Then up-and-coming Australian race car driver Mark Webber vaulted into the public consciousness in 1999 when his Mercedes CLR Le Mans sports car launched over a crest in the road and somersaulted through the air—twice—during a practice run for the 24-hour race.
Wearing his driver’s suit at the track, Webber resembles a decade-younger version of that famous car racing actor, Patrick Dempsey. Both men piloted Porsches at Le Mans last year, but Webber is much faster. He's the real deal.
Webber is getting nearly as used to dressing for the camera as Dempsey now, considering his role as a Porsche spokesman, ambassador for Louis-Ulysse Chopard watches, and a co-star in automotive photo shoots like the one seen here.
The Porsche 918 Spyder sharing the camera with Mark is painted a shimmering Liquid Metal Silver, a stunning, $63,000 option. But don't fret over whether to spring for it when ordering a 918, because Porsche ended its production run last year.
Webber’s Twitter handle, @AussieGrit, speaks to his impressively rugged approach to sport, and to life. Webber drove the last four races of the 2010 Formula One season with a busted collarbone he broke while mountain biking between races.
“I have done endurance sports since 2003,” he tells me. Just as with racing cars, “it comes down to one thing, which is a stopwatch,” Webber explains. “You want to beat as many people as you can and see how other people go about racing.”
Webber has also competed in Colorado's Leadville 100-mile mountain bike race. While he hopes to improve next time, Webber says he recognizes that nothing went wrong last year, which by itself makes topping the outcome difficult. “I think I’m in reasonable shape but last year I had a really smooth day.”
He had some smooth days as a Formula One driver too, especially at the series’ headline venue, the Monaco Grand Prix, where he won twice. During Webber’s dozen years and 215 races in Formula One, he scored 9 wins and was among the top three on the victory podium on 42 occasions.
Winning Monaco was “the cherry on the cake,” of his driving career, Webber says.
Webber broke into F1 by finishing in fifth place in his first race during his home grand prix at Melbourne, Australia in 2002.
“I was under no illusions,” he recalls. “I was far from home in terms of being an established driver.”
That first race brought the team money, and Webber’s three-race contract turned into a 215-race career before he departed from F1 to join Porsche’s sports car team for Le Mans.
Today’s Porsche 919 endurance racers are hybrid-electric technical marvels. “The cars are fast, they are sexy, they are reliable, you drive them in the night and in the rain,” Webber enthuses.
While some drivers are prickly about doing promotional work, Webber was confident of the outcome of this photo shoot with a Porsche. “With such a beautiful prop, I expected the shoot to go smoothly,” he says.
At least he could be confident that he wouldn't be landing upside down again.