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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Life after death has only got faster for Patrick Dempsey.
The heart-throb of U.S. network series 'Grey's Anatomy' --until 'Dr McDreamy' was killed off in a car accident last season -- celebrated a podium finish in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in June and has immersed himself even more in the world of sportscar racing.
He is also working on a potential new series that could see him play the part of the late Phil Hill, the Ferrari driver who in 1961 became the first American to win the Formula One world championship.
In an interview with Reuters at the Belgian Grand Prix, where is competing in the Porsche Supercup support series, the 49-year-old actor spoke of his passion for racing, his plans and life after the demise of screen doctor Derek Shepherd.
"My fans are understandably (upset), it’s a character that’s been in their lives for over 10 years and the way it ended was very emotional. And wonderful. It’s good to have finished that strongly and move on to the next chapter in my life," he said.
"I probably should have ended it two years earlier but I stayed and we came to the mutual decision it was probably best for everybody (to end it) because there was just no way to schedule everything."
Dempsey said the Hill project, based on the Michael Cannell book 'The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit' was coming along, with the first draft done.
"We have a polish and another rewrite to go and we’ll see where we’re at. But we are getting a lot of interest. I do feel that we have a show," he said.
"We will probably do eight to 10 episodes and this is being produced with Sundance Channel. There’s been interest with other cable companies that have come in and helped co-finance," he added.
"So it’s really up to us to get this script right and for me I want to get the racing right and the melodrama will come from the essence of what these guys were doing."
The story starts in 1955, when California mechanic Hill took part in the Le Mans race at which 83 spectators died and more than 100 were injured when the Mercedes of Frenchman Pierre Levegh went into the crowd.
The catastrophe led to bans on motor racing in some countries and the absence for decades of Mercedes factory teams.
The narrative, which ends with Hill taking the F1 title after German rival Wolfgang von Trips perished at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, will also feature a strong female protagonist in Denise McCluggage.
A pioneering journalist and car racer, she competed in the 1950s and 60s and died last May aged 88.
Dempsey said he had other film projects in the pipeline, as well as cable and network ideas, in what he called a year of transition.
"I like doing both (acting and racing) and I should be able to do both," he said.
Racing has been a passion since boyhood, with the actor growing up in a small town in Maine and honing his competitive instincts on the ski slopes. Increasingly it has taken precedence.
With millions made from television, and films such as "Enchanted", "Made of Honor" and "Valentine's Day", Dempsey has been able to indulge his obsession both as a team owner and driver.
"The racing is definitely the most dominant side. It’s always been that way, it’s my real passion and love," he said.
"I love the community, the challenge of it emotionally and spiritually. I think it’s really important and I really love the camaraderie and the fellowship within the paddock from everyone involved.
"The support that Porsche has given me and the belief and the tools have been something I’ve never had before. I am very grateful for that and it’s affected how I deal with everything in Hollywood," he said.
At Le Mans last June, Dempsey achieved a major ambition by finishing second in the GTE-Am category with fellow American Patrick Long and Germany's Marco Seefried in a Porsche 911.
The aim now is to improve as a driver and get faster and closer to the professionals.
"I’m glad I’m doing it. I think it (racing) is really something that has improved me as a person, on how I look at the world and myself and my family," said Dempsey. "It’s like one corner at a time and I think it’s very symbolic of the way you have to live life.
"Because I have really committed to racing this year I think there’s been a lot of wonderful change and within change are things that open up new doors and improve your life and enrich your life in many ways."
Editing by Clare Fallon