No slowing down for Wilton native Scott Sharp
Nearly 40 years after he began racing, at the age of eight, Scott Sharp is showing no signs of slowing down.
In fact, the Wilton native’s driving horizons have only expanded in recent years.
Now owner of his own team, Tequila Patrón Extreme Speed Motorsports (since 2010), and racing cars in two circuits that take him around the world, Sharp has been able to combine his racing and entrepreneurial skills in a way he never thought possible.
“I had gotten to the point where I thought I would never really own a team, until Patrón came,” said Sharp. “It was a good fit.”
It’s a position Sharp knows well, having grown up with his family’s own racing team. His father, Bob Sharp, was a six-time national Sports Car Club of America champion. Scott got his professional start, at the age of 18, driving for Bob Sharp Racing in 1986. He won his first national race that year in New Hampshire.
Owning a team has added another level to the experience of driving, and given Sharp a new perspective.
“When you own a team, it’s very different,” he said, with a team of 30 or so full-time employees to oversee, in addition to driving a car. “It really changes your perspective.”
He said when the team’s second car drove to victory at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last year, “it was every bit as rewarding, if not more so, to see them win as my car.”
Sharp made his CART debut in 1993, and made his first Indianapolis 500 start in 1994. He spent 15 years in the CART and Indianapolis Racing League series, with nine IndyCar wins, 35 top-five finishes and 14 Indy 500 starts. He earned the Indy 500 pole position in 2001. His last Indy race was in 2009.
Sharp, along with his main sponsor Patrón, joined the American Le Mans Series, with Highcroft Racing, in 2008. He finished third in the point standings that year, and was first in 2009.
After that season, Sharp was asked by Patrón if he would be interested in starting his own team — and the Florida-based Tequila Patrón ESM began racing in 2010.
In the next five years, the team earned two GT wins and two LMP2 wins, along with two GT pole positions, four LMP2 pole positions and a combined 22 podium finishes.
In 2012, Sharp and his co-driver at the time, Johannes van Overbeek, finished second in the ALMS GT driver’s championship with five third-place finishes and two wins (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road Atlanta).
The next year, Tequila Patrón ESM made the transition from Ferrari 458 Italias to purpose-built Honda Performance Development ARX-03b prototypes. It had two more wins — at Long Beach in 2013 and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2014.
This season Sharp’s team is racing in two series — the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship’s Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The TUDOR United Sportcar Championship started last year, resulting from the merger of the American Le Mans Series with the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. It is a four-race series that includes the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Six Hours of The Glen and the Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda.
Tequila Patrón entered two cars in the TUDOR series last year, with one finishing eighth in the championship points and another placing ninth.
The FIA World Endurance Championship, which Sharp called the “number one sportscar series in world right now,” features eight races — the 6 Hours of Silverstone (England), the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), the 24 Hours of Le Mans (France), the 6 Hours of Nürburgring (Germany), the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas (Austin, Tex.), the 6 Hours of Fuji (Japan), the 6 Hours of Shanghai and the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Sharp said the FIA World Endurance Championship was a good move for the team as Tequila Patrón looks to extend its brand to a global market.
The highlight of this season came in June with the team’s performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the longest and most prestigious sportscar event in the world. Sharp had driven in the historic race only once before, in 1996.
“I had always wanted to go there. I never thought I would. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “The course is unbelievable. It’s 8.87 miles and it’s got 20 something corners. There’s all kinds of speeds. It’s exciting to drive as a driver. The buildup is very similar to the Indy 500, if not greater.”
During the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the six drivers on the Patrón EMS team completed a total of 641 laps for a combined distance of 3,360 miles. Each driver took two-hour stints behind the wheel, and a total of eight hours each.
“It’s grueling,” said Sharp. “It’s a tough race and it’s tough to get through unscathed.”
Patrón EMS managed to do that with new Ligier JS P2-Honda prototypes. Its #31 car (Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty) finishing seventh and the #30 car (Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson) taking 10th.
“It was extremely gratifying,” Sharp said. “It’s hard to get two cars to the end of the race, and to accomplish that was something for the team to feel good about.”
It was also rewarding given a very tough start to the season. Sharp said there were problems with a new prototype chassis at the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this year. The team went back to its old cars to get through the next few races.
In early May, Patrón ESM finally resolved the problem with the arrival of two Ligier JS P2-Honda prototypes — the team’s third chassis in five months. By the end of May, it had the cars ready to test drive at Le Mans, and by mid-June, less than two months after getting the new chassis, it had both cars finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the top 10.
“It was very much a learning year for us,” Sharp said. “This year will prepare us very well for next year.”
There is still plenty of racing left in 2015, however, starting with the inaugural 6 Hours of Nürburgring in Germany on Aug. 28-30. Sharp said the team will be racing about every three weeks through the end of November.
Looking ahead, the 47-year-old Sharp said he is looking to pursue some business opportunities, and hopes to stay behind the wheel for several more seasons if he can.
“I don’t really know,” he responded when asked how much longer he’d continue to race. “I love it. I think I’m driving as good as I ever have.”