The story of a passion discovered at a late stage
He doesn’t want to think about what will happen next – the sport has captured his heart too much. Racing has changed his life beyond recognition. Once Dean Neuls has completed the third and final level of the Porsche Racing Experience, he wants to start again. At level 1. And complete his training as a professional hobby racing driver all over again. With one crucial difference: he has been a member of the Porsche family – as he calls the team of engineers, instructors and coaches – for a long time now. He’s successfully completed Level 1 and 2.
He stands in front of his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, in full kit, his helmet still in his hand. Dean jokes with the engineers who have prepared his car for the race. He doesn’t have to be friendly to be successful in racing, but it suits him. It’s simply who he is. The team enjoys his cheery mood. He kisses the roof quickly – his own personal ritual – he never gets into the car without doing this.
The butterflies in his stomach are now merging with tension. The free training starts shortly, later there will be the qualifying and afterwards and tomorrow a race – his ambition makes no difference here. Racing means driving a race. Focused. Fixed on the goal. Passionate.
The story of a passion discovered at a late stage started just over two years ago in Canada at the Area 27 racetrack, 411 kilometres east of Vancouver, British Columbia. Dean, the owner of a dietary supplement company, took part in track days. Just like that, the then 56-year-old discovered a great new hobby, cooler than playing golf, he found. Just a few months later, he came dangerously close to the reference time set by his instructor Scott. It’s obvious that the Canadian is rather talented.
Dean bought his first Porsche, a 911 GT3 RS in ultraviolet, and his second road legal Porsche, a 911 GT2 RS in racing yellow, would soon follow. Scott advised him to take part in the Porsche Racing Experience. "I thought I’d be too old, too slow, too whatever. But my instructor motivated me and was sure that racing was the right thing for me". And he was right.
Mastering the first two levels
The Porsche Racing Experience has been in existence since autumn of 2017 and builds on the Track Experience. Dean was one of the first of a potential 16 participants in Level 1. "The perfect opportunity to gain a foothold in motorsport. Whatever age you are", says Paul. Also a Canadian, he has been leading the project together with Freddy for more than two years, both of whom are permanently employed by Porsche. "A prerequisite for the Racing Experience is talent and the willingness to push yourself to the limits", summarises Paul. Level 1, which Dean voluntarily completed twice to gain as much experience as possible, prepares hobby drivers for their first racing season. Among other things, they obtain an international D racing licence, are given mental coaching, vehicle technology lessons, information about flags and rules, and data analysis after each session.
The first level ends with a simulated final race, in which the knowledge gained over the past five days is tested under real conditions in the racing car, including the starting procedure, overtaking manoeuvres, yellow phases and safety car exercises.
He’s very talented
Particularly talented candidates go on to do Level 2. There, they make their national racing debut, for example in the Porsche Sports Cup Germany or in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge as part of the Porsche Sports Cup Suisse. Dean is one step ahead and has already completed Level 3, the highest level of the Racing Experience. At this level, Porsche accompanies the participants as they start to enter national or international racing series and supports and advises them on many decisions.
Welcome to level three
For Level 3, the Canadian drives all six races of the season for race:pro motorsport in the Porsche Sports Cup Germany. The team ultimately selected Dean from a wide range of potential drivers. Teammate Gabriele, a motivated Italian, also a graduate of the 2018 Level 1 entry-level course at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, is also a member of Dean’s Porsche family. The two learn together and from each other.
Level 3 has no deadlines; the Racing Experience team will be at the driver’s side for as long as he or she wants. Dean has completed all the Racing Experience training at all three levels within three years. He has also participated in all possible driving training sessions, tests and modules in order to spend as much time as possible in the Cup car and gain as much experience as necessary. "He is very talented," summarises instructor Matthias.
Matthias is not just a racing driver and Porsche expert, but has also been specially trained by Porsche and instructed in how to deliver the Racing Experience – along selection and training process so that he can offer customers the highest possible quality.
He has supported Dean as his instructor since day one of the Racing Experience.
"Nobody is as close to me as he is during the season," confirms Dean, who is together with ‘Matze’ – his friendly nickname for his instructor – for about five days per race (60 days in total). “Dean’s muscle memory is brilliant. He sometimes brakes ten laps in a row with the exact same pressure,” explains Matthias, who not only discusses the race tactics with his protégé in advance, but also analyses every second he drives by collecting video and other data.
“Woe betide there’s suddenly a second missing off your best time, but Matze will find out the exact spot it happens and exactly why it happens,” reveals Dean, who enjoys pushing his car to the limit and challenging himself time and time again. "The change between throttle and brake must be as short as possible, i.e. drive at full throttle for as long as possible, brake as late as possible with the perfect pressure – Dean does a great job,” says Matthias. His valuable tips and tricks can always be relied upon. “Following the second race at Level 2, Matze warned me. He said: 'Dean, change your mindset the moment you sit in the car – fight fair but fight!' And think a few steps ahead – think about the behaviour of the other drivers," says Dean, who trained on the simulator for up to two hours every other day from then. It helped him understand which gear he needed in which corner, where the braking points were, how the track was laid out.
His ambition paid off quickly and he finished Level 2 much more confidently than expected with four top ten finishes in a row. Dean recently won his first races at the Porsche Sports Cup Suisse and is currently leading the table in his class.
When he wakes up at night – mostly around 3am thanks to the adrenaline – Dean says that he immediately thinks of his 485hp Cup car. Then he drives the corners in his mind, last night seven left, ten right corners, 5.148 kilometres. He knows the Grand Prix circuit at the Nürburgring inside out. He often sits in front of his simulator in Palma, Mallorca where he has set up a second home for the almost seven months of the racing calendar. He chose the city because of its proximity to all the European racetracks, its beautiful weather and the sea. Sat here he practises all the possible ‘what if’ scenarios on the simulator – the run-off areas, the ten to 25-metre wide asphalt. He knows every metre, every kerbstone. In just a few hours he will be driving his second race in the Porsche Sports Cup Germany, three weeks after the season opener at Hockenheimring.
In retrospect, Dean laughs at what challenged him so much two years ago: “In Level 1 we learned so many basics – about the racing equipment, safety, braking, the set-up of the car – at the time I thought it was all very difficult. Then at the beginning of Level 2, I realised that it was nothing compared to a racing series. In Level 1 we were there for each other, we took care of each other but in Level 2 and 3 we have to deal with the competition. You’re facing 40 competitors who are all working from the same material. As newcomers with much less racing experience, we often lose out. But even in my second season I can fall back on much more knowledge than last year. The Porsche Racing Experience team will also support you at Level 3 as well. I have Matze as a constant companion, and Paul and Freddy as contact persons for the Racing Experience, the same physiotherapists, the same mental coach – but I will compete against real professional racing drivers, as in Level 2. My goal, of course, is to be at the front.”
His first race on the Grand Prix circuit starts in less than 20 minutes and he takes a last look at his smartphone. His mother has written "Go, my son, go!" in Dean’s chat group 'Race Buddys', one of many encouraging messages that he loves receiving from family and friends.
The 58-year-old bounces on his toes a bit as he finds it loosens up his body and mind, kisses his car and puts on his helmet. Tomorrow, when he knows what his personal best time on the track was and that the race weekend is over, he will say: “I never had the desire to become a racing driver – at least not at almost 60 years of age and with two artificial hip joints. Today I couldn’t imagine my life without racing. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”