How to become a better racing driver with the Porsche Track Experience
The story of how a top doctor was fast-tracked to race success
Racing driver, wearing helmet, with visor up
Fred Poordad, a world-renowned scientist in the field of liver disease, is also a successful racing driver. But his racing career really sped up when he joined the Porsche Track Experience
As the sun dips below the horizon of the desert, calm has returned to the Bahrain International Circuit at the end of qualifying for the season finale of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). For some drivers, their day is drawing to a close. Not so for Fred Poordad. It will be several hours before he emerges from a meeting with his engineers, and walks out onto a paddock which twinkles with illuminated palm trees.The professor who drives a Porsche 911 RSR in the World Endurance Championship“I love these analyses and I love data,” says Fred – or Professor Fred Poordad, to give him his full, professional title. Details are a focus for any driver, like him, competing in the World Endurance Championships (WEC). But they are also every bit as vital in his full-time day job at the University of Texas Health Science Center, in San Antonio. Fred – who in 1996 completed his additional training as a liver transplant surgeon at Baltimore’s famous Johns Hopkins University – is currently Vice President of the Liver Institute at the university.“Laboratory data, results of imaging procedures – every piece of information counts when it comes to providing people with good medical care,” Fred explains, as he continues his final preparations for the final race of his debut season in the WEC, which takes place the following day. Completing the three-driver team is Fred’s compatriot Patrick Lindsey and Belgian Jan Heylen in their Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR.
Race driver and data analyst sit in front of screen
Fred Poordad [nearest to camera] – WEC driver and a professor specialising in liver medicine – sits with his data analyst at the Bahrain circuit
The race in Bahrain will last eight hours. Night will fall before the race reaches its halfway point so light and temperature changes are additional challenges discussed in the meeting. “Above all, we are not yet satisfied with the vehicle set-up,” says the doctor, summing up this particular diagnosis.
Porsche 911 RSR driving on the Bahrain International Circuit
Fred takes on the formidable challenge of driving in the World Endurance Championship while maintaining a successful medical career
This attention to detail is one of many skills that help Fred on the racetrack. Another is an appreciation for teamwork. “Whether I’m working in the hospital with a wide variety of specialists or out on the racetrack, it’s all about respect, learning from one another and never giving up,” says Fred. “You have to remember that nothing is easy.” And he should know – running successful careers, side-by-side, in both the medical and motorsport world can only be achieved through ambition and resilience.
The RSR will go down in history as one of the best GT cars Porsche has ever builtProfessor Fred Poordad |
Porsche WEC racing driver and renowned liver specialist
Ahead of tomorrow’s race, Fred and his co-drivers have qualified their 911 RSR in 12th place in the LM GTE Am class. The ‘Am’ here stands for amateurs, who compete in the WEC along with professionals in hypercars and LMP2 prototypes that can produce up to 680PS on the power front. Fred himself has around 515PS to master in his 911 RSR. “The car is an incredible racing machine,” he enthuses. “The RSR will go down in history as one of the best GT cars Porsche has ever built.”
Porsche 911 RSR in pit stop, team changing its tyres
For Fred – pictured here in his 911 RSR in the pits at Bahrain – a key factor to success is teamwork, whether on the racetrack or away from it
The lifelong Porsche fanFred has come a long way to be able to race at World Endurance Championship level. He says his father would recall that when Fred was a child, his son was able to name car brands before he could even compose a single sentence. “I only ever played with cars,” admits Fred. “My childhood room was full of them.” His uncle sparked his passion for the Porsche brand by giving a five-year-old Fred a T-shirt featuring the silhouette of a 911. On the back was written ‘Get a kick out of driving’. Fred’s love of motorsport even extended to taking his Carrera slot car set along with him to his university digs, where he raced them with his fellow students. However, the increasing demands of his studies eventually meant that he had less time for play. “I actually had a lot to do,” says Fred of his decision to put the slot cars away. “It was always my dream to become a good doctor.”
Porsche 911 RSR driving at night on Bahrain International Circuit
More than half of the eight-hour WEC race at Bahrain takes place at night, but the lighting on the track is excellent
Buying a Porsche 944 TurboIn 1990, while Fred was completing his first internship at a hospital, his ageing daily driver broke down. Looking around the used car market, he saw a Porsche 944 Turbo that he loved the look of, but the sale price was the same as his annual salary. However, he managed to pull together the funds from a combination of his dad, girlfriend and the bank in order to secure the purchase. “I was in my mid-twenties and owned a Porsche,” he says today, still beaming at the thought of it. He cherished and cared for the 944 until he replaced it in 2001 with a 911 Turbo – a car that went on to accompany him into the next phase of his life.
Racing driver in racing suit wearing baseball cap
The training offered by the professional Porsche instructors at Porsche Track Experience came along at exactly the right time for Fred
By then, Fred had relocated from Baltimore to Los Angeles, where he would serve as Head of Hepatology and Liver Transplantology at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center for ten years. In 2008, when looking into turbo performance-enhancing measures for his 911, he asked the workshop manager of his garage where he could drive the car really fast. “Definitely not on the road,” was the admonishing answer. “You should come to the kart track with us first.”
Driver dressed in a race suit and carrying a helmet
Lights, Porsche, action: Fred heads back down the paddock at Bahrain after finishing his post-qualifying meeting with his team
Getting fit for motorsportA year after he began karting, some of his friends introduced Fred to the Boxster Manufacturers’ Cup. Driving on Californian racetracks like Buttonwillow, Thunderhill, Willow Springs and Laguna Seca, Fred soon realised two things – firstly, that he still had a lot to learn and, secondly, that motor racing was good for him. He’s not an adventurer looking for a kick, he explains, adding that too much adrenaline makes you tense and that can lead to mistakes. “I was extremely busy with my medical career, researching, wanting to make a name for myself,” says Fred. “To do that, I had to clear my head – and I felt that I could do that as soon as I put the helmet on. It relaxes my mind and helps me to concentrate at work.”After winning the rookie classification in the Boxster, Fred decided that he wanted to race in a 911, which is where he discovered the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama – a forerunner series to the Porsche Carrera Cup of North America. “The 997 911 Cup was wonderfully pure. Sequential manual gearbox, downshift clutch, no ABS. And there were good people driving there.”He worked on himself and, over the years, got fitter and lost 15kg. His work-life balance improved even further when, in his mid-forties, he met his wife, Judy. Their daughter, Riley, was born in 2010. “We once worked out that, by the age of 18 months, she had already been to 14 different racetracks. It was a glorious time. Club racing and our motorhome were our life at the weekends.” Another child, Austin, came along three years later. At the same time, Fred’s racing efforts became increasingly professional – his family were able to follow his activities more and more on TV.
Yellow Porsche 911 RSR at the Bahrain International Circuit
Desert sand, its asphalt structure and temperature changes make driving on the Bahrain Grand Prix circuit a special challenge
Joining the Porsche Track ExperienceThen, in 2017, Fred suffered a major setback. He achieved one of his ambitions to drive in the legendary 12 Hours of Bathurst race in Australia – although this time, it was not in a Porsche. Unfortunately, Fred had a serious accident during the race in which he sustained multiple fractures and suffered a collapsed lung. He ended up in intensive care and it would take a whole year to recover. It was then that a friend – racing team owner John Wright – advised him to take part in the Porsche Track Experience to get back into shape.
Racing driver sat, with a tower of stacked tyres behind
Fred was first introduced to the Porsche Track Experience programme by a friend while recovering from a serious injury suffered in a race in Australia
“The Racing Academy at Paul Ricard [the circuit in the south of France where the French F1 Grand Prix is held] was super cool,” says Fred. It was here that he met Hollywood star Michael Fassbender, who would later become his teammate. “We were a great crew – and the instructors were brilliant at figuring out who needed what training,” he adds.
I owe a great deal of thanks to the Porsche Track Experience for my success and the subsequent step into the World Endurance Championship
Professor Fred Poordad | Porsche WEC racing driver and renowned liver specialist
In 2019, Fred continued with the Motor Racing Season programme at the Porsche Track Experience, while in the Porsche Sports Cup he competed in four out of six races back in the USA. It was here, in 2020 and 2021, that he won the Am division of the SRO GT World Challenge America in the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. “I owe a great deal of thanks to the Porsche Track Experience for my success and the subsequent step into the World Endurance Championship,” says Fred. “It was exactly what I needed and made me a better driver.” With the pre-race meeting and analysis now over, he heads off to bed. On race day in Bahrain, Fred – with his race helmet back on – is able to once again block it all out and head out on the track. After eight hours of battling hard in the 911 RSR, Fred and his teammates finish in the same position they started from – 12th. Afterwards, with the palm trees in the paddock once again lit up, Fred completes his post-race debrief and ends by reflecting on the highs and lows of the season. His conclusion? Mission accomplished.
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