Will Hardeman sat with David Moore in a passenger sports car a year ago at Circuit of the Americas in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Hardeman and his father, whose family runs a successful auto dealership group in Austin, received an opportunity to drive their sports cars at speed around the COTA circuit during a charity event. Hardeman asked his friend Moore, owner of an Austin-based vintage, racing and exotic preparation shop and race team Moorespeed, to join him to offer tips.
They had a blast, thrashing the car around the circuit at a brisk pace behind a pace car. It was Hardeman’s first experience in a performance car on a racetrack, and he relished it. But he had no dreams of competition. “I thought that was as good as it got,” Hardeman said of his charity track day.
Moore had other ideas. At higher speeds, Hardeman’s driving lines weren’t tidy. His braking and throttle application weren’t smooth. But Moore knows talent, and he saw something different in Hardeman. Something special.
“David said, ‘You know what? If you want to pursue this … You’re not doing any of the right stuff now, but I can tell there might be a diamond in the rough here,’” Hardeman said. “At least, we’ve got something to work with. He said, ‘I liked what you’re trying to do here, and I think we can take this and clean up your driving a lot, and you would definitely be a competitor, a force to be reckoned with, in IMSA.’He was talking one of these days, maybe two or three years.”
Try nine months. Hardeman, 33, persevered and learned through a warp-speed, intense regimen of training and testing in race cars with Moore, Moorespeed general manager and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Price Cobb, and International Motor Sports Association TUDOR United SportsCar Championship standouts Andy Lally and Darren Law. Hardeman made his full-season racing debut this March in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama at Sebring International Raceway, driving the No. 19 Wholesale Parts Direct (WPD)/Moorespeed Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in the Platinum Cup class.
The rapid journey from a fun track day to lining up in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama almost didn’t happen for Hardeman. He always has been around cars since he started working his family’s dealerships at age 13. Hardeman and his father even talked about going racing to Moore after seeing events in 2013 at COTA, with Moore trying to steer them into the proper development series.
But Will Hardeman also knew racing required a major time commitment needed to devote to the craft of learning about the mechanical aspects of the car, technique and racecraft. Those are skills usually developed over years and decades, not months.
“That was the whole reason I never even dipped my toe,” Hardeman said. “I said, ‘I don’t have the time, and I don’t really want to go through that long road through all the schools all over the country.’ You’ve got to go through years of whatever two or three series until you get to Porsche Cup. I was thinking that could be five or 10 years down the road, and I have other things in my life I want to pursue.”
But the Hardemans and Moore continued to talk about fusing the dream and reality of racing. Last July, Moore told Will Hardeman’s father that Moorespeed had a lightly used Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Platinum Cup car available if his son was serious about going racing with the team.
Still, Will Hardeman had initial doubts. Then a quick spell of soul-searching changed his heart and mind. “My first reaction was: ‘Hey, I’m not ready for this. I’m way over my head. I can’t do this,'” Hardeman said. “Once the process popped into my head, I thought:
‘In 20 years, I’m going to more regret the things I didn’t do in life rather than the things I did do. And this is exactly the type of opportunity I need to take while I’m young and can learn things fast and am able-bodied and I can do this.'”
Game on. But the hard work was just beginning. The initial plan was to prepare Will Hardeman to make his Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama debut last September during the Lone Star Le Mans at his home track, COTA.
Moore, with help from Cobb, Lally and Law, started a magical motorsports tour of testing with Hardeman all over the southern third of the United States last summer and early fall. They turned laps at COTA, the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving and Road Atlanta, realizing the plan to be ready for COTA was a bit too ambitious.
Still, the work continued full speed. The training was a crash course. Literally, at times.
Hardeman had two major moments of doubt during the process, induced by crunched body work on his Porsche. He spun off at COTA in early August during his first proper test in his Platinum Cup car.
“It was a very, very minor incident but enough to shake my confidence,” Hardeman said. “I was wondering if the sport was right for me if this is going to happen a lot. You just have to get that out of your head. Price, David and Andy were there, and they’ve all had an illustrious career of wrecking cars in much more grandiose fashion. They said to get back in the saddle. That’s part of it.”
That confidence boost helped Hardeman get back on track for a test just before Labor Day at Road Atlanta, sharing the track with factory prototype and GT cars. Coaching and a pep talk from his racing mentors helped Hardeman avoid intimidation even though he was the slowest driver on the track.
And Hardeman’s zeal to rebound from the COTA incident and learn quickly caused him to watch and follow the racing lines of higher-performance machinery during the test. He followed a prototype into the fast, daunting Turn 1 at Road Atlanta and learned quickly that purpose-built race car had far more downforce than his production-based 911 GT3 Cup car.
Hardeman put two wheels off the grass and hit the tire barrier exiting Turn 1, damaging his car and confidence again.
But once again, Hardeman dug deep in his mind and used technical tips and confidence boosting from Moore and his other teachers to return to the seat, focused on his goal of becoming a race driver.
Those initial setbacks taught an important trait of motorsports Hardeman admits he didn’t understand before he started driving.
“The biggest thing that I underestimated about racing is how mentally demanding it is,” Hardeman said. “Your mind and your brain is a muscle, just like any other muscle in your body. You condition it to the mental demands of racing.
“At first, when you’re a guy off the street, you get into a race car for 15 minutes, and you are worn out for the rest of the day. Your mind is tired, and you don’t know what’s wrong with you. Even though you’ve got an eight-hour test day that you signed up for, after 30 minutes your mind has turned to mush. You can hardly work on anything productive, but you keep on pounding out those laps. That’s how I felt for probably the first four or five months.
“It got better and better. When you mind is mush like that, you’re not comfortable with the car yet. Driving a car at speed is not downloaded into the subconscious yet like it is with a pro who has had 20 years behind the wheel.”
Hardeman competed in a race for the first time in November at Daytona International Speedway. He showed the first glimpse of fulfilling the faith Moore showed in him during his COTA track day by winning his class in a one-hour HSR Historics race.
When Hardeman jumped on the podium to accept his trophy, the track public address announcer asked him for his racing background. Hardeman told the announcer this was his first race and first day at a competitive event. The announcer went silent, thinking Hardeman misunderstood the question.
Hardeman continued to test throughout the end of 2014 in various machines, learning and honing his craft. He also participated in the promoter test day before Petit Le Mans last fall at Road Atlanta, in the IMSA test in February 2015 at NOLA Motorsports Park and competed in another series in early March 2015 at COTA, preparing for his Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama debut two weeks later at Sebring.
His goals were simple: Running in the top 10 in the Platinum Cup in one of the most competitive of Porsche’s 20 single-make series around the world.
At Sebring, small mistakes and racing incidents dropped Hardeman toward the rear of the field in both races. But he ripped off some of the quickest laps of any driver in the field to rally to finishes of 15th and 12th, respectively. He also finished 12th in treacherous, wet conditions in early April at NOLA after turning the fourth-quickest time overall in practice.
Once Hardeman had time to reflect this spring on his incredible progress, he wasted no time setting new goals. Hardeman no longer is content with mid-pack or even top-10 results. He is aiming toward the top of the grid and would like to finish the season with three Platinum Cup podium finishes.
He still has miles to go, plenty to learn. But Moore, Cobb, Lally and Law have helped Hardeman do almost the impossible in racing, flattening a nearly vertical learning curve in almost record time.
“David and Price are the best in the business,” Hardeman said. “They are giving me so much personal attention. Their level of service is better than anything I’ve seen, even in my business.
“Price with his experience, he’s like Yoda. He will teach you so many things with fewer words. With Darren Law and Andy Lally, one cool thing is they’re world-class drivers, but I’ve worked with both of them so much over the last nine months. That’s a huge part of my success. I wouldn’t be in IMSA right now if I wasn’t working with Darren and Andy.
“They all have provided me with the setup, the equipment and the opportunity that is perfect. My success is now completely on me.”
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama enters its 11th season in 2015 as one of the largest of Porsche’s 20 single-make Cup Challenge series in the world. The series produces intense, exciting competition for semi-professional and aspiring professional drivers in the world’s most produced and iconic race car, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.