürburgring, Spa and close enough for us, Mosport Canada.
Black: A useful tip equally for racers and non-racers.
MP: Always surround yourself with good people, stay away from negativity and jealousy. Happy driving to all!
Black: How long do you think you are going to race or how long would you like to race for?
MP: I don’t think I will stop anytime soon; I have a passion for this hobby. To put it into perspective, there is a 70-year-old with whom we race in the same sessions, that even I cannot keep up with.
The serious tone of Matt’s voice is indicating determination, if not a carefully laid out strategy, on his next steps with PCA Club Racing.
Be it the social interaction, ego or a sheer enjoyment from successfully tackling the challenges of the track and the human factors, club racing is still very close to the origins of motorsport. It is a pure expression of the competitive spirit and automotive fascination. Undoubtedly, driving a Porsche on the track will always generate unique emotions, as it connects the driver with predecessors, in a very long triumphant motoring history. One celebrated so intensely, by none other than Porsche Club of America and members like Matthew Partsinevelos.