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Barrie resident Kyle Marcelli is the only Canadian driving full time in the world-class American Le Mans Series. At just 22 years of age, Marcelli also competes in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge in Canada and is a respected driving coach.
With the Grand Prix of Mosport coming up on July 20-22, I had a chat with Marcelli to see how his 2012 season is going.
GG: What do you find takes up most of your time outside of driving and testing?
KM: I have two-and-a-half schedules I’m operating between. There is the full-time American Le Mans series, the full-time Porsche Cup and a couple of European Le Mans events that I’m piecing together for the end of the year. I’m also coaching for a young kid out of Chicago who is racing the Ontario Formula Ford Series and the Skip Barber Summer series, so my two-and-a-half series schedule and his two-series schedule keep me somewhere else in North America every week. When I’m not doing that, it is the behind the scenes stuff like following up on emails and phone calls, PR things and piecing together promotional events.
GG: With the Grand Prix of Mosport just around the corner, do you have any events scheduled before the race where fans can come out and meet the hometown guy?
KM: I do. Mosport does the Dundas Square event on Tues., July 17. I have actually put together an event myself for the Wed., July 18, before the Grand Prix, called Hockey Night in Canada, with sponsors playing against the American Le Mans drivers at the Courtice Arena, which is about 15 minutes from the track.
GG:The Pfaff Porsche ride is obviously a great thing for you; it is a big thing to build some buzz locally. Do you see that turning into something bigger down the road?
KM: Yeah, I hope so. I have my fingers crossed. That was the first thing that came to my mind when Chris Pfaff approached me last August. I’ve known Chris for a while and we’ve tried to put together a few programs that we can work together on, but I’ve never been in a Pfaff brand. I’ve never been behind the wheel of an Audi or a Volkswagen. It is a bit more entry level, however it is a real opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Porsche, they have such a rich history in auto racing. My goal is to do well whenever I get behind the wheel and build a relationship with the manufacturer. Hopefully it can develop into something a bit more long term. I don’t believe Porsche has had a Canadian factory driver before.
GG: When you spoke with Toronto Star Wheels editor and racing correspondent, Norris McDonald, earlier in the season, you mentioned that you were hoping for a future with Porsche and that you had been on GM’s radar in the past. Last week, when I spoke with Ron Fellows about finding another Canadian to race at Le Mans, he mentioned you as one of two guys who are up and coming. Have you been speaking with the Corvette folks at all about the future?
KM: Yes, I have. This kind of sparked at the end of 2010, my debut season in American Le Mans Series. Basically, how it went down is, Dan Binks, the crew chief for the number 3 car had approached Brian Graham, who I drove for in Formula Ford and F2000, and asked for some insight on me and Conor Daly who had also driven for Brian. That was my first indication that maybe I’m being looked at. I’ve talked to Ron on multiple occasions since then, and he has told me that, as an ambassador to Corvette racing, he has supplied them with a list of drivers to look at and that I am on his short list. I haven’t gotten that call yet, though.
GG: What do you prefer driving, the GT3 or the Oreca?
KM: I drive anything with wheels! They take two different driving styles. The races themselves are two different types of racing. The Porsche Cup is a little bit more of a sprint environment, which I do enjoy. It has been a long time since I’ve been the only guy behind the wheel, and I enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes with a sprint race. Then again, I really, really enjoy endurance racing. I love the strategy. I love being in the car for three hours and fighting through GT traffic. If I had to choose, I don’t know what I would pick.
It’s a thrill to drive a prototype. The grip that they generate and the speed that you can carry is unbelievable. I will say that when I first strapped into the Porsche, I was very impressed. Prior to that, I had driven a little bit of touring car stuff, and I expected the Porsche to be similar to a touring car, but it was nothing like it. The car was so planted, it had a ton of grip. It was really hot inside. I have never worn a cool suit and I did race one without one. By race two, I had one.
GG: You are three races in to the American Le Mans season and you are sitting back in 13th in the points. The car let you down at Sebring and Laguna, do you think the team will have some of the mechanical bugs handled before Lime Rock?
KM: I hope so. We had a good start at Sebring and then we had a steering rack break . . . first time I’ve experienced that. We got that fixed and then my co-driver was involved in an accident. Long Beach, we were fast, but it came down to my co-driver making a few mistakes behind the wheel which put us down a couple of laps. At this level, it really takes the whole package. It takes the whole team, but with two or three drivers in the car, everybody needs to be on their game. Especially in this Pro-Am category. All of the professionals are very, very close in times, but it is the co-drivers, the amateurs, who can play a big role in the overall result.
At Laguna, we were in good shape, I thought we had our first win coming and then we did start to have some issues with the car. It was just a gearbox issue. I’m not sure what caused it. My co-driver had made a mistake during the last pit stop. We were supposed to take a brand new set of tires and fuel for the last hour and he missed the pit box, so we only had time to fill up. I was on pretty used tires come the end of the race. There was a late race caution and I had all these cars stacked up behind me. If we all had equal equipment, it would have been a good race, but I was just holding on with the tires I had, versus what they had at the end of the race.
GG: Your amateur co-drivers are the Downs brothers in LMPC this year. Are these guys quick enough to win?
Yes, if no mistakes are made, we can win for sure.