Poordad and Heylen riding steadily to the top of World Challenge GT Pro-Am

Images by Richard S. James

Poordad and Heylen riding steadily to the top of World Challenge GT Pro-Am

SRO America

Poordad and Heylen riding steadily to the top of World Challenge GT Pro-Am

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In a season in which, after eight rounds, six of the Pro-Am squads in Fanatec GT World Challenge America Presented by AWS have taken victories and in which only two have multiple wins, consistency figures to be the key to championship titles. While it may be a tad early to talk about championships with five rounds at three tracks left to run, it’s easy to spot which team has the consistency — and thus has a three-wins worth of points lead over its closest rivals in the hunt for a title.

Fred Poordad and Jan Heylen have finished on the Pro-Am podium in every race of 2021 in the Wright Motorsports/Hopkins Investments 911 GT3R, with two of those times on the top step and only one on the third. For Poordad, in only his first season in Pro-Am after winning the Am title with Max Root in 2020, it’s been an impressive result.

“We’re not going to take anything for granted,” says Poordad. “I didn’t know how we were going to perform overall this year; it’s been very close racing and it hasn’t been a runaway. We’ve had a few ups and downs, but this is what we expected. We expected it to be very competitive, we expected to be up there, vying for wins. We do take it one race at a time … I know that’s cliche, but we really try to not look too far down the road, because in racing things can happen and we want to stay focused and do the best we can every lap out there. That’s all any team can do, really, and so far it has worked out well for us.”

Poordad started racing in 2010 in a Spec Boxster, and has been primarily in the Porsche universe ever since, progressing to the Yokohama GT3 Cup in IMSA, which eventually led him to the Wright Motorsports team in 2016. He took a year off in 2017 after a crash in a Nissan at Bathurst, coming back to the GT3 Cup with Wright the next season. He’s been with Wright ever since, and he credits the team for much of his success — not only in providing a fast, reliable car, but in his development as a driver as well.

“There are other good teams out there, don’t get me wrong, but Wright Motorsports has tremendous personnel from team owner John Wright to technical director Bob Viglione and all of the crew,” Poordad notes. “It’s a very professional outfit — they understand what it takes to win, they understand consistency and they have a culture and decorum on the team that drivers have to follow. I do appreciate that; I enjoy the structure of it in terms of the teaching we get both while we’re in the car as well as outside the car, and I think it makes all the difference in the world.”

Part of all that is the team treats the drivers like drivers, no matter which direction the money is flowing.

“There are expectations that we don’t come to the track just to drive around. We have a purpose, we have a goal … we have seasonal goals and we have race-by-race goals,” Poordad explains. “Anybody that wants to get in the business of racing, they’re going to quickly find out that the team has expectations as well. A lot of it is their reputation, and their expectations for their drivers. For me it is a good fit.”

Heylen, left, and Poordad have formed an ideal Pro-Am partnership. Image by Richard S James

That includes partnering with Heylen, who has been the team’s driver coach for several years. Poordad not only praises him as a coach and co-driver, but as a setup wizard as well.

In the non-racing world, Poordad modestly describes himself as a physician. More accurately, he’s one of the pre-eminent liver specialists in the nation; a professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio; and Vice President of Academic and Clinical Affairs at The Texas Liver Institute in San Antonio.

“I’ve done a lot of research over the years. I teach — I’m in an academic center as well as our research institute. Thats been a very fulfilling career,” he says, before tying the seemingly opposite worlds of medicine and motorsports together. “[Racing] has been a very good learning tool to handle all sorts of things in life, both psychologically, physically, mentally and emotionally. I think those things have helped make me a more rounded person overall.”

Whether he and Heylen close out the championship or not, he can already count the season as a success.

“For me, just being here really was kind of the goal, so I’ve proven to myself that I could do it,” he says. “It really did take upping my game in terms of my physical fitness and my mental focus, and that is going to serve me well down the road in other facets of life, so I’m very happy with how this has gone. We’re focused on the championship, but the journey, I think, is more important than the final destination. It’s been a great season so far.”

 

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