Patrick Dempsey is best known for his former role as neurosurgeon Derek ‘McDreamy’ Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy. Less well known is the US actor’s passion for Porsches, both as a collector of road cars, and as a Le Mans racer and co-owner of Dempsey-Proton Racing – he’s a modern-day Paul Newman.
Dempsey inherited his passion for racing from his father, who ran a ‘short-track’ stock-car team. “I remember getting a Matchbox model every Friday night off him, listening to the Indy 500 on the radio in the 1970s, and watching a prototype speeding down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. It just went on and on, so fast, and I thought ‘I want to do that!’ I never thought I’d get there.”
Now 53, Dempsey regrets not racing until his 30s, when he underwent a course at the Panoz Racing School before contesting the 2009 Le Mans in a Ferrari F430, placing 30th overall. Things stepped up a gear in 2013 ahead of a GT campaign in the World Endurance Championship.
“I’ve never spent so much time in a car as that year. [Porsche racer] Patrick Long coached me, and we were in sprint cars, karts, off-roading, testing constantly – it was a lot of seat time.”
Fitness, too, became crucial. “There’s acting fit, which is more superficial, and there’s reality [for racing]. You need the cardio, the core strength, your shoulders, your neck, and you only get that if you’re constantly pounding out laps and training. I don’t think people understand how physically demanding racing is.”
A podium at Le Mans was the ultimate goal. Fourth place in 2013 brought Dempsey and his co-drivers tantalisingly close, and they returned to achieve the dream with second-in-class in 2015. The greatest success, however, came at the 6 Hours of Fuji, where Dempsey, Long and Marco Seefried won GTE Am.
“It was like winning the championship!” remembers Dempsey.
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Achieving this goal also prompted him to step away from driving duties.
“I thought to myself ‘how much faster can I get; what’s realistic?’ But I also wanted to stay in motorsport and being a team owner is absolutely as satisfying.
“One of our guys is Julien Andlauer. He’s 18, French, and raced at Le Mans for the first time [in 2018] – it was special to give him that opportunity.”
Indeed, Andlauer won GTE-Am at Le Mans 2018, alongside Aussie factory Porsche talent Matt Campbell.
Talk naturally leads to Dempsey’s Porsche collection. “My latest addition is a ’61 Porsche Junior tractor. I also own a ’72 911 T and an ’82 911 SC with a 3.6-litre conversion that I worked on with Patrick Long. I’m also fortunate to own the latest 911 R – to me that’s priceless.”
But it’s Porsche’s first car, the 356, that was Dempsey’s “first significant purchase”, and likely his next.
“I’ll never sell my ’63 356 cabriolet, and right now, I’m looking for an early ’50s 356 coupe.”
Dempsey plans to enter rallies with his future 356. “I won’t be racing at the level I once did, but I’ll still be doing it – some karting, trackdays and race programs in future – because now I’m into it, I just need it for my soul.”
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