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June 5, 2009

News & Features

Team Seattle enters next weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans race with a familiar face

Special to NWautos

Team Seattle

Team Seattle's Ferrari 430 GT gets assembled in Milan, Italy, by Advanced Engineering. The team also has an identical practice version of the car. (Photo by Cold Track Days)

Wearing a rubber suit, actor Patrick Dempsey squished into a mold that would eventually harden to become a form-fitting race car seat.

But this wasn't a scene for an upcoming episode of Grey's Anatomy. It was in preparation for one of the biggest events in auto racing -- the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Dempsey will join drivers Joe Foster and Seattleite Don Kitch Jr. on June 13-14 as part of Team Seattle, racing a full day and night on an eight-and-a-half-mile course near Le Mans, France.

Team's charity work
  • Team Seattle hopes to raise $1 million for Children's Hospital using innovative fund raising such as "My Face Raced Le Mans," where donors can affix a photo to the team's Ferrari.
  • The team was one of the first U.S. race teams to have a charity partnership.
  • Few cars in the Le Mans have charity associations, but the team hopes to show those in Europe how the publicity can benefit charities and sponsors alike.
  • Team Seattle has been a mentor for Team Paris, which is raising money for Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque -- an organization that provides heart surgeries for impoverished children.
  • Visit teamseattle.com for information or to contribute.

"Seattle's selection for the event is no small achievement," says team founder Kitch of the approximately 50-team field. "This is like sending our soccer team to play in a World Cup final."

Dempsey joined the team, in part, because of its relationship with Seattle Children's Hospital. Over the past 12 years, Team Seattle has raised more than $3.2 million for the Infant Cardiac Care Unit at Children's.

The first time the team will drive the entire course in their Ferrari 430 GT at full speed will be the week before the race, since much of the course takes place on country roads.

"The only way for them to learn the full course was to drive it in a street car and memorize the turns," says Kitch.

In April, the drivers were able to test their race car on a small section of the course known as the Bugatti Circuit.

"The car is violent to drive," Kitch says. "The negative G's are incredible, and your body is crushed through constant breaking and cornering. The car is fast and noisy."

Le Mans is unique because it tests not only cars' speed and reliability, but also the durability of the drivers. While many teams change drivers at every pit stop, Team Seattle hopes to save time by driving double shifts. That means they have to drive two-and-a-half hours without a break.

None of the team's drivers are professionals, and while Kitch doesn't admit to being an underdog, he says the final outcome -- measured by total laps -- is less important than the money and awareness that will be raised for Children's Hospital.

"We will get more TV coverage than the winner. Everyone wants to tell our story because of Dempsey and the kids we are helping," says Kitch.

In the next few days, the drivers and pit crew will be fine-tuning the race car, practicing the course and taking part in a driver's parade before the race.

An estimated 460 million people worldwide are expected to watch the race on TV. It will be broadcast locally on the Speed channel on Saturday from 5:30¬-9 a.m., 1:30¬¬-7 p.m. and 8 p.m.-6:30 a.m. Sunday.

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