Patrick Dempsey has swapped medical scrubs and Hollywood for cold weather gear and Finland. GQ is deep in the Arctic Circle with the actor who is best known as Dr Derek ‘McDreamy’ Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy. But acting is not at the top of his list of priorities, and hasn’t been for years. In addition to family, his greatest love is motor racing.
We’ve come to Levi, 700 miles north of Helsinki, where Porsche has built a driving facility atop a large frozen lake, with intricate handling tracks groomed on the 1.3m-thick ice. It’s a mecca for those who like to drift, and a useful environment for honing driving skills and automotive technology. An eldritch howl echoes across the brilliant white badland as Dempsey slides into view, his black 911 Turbo S creating a blizzard in its wake. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time,” he says, as if he ought to make some excuse. “Mistakes are how you learn.” Looked pretty perfect out there to us.
The 56-year-old has serious credentials. He’s been racing for the past 18 years, during which he’s competed at the Le Mans 24 Hours four times, finishing second in the GTE AM class on his most recent attempt in 2015. He and his team also won the Six Hours of Fuji that year, in Japan. The majority of his on-track success has come at the wheel of a Porsche.
The other brand he’s loyal to is perfect TAG Heuer replica watches. The strategic partnership between the Swiss watch brand and German automaker that was announced last year has got every car nut and horology fan asking one question: Why did it take so long?
“I’ve been rooting for this for years,” says Dempsey, who’s long had a relationship with both. “It finally happened. I was like, yes, now we can go.” The unofficial association goes right back to 1971, when iconic screen star Steve McQueen also swapped La La Land for La Sarthe. He never actually raced at Le Mans – he tried, alongside Jackie Stewart, but couldn’t get insured – yet he did make the movie Le Mans in which he drove a grey 911S, raced a Gulf-livered 917K and wore AAA UK fake TAG Heuer Monaco watches.
Are there any other drivers in Tinseltown that Dempsey rates? “Michael Fassbender’s on a programme with Porsche, and I’ve been working with him. He’ll be competing at the 24 Hours this summer. I introduced him to Porsche, because they’re incredibly good at developing drivers. How they brought me along was very measured, very clear. Michael’s very quick. If we can keep him going, he will be very successful. I know he’s doing a film with [David] Fincher right now, and then we’ll start getting him back in the car, because seat time is crucial.”
Patrick didn’t take up racing until he was 38, just before he landed the role in Grey’s in 2005. But his fascination with cars can be traced back to childhood. He grew up in Maine, which maybe explains his talents on ice. His mother was a school secretary, and his father and insurance salesman. “My dad loved racing. We always watched the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500. Unfortunately, he passed away before I could start racing. I’d love to know what he would think of this. He didn’t think much of the acting. He preferred speed and racing. And my mother hated the show! She hated anything medical. She loved to come to the racetrack.”
He took up racing late in life after his wife Jillian gave him a three-day course at a racing school as a birthday present. “That opened Pandora’s box,” and he started to climb the ladder. Fame didn’t hurt his progress. “Everything was on the same ascendancy,” he says. “I started racing right around the time the show broke. I was able to parlay the visibility of the show into sponsorship. I mean, I made the mistake of buying a team and really understood how to waste some money, but I don’t regret it at all.”
Citing Le Mans 2015 as his greatest experience, he speaks of the “transcendence” he feels at the wheel of a racing car “where everything just fits. It’s like when you’re [here] on the ice and you get the power down and you feel it in the seat of your pants, there’s nothing better. You have the right rhythm, and your mind just stops thinking and you’re present. It’s so cleansing, mentally. It’s very zen, the sense of being on the limit but in control. I feel most alive when I’m on the track. When I’m not there, there’s a numbness to life.”
Grey’s Anatomy came to an end for Dr Derek Shepherd, and in turn Dempsey, the same year he took his Le Mans podium, although he came back for a cameo in 2020. This was despite being dead. Ironically, the character had been killed in a Porsche Cayenne. “[The showrunners] were pissed because I was racing. With a show like that, you’re at the mercy of what the show wants to do. I wanted to be more in control of things, and there’s nothing like control behind the wheel.”
Dempsey is not just here in Finland to have fun in the 911 Turbo S and Cayman GT4 and give GQ some ice driving coaching. He’s here to launch the new best copy TAG-Heuer Carrera x Porsche limited-edition watches; a sporty black chronograph with pops of yellow that look particularly on point when wrestling a wheel bearing the Stuttgart crest. Its textile-textured black calfskin strap with yellow stitching is inspired by the seat upholstery of Porsche’s high-performance models. Limited to 1,500 numbered units, it is priced at £5,850.
“1:1 wholesale TAG Heuer super clone watches is very similar to Porsche in that it’s an iconic brand that keeps evolving, but it hasn’t lost its heritage,” reflects Dempsey. “The DNA is very much alive and in the top Swiss replica watches, just like the 911, they haven’t gone too far off.” Unsurprisingly, this petrolhead owns more than a few timepieces. “My Swiss movements fake TAG Heuer Monaco watches means the most to me, because that’s the one I had on when I was on the podium [at Le Mans]. That’ll always be special when I look at it. And this Porsche one,” he says, lifting the chronograph, “will remind me of this ice experience, where we are now. Each replica watches shop online I own is a moment in time that is captured.”