Give 8Star owner/driver Enzo Potolicchio enough time, and the Venezuelan will find a way to fill half of the United SportsCar Racing paddock with entries from his growing motorsports empire.
Potolicchio's sports car plans for 2014 continue to evolve, and with the recent addition of a brand-new LMPC chassis to his fleet of cars, the Brian Colangelo-run 8Star team is now poised to field the ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet in the PC category (BELOW) alongside a to-be-determined LMP2 chassis and one of its current Corvette Daytona Prototypes (ABOVE) in the combined Prototype class.
“That's our goal,” Potolicchio told RACER. “We are definitely going have to have a P2 car and a DP in Daytona because we want to win overall. To make sure. And then we'll have a PC car because it's a great customer program, it's the best class.
“All the equipment is good to go for Daytona. So our customer program, for sure, will have the PC, and then P2 and DP. We have a customer for the DP already that is proven, and we're building our sponsor relationships with companies like Motorola and a major oil company that will be on the cars soon, so things are taking off for next year already.”
8Star currently runs a pair of Corvette DPs in the Rolex Series, and while the current plan involves consolidating the effort down to a single full-time DP, its second Corvette could be entered Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans, pushing its stable to four USCR entries for nearly half the events.
“I will keep the [DP] inventory to have cars available for the endurance races,” added Potolicchio.
His plan to field a P2 car and a DP at every round was recently revealed, giving Potolicchio to the chance to nominate drivers for whichever car they feel stands the best chance of winning at each round.
“We'll fill the DP and P2 seats, but for the drivers who want to win the championship, we'll have to whisk them back and forth because we believe Daytona might be a track for DP but we're sure Sebring is a track for P2. So we're going to have to go back and forth. We have a lot of data from our cars from P2; we raced at Sebring so we have the data from our P2 car. So we'll make decisions as the season goes on.
"Unless they come up with something that would ban drivers from earning points in different chassis, it's the right decision. Not the cheapest one. But I'm looking for support. I have some sponsorship for next year that I'll be soon to announce. People that are trusting the project and are believing what I'm doing and the way we look and the industry we have created and the brand we have created with our cars and our name, it's unbelievable.”
ALMS and Grand-Am teams are still waiting on the final technical regulations for the USCR's Prototype class, but changes to the DP formula, specifically in the area of increased downforce and power, will be made. That should significantly narrow the performance gap between the two types of cars, and with the move to a spec tire from Continental, Potolicchio will have to wait until P2s and DPs run in anger during post-season testing before any preconceived notions of chassis superiority can be verified. Once that data is gathered, the 8Star team will use its new Siemens simulation software package to further refine its plans for nominating which chassis its championship contenders will drive from race to race.
“We have heavily invested in Siemens software and all the simulation software to use to build models and look at the lap times the cars are capable of doing at all the tracks,” Potolicchio explained. “We know next year they're going to make us do a lot of changes on the DP side, so we need to be prepared for that and do it professionally.
“So the software we're getting, it's great. It's unbelievable. To do all our aero maps and everything in-house will be big for us. So we're investing in that to be able to go against Ganassi and the teams that might come to Grand-Am we really need to be prepared. It will also help all our programs; we run in IMSA Lites and WEC, and this will give us more knowledge for our teams and customers everywhere we go racing.”
Potolicchio's 8Star team is less than a year old, but with the rapid growth in staff and technical resources, he's aiming to join the big names in the paddock when the 2014 season kicks off.
"Our goal is not to be a Michael Shank, our goal is not to be a GAINSCO; our goal is to be a Ganassi, Andretti, Penske. And they're heavily invested in technology. That's why Ganassi is so successful, because you're not fighting against the Grand-Am infrastructure; you're fighting against their whole infrastructure, everything they have invested in for IndyCar and NASCAR, too.
“So we need to go in that direction because they're coming. I think Indy is struggling and they're looking our way and we have all the big events. If you think about it, the ACO and WEC has Le Mans and that's all they have. In America we're going to have Daytona, Petit Le Mans, Sebring, we have great events with history, with everything. So a lot of people are looking at [USCR]; we need to be ready for that.”
In addition to its activities in Grand-Am and the IMSA Lites series, 8Star campaigns a Ferrari F458 in the GTE-Am category in the WEC (ABOVE), which should also continue next year, but could involve a change in classes.
"I want to be part of the WEC because it gives me that advantage over the other teams,” adds Potolicchio. “If you see Ganassi, he's huge, he does NASCAR, he does… all-American. When people see my proposal and see where I go, I'm more worldwide. Having the WEC and the USCR, I'll have more wide coverage. So I'm attracting different companies that are interested in that.
“I want to keep my mind open for WEC and I have a lot of support from the WC people, they really like what we're doing and how we're putting our program together. But I want to go back to P2; it's a car I like driving a lot."
Potolicchio has offers to take on importer/distributor rights for two of the P2 chassis he's considering for 2014, but says he'll concentrate on securing a car and engine before adding another business venture to his plate.
“I'm really working hard to try to get the Morgan chassis with the Nissan motor, that would be my first option; my second option would be an ORECA-Nissan. It's a reliable car also, it's a good package, good options. So I'm talking with both manufacturers a lot right now. Actually, you'll probably see Olivier Quesnel, the head of Morgan is here, they came to visit to see our operation, they're looking around. We had dinner with them. He was the head of Peugeot Sport and they're looking at somebody that can work with them here.
“I'm interested most in having a great P2 car to race, but not really looking to become a dealer. Honestly, I have two options: Mr. De Chaunac from ORECA came to offer me a deal to be their U.S. dealer for the P2 class and then Morgan is doing the same thing. If I take one of the options in P2 I would like to leave the door open if the series goes in that direction heavily, I'd like to be involved more on having that side of the business also, but that's something to consider for later.”
With a mix of professional and gentleman drivers needed to pilot Potolicchio's USCR entries, he's looking to keep as many of his current drivers as possible. In addition to his own role behind the wheel, Potolicchio has a pair of Frenchman – Sebastien Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin – on the payroll, and will work with them to whatever degree their other activities will allow.
“I have Stephane Sarrazin, who drives for the Toyota factory (P1) team, and Bourdais, who is in IndyCar, and for all those big guys, we're always their second pick,” he admitted. “And I'm okay with that because we're not the top class and we can't also pay the money that IndyCar was paying or that a factory program where Stephane is. We can't pay that kind of salary. So I have to be honest with that.
“And also before anything, I'm a friend. And when they get a factory ride, I won't stand in the way of that. Last year Stephane got a call from Toyota for Le Mans. He was signed to drive with me, I could've said no, but I'm not going to stop that from happening for him.”
Bourdais is currently on a one-year contract in the IndyCar Series with Dragon Racing, and if the 34-year-old is left without an open-wheel ride, Potolicchio has a full-time seat waiting for him, along with Canada's Michael Valiante, the team's most recent recruit.
“So for our [USCR] lineup, I'll wait for them to see what happens with Sebastien,” he said “I hope he gets an IndyCar ride; I want the best for him. If he wants to move to sports car I'll be happy to have him. Stephane, the same way. Michael Valiante – he's happy to be with us, he showed really well, a good speed with us, really nice kid, low maintenance. The guy is just completely happy to be here and I like that. So we signed him up. And we're probably going to sign him up for the next year or two.
“I said, ‘Look, I don't know what any of us are going to drive next year, whether it's P2, PC, DP…I don't know. But you're going to drive something, do you want to be part of that?' He said yes, and he knows we're going to push hard, which is what matters more than anything. Right now it's hard to say exactly what we'll have for drivers until some of their contracts in the other series get done for next season, but when we know, then we can start to sign everybody up.”