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Racer/Owner Potolicchio Is A Man With A Plan

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 5 2013

Enzo Potolicchio's 8Star Motorsports is a team that appears to be on the fast track. (Photos courtesy of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Enzo Potolicchio looks too young and sounds too stress-free to be the owner /driver in big-time auto racing. He’s 45 years old and he actually looks and sounds like 45; which is odd when you consider his past, present and future.

But as he talks on about racing, business and life, the source of his buoyancy becomes obvious: Potolicchio runs on a undiluted confidence.

The native of Venezuela has a plan for himself and his team and there is no room for doubt in that plan.

In the paddocks of his team – 8Star Motorsports – there is a Penske-like orderliness. Body panels for his two Daytona Prototype Corvettes are symmetrically stacked and are polished spotless. Tools are precisely located and lined up and crew members wear crisply ironed sportswear.

Potolicchio’s team will wrap up its first full season in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Racing Series with events this weekend at Laguna Seca and then two weeks after that at Lime Rock. There will likely be no driver or team championships when 2013 does end, but there is confidence that those things will come and come soon.

“I’m here to win,” he says.

Potolicchio got involved in racing relatively late in his life. But when he did get involved, he attacked. In the late 1990s, he drove Formula Fords, F2000 and Porsche Super Cup cars. From there, he moved to Ferrari Challenge series.

In 2011, he moved up to DPs, driving for the Peter Baron-owned Starworks Motorsport team. In 2012, he competed with Starworks in the FIA World Endurance Championship driving an LMP2 car. The team won LMP2 at Le Mans and Sebring that year and won the WEC trophy.

The businessman/racer started 2012 with Starworks but abruptly left the sport because of dissatisfaction with Grand-Am officiating. Potolicchio decided, however, to form his own team – 8Star – and has returned to race in both the WEC in LMP2 and DP in Grand-Am.

A couple of weeks ago, Potolicchio sat down with RacinToday.com for a lengthy interview in the Paddocks at Kansas Speedway, where he was competing in the SFP Grand Prix.

What follows is a transcript of that interview, in which he discusses himself, his team and his plans:

Question: You and 8Star have jumped into big time sports car racing in a big way. Talk about that.

Enzo Potolicchio: “We’ve set our goals high. We’ve always aimed high. That’s how I’ve been all my life, that’s how I’ve been in every business I’ve been into. When I promised podiums my first year, some people laughed about it.

“We showed up at the Daytona test and we didn’t have all the equipment ready. We showed up with a car built, but we couldn’t even fuel the cars the right way. It’s a big team and right now, it’s amazing where we’re at.

“We now have a customer program. The 4 car (which is a 8Star car driven by Emilio DiGuida) with

8Star has been able to attract top stars as drivers.

Sebastien Bourdais, it was the fastest car at Road America. Fastest Corvette, fastest car overall. Emilio is getting up to speed and comes from GT and is getting up to speed with the experience of the car. We proved we can take care of two cars and the 4 car is faster. Some people are always going to say, ‘How can you drive for a team owner who races against you? There is always going to be an advantage on the 3 car (co-driven by Potolicchio).’ We proved that wrong. The team has no team orders. The only order we gave anybody is we have two identical cars and we proved that the two cars are on the exact same pace. At Sebring we had all the drivers shuffle around both cars they were really comfortable in both cars and then I gave the green flag to bring the customer (Di Guida) in. If it weren’t (equal) I wouldn’t do it. I’m building a brand.

Question: And attracting customers/partners is part of the plan for brand?

Potolicchio: “We have been doing well in IMSA Lights, we have a PC program that will start soon and we have the DPs. We have our own ladder system in our shop to attract a lot of South American customers. Being in Florida gives us an advantage. We speak English, we speak Spanish, we speak Italian. We can bring a lot of people internationally to the series and give them a home. I had a person today who told me he had a kid in go-karting and said, ‘Enzo, I’m really looking for a home for my kid and heard that that is what you can give me.’ That made me really proud to hear on the phone. We are now becoming an option. People are looking at us. We have the best equipment, we have hired really, really talented people and it’s showing day after day on the track how professional we are and how committed we are to doing well.

Question: Your plan sounds very business-like, right?

Potolicchio: “I’m a business man. I’ve been a business man all of my life. I know what it takes. Obviously it takes a lot of hard work and I’m willing to give it and it takes a team. We have team

Enzo Potolicchio has big plans for his sports car operation.

members who are amazing. It’s an opportunity for everybody. For me, it’s an opportunity to do something I love and for them it is an opportunity to work with the right equipment, the right tools and the budget to do it right. So everybody is motivated.”

Question: But two cars right away? It seems to be working. Explain how it is working with Di Guida.

Potolicchio: We have a full time PR at the shop – David Hart has been helping us a lot. We have a director of operations. We do all of our accounting in house. We have our own logistic people. We have a big overhead. It’s not a shop that’s going racing, we’re building a brand and a ladder system and to do it right, it needs to be handled as a business more than a mechanic’s shop.

“This (two teams) is not it. We’re aiming really high. When the customer with the right funding showed up and I know Emilio is a really capable driver in GT, I said this is the right customer. When he was good to hire somebody like Sebastien Bourdais, I said this is the right one. I’m not only looking for the customer to bring cash in and run the car, but I’m looking for the guy to have the right mindset for what I want to accomplish as a team and as a brand. And he definitely showed that. He bought the whole idea.”

Question: You were part of the highly successful 2012 Starworks effort. Did you learn a lot from Peter Baron and that group?

Potolicchio: “I picked up Starworks from almost nothing and I am really proud of what I did. Me and Peter Baron were good, good, good partners. Let’s put it that way. We won the world championship but people don’t know how far involved I was in the whole thing. We worked really hard together to accomplish what we got accomplished. I think we both learned from each other. I come from a business back ground. I get what racing means. Racing is about image. Everything needs to look right. It’s like a pretty girl. You always look at a pretty girl. You need to show that to people to, to a partner, a customer to be real organized in everything you do and I think Peter benefitted from that side of my goals. Yes, he’s got really good people working there. He’s got a good team going on and I’m proud of him. I think it was a 50-50 blend there that was successful.”

Question: You bolted from Grand-Am last year. Can you talk about that?

Potolicchio: “There was inconsistency with the calls in Grand-Am last year. I was really frustrated about the inconsistency with the race director who was a good friend of us but I really separate what’s work and what’s friendship and Grand-Am was going in a bad direction because of all the inconsistency in the calls.

“We got hit under yellow at Indy when we were fighting for the championship. We were actually leading the championship at that point. We told Grand-Am that Ganassi’s bringing a second car with (Juan Pablo) Montoya and we know Montoya has nothing to lose. And he likes to play…he calls it rough, I call it stupid and he played stupid to win our race. He came into our championship and instead of being respectful…when he took out the No. 5 that was fighting for the championship, and our No. 8 under yellow, he disrespected everybody. And when the series does nothing about it, I told the series, ‘Look, until you make major changes in the direction and the managers of the series, I will not come back.’ To prove me right, everybody I fingered is not here now. Definitely (Grand-Am) listened and I appreciate that and Ed Bennett was definitely a positive for the series. He figured out what was going right and what was going wrong and he made some key changes in the series that has shown improvements.”

Question: 8Star’s roster of drivers is impressive. Big names like Bourdais, Michael Valiante, Oz Negri, Pedro Lamy, Nicolas Minassian and Stephane Sarrazin. How were you able to make those hires?

Potolicchio: Sebastien Bourdais, me and Peter hired him for the 6-hour (at Watkins Glen) and he had never been in a DP car and adapted really, really quick. Not every driver adapts to DP. To get it that quick impressed us. When we looked at the (2013) schedule and saw there were no more conflicts with IndyCar, I approached him right away because I needed to find the best teammate available for Emilio and we could trust to do a really good job. So we hired him. He knows my approach to racing. He’s been my teammate before and when we offered him a job he took it.

“Having the guys that we have on the team, trust me, it makes me proud. We have Anthony Davison, Nic Minassian, Pedro Lamy, Sarrazin who won in P1 racing. Sebastien Boudais. Having them come to 8Star and trusting that we’re going to give them a good car, a safe car, that we’re going to do our best to improve race by race, it means a lot because they have a big name, they don’t need to come and show up with a bad team. They know we’re going to push and we’re not going to give up. Sarrazin trusted us and he’s one of the big names in Europe.

“When Toyota called me for Le Mans last year and I actually had him under contract, I was actually glad. He had just lost his job at Peugeot, he came down to a privateer LMP2 team and did an amazing job for us at Sebring, finishing third overall and first and class and I said, ‘You know what Stephane, you deserve a factory ride again. Please do that. Scrap the contract.’ So we needed to find somebody else for Le Mans and we hired Tom Kimber Smith and we won Le Mans so we now actually make a lot of fun with Sarrazin because he’s tried 12 times to win and has not been able to win it and I say I’ve been there once but I won it.

“It’s about building relationships. We are a big, big family. It’s reputation. I’ve built a reputation in my career and in my life as a person. When you say something and you shake hands people know you’re going to go through. I don’t go by contracts and paper work. I shake a hand and my word means a lot and people respect that and that word gets out there. If it’s good for me or bad for me, I stand by my word. That’s why when I offer a job to somebody, people say, ‘that guy you can trust’. “

Question: Next year in the Unified series, will you field P2 cars?

Potolicchio:I know what it takes to run a P2 car the right way. And I know what it can do. We have really good data from Sebring. We’ve got an advantage over a lot of people because we ran a really successful P1 program so I’m going to make my decision later on when all the final decisions and rules for balance of performance comes out and we’ll make the final decision. I’m in talks already with P2 manufacturers, obviously because I need to have my doors open and they are ready for my decision. So, we’ll see what happens but we are definitely waiting’ for specs.”

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 5 2013
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