Patrick Long: the racer behind the Luftgekuhlt car meet

Published: 18 May 2020

► The man behind Luftgekuhlt
► The air-cooled Porsche event
► CAR speaks with Patrick Long

You’ll probably remember Scott Speed: name like two racecars buzzing past the pitwall, first American in F1 since Andretti, winner of the inaugural Red Bull Driver Search in 2002, loser of his Toro Rosso seat to Vettel. The now defunct search set out to find the next American F1 champion, and in Speed’s victorious year there was another young US hopeful who reached the finals: Patrick Long.

The name won’t resonate with most Brits, but Patrick’s done okay. Carved out a near two-decade career as a factory Porsche sports car driver kind of okay. Clearly, the 38-year-old Californian is handy behind the wheel, but it’s his passion for car culture, air-cooled Porsches and in particular his resourcefulness in establishing his own event devoted to the breed that gives him authenticity beyond the pay cheque. The show’s called Luftgekuhlt – fittingly ‘air-cooled’ in German – which Long abbreviates to Luft in conversation.

Luft 6 row rear

Long was raised in Southern California and now lives in Manhattan Beach, California, and that laid-back flavour permeates the cool of Luft and Long’s own upbringing. ‘The surf, skate and snow culture is all around you there, but also the automotive culture,’ he explains. ‘My dad was a surfer and a carpenter by trade, and my uncle was a motocross/go-kart/hot-rod guy, so I always found myself gravitating towards my uncle. I ended up going to different types of races at a young age, and began karting, which is where it really all started.’

Karting took Long to Italy aged 16, and he stayed in Europe for five seasons, where the cool Californian kid found himself living in Milton Keynes and racing Formula Ford and later Formula Renault, where he finished eighth to Lewis Hamilton’s third in 2002 – the year he found his way to the Red Bull Driver Search.

Luft 6 Long

‘I was sort of aiming for the top of the single-seater path but I knew that if I had an opportunity with a manufacturer, that was something to take very seriously,’ he explains. ‘I met the powers that be of the Porsche Junior programme at the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis 2002 and was invited to a test. Without that break as a 21-year-old, there’s no way I would’ve made it as a professional racing driver.’

Long was signed for the Porsche Junior team in 2003 and promoted to a full works drive the following season. Highlights since include three American Le Mans championships in the GT2 class (2005, 2009, 2010), GT and GT2 class wins at Le Mans (2004, 2007), and victory in the Pirelli World Challenge (2011, 2017), a class win at the Rolex 24 Hours (2009) and second at Petit Le Mans in the LMP2 Spyder.

Luft 6 row

Along the way, Long has absorbed Porsche’s history and fallen in love with its road cars. ‘I got behind the gates at Weissach and quickly realised this wasn’t some mom and pop Formula car team. I’d seen behind the curtains at F1 teams ­– Jaguar, BAR, Williams – but going to Weissach, it wasn’t just a team, it was a world of streetcar and racecar development,’ he remembers. ‘I would go to the library at Weissach, pull motorsport books off the shelf and study project numbers, trying to understand where we’d been as a brand. Then I started getting opportunities, almost instantaneously, in amazing cars – my first year with Porsche and I'm racing a four-cam 550 spider worth millions of dollars, even then.’

Long’s own collection began with a 1986 3.2 Carrera, and he hopes to ‘own an air-cooled car from each decade, a 993 down to a ’57 coupe’. His current garage includes a 1966 912 bought from the original owner (perfect mechanicals, patinated body and interior) and a 1972 911 ‘sleeper’. ‘That’s my favourite right now,’ reveals Long. ‘It’s built on the theme of the four prototypes for the 2.7 RS – if you don’t know your Porsches it could have come form the showroom in ’72, but it has an RS flair, an eight-inch rear wheel.’

It was Long’s fascination with air-chilled Porsche’s that led him to establish Luftgekuhlt in 2014, with his friend and creative director Howie Idelson. Billed as an ‘experiential car culture event centred around a tightly curated list of historically significant or interesting cars, both race and street’, Luft has grown from a small group of enthusiasts in an extended social circle in California to something much bigger that switches venue each year, sometimes country – the unique gathering has visited Germany and the UK – and is now supported by a range of merchandise.

Luft Long Zwart

‘I invest probably more time in Luft than I’d like to admit, but I’ll be 40 in [just over] a year, I’ve never done formal education and I justify it as sort of my bachelor’s in business,’ says Long, who’s so hands-on he’s even worked on the gate for previous events. ‘I’m learning about everything from sourcing cotton for apparel to how marketing works, disaster relief, police and fire regulations. We went abroad and did Bicester, then Munich, so I learned all about producing an event remotely too.’

Last year’s Luft was the sixth and saw almost 400 Porsches descend on Universal Studios in North Hollywood, where Back To The Future was filmed. In an eclectic event to which everything from an original 356 to a 1998 993 Porsche was welcome, Luft’s stars included 917K and 935 racecars parked outside a cinema, an early 356 apparently waiting to be fuelled at an old service station, and an early Targa with tank tracks at the rear axle and skis at the front, snowmobile-style. Modifications are very much allowed.

Luftgekuhlt 7 had been scheduled for late May in Durham, North Carolina, but has been postponed to 1 November 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Based on previous Luft events, it’ll be well worth the wait.

Find out more about Luftgekuhlt here

Check out more CAR culture stories here

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator