The 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is over and it was a truly historic race, but mostly for the wrong reasons. All weekend long, inclement weather made it difficult for teams to get practice time on a dry track. When they did, sessions were plagued with accidents and red flag stoppages. Yet, all was set by the time GRAND-AM’s Jim France waved the French flag to start the race. It looked like Audi was going to dominate once again with all three of their cars starting from the front, but the Toyota team was right behind them. The LMP1 battle was probably going to be the lead story for the rest of the race…until the third lap.
The death of Danish Aston Martin driver, Allan Simonsen wasn’t confirmed until around midday (EST). By then the race had resumed after a lengthy caution period to repair the metal safety barrier. Preliminary reports were that he was responsive on the scene and taken to hospital for further examination. It all seemed to be standard fare, until no journalist could get a straight answer about his condition. As the news spread through the paddock, drivers and crews alike were visibly shaken. We expect crashes in racing but nobody expects a fatality anymore. That was how it was in the olden days, when gloves and goggles were hardly standard PPE; and certainly not in this day and age, when race cars come equipped with a mass of devices to protect the driver. Coming on the heels of Jason Leffler’s accident, all were grimly reminded that motorsports are dangerous. You could have the best car and crew in the whole, wide world; but sometimes all of it isn’t enough. At the insistence of his family, the race continued in Simonsen’s honor, but the incident cast a long shadow over the event.
For all intents and purposes, this year’s Le Mans was a wild one. The rains made the Circuit de la Sarthe all the more treacherous. Spectacular crashes and numerous caution periods happened well into the night. Audi had a tough time, as their LMP1 cars spent a considerable amount of time in the garages. Toyota happily capitalized on this and made it hard the German team to regain their positions. All the while, the Dempsey Del Piero Racing #77 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR had not only gained ground but kept it as well. Many eyes were fixed on this team led by actor Patrick Dempsey. He’s a part of the My Life at Speed family and raced with our very own, Greg Tracy in the Maserati Trofeo at Sonoma Raceway last year. Another member of our family is Melissa Eickhoff, who’s not only shared a few of her adventures with us in the past, but provided our Facebook page with an exclusive photo album chronicling their team’s activities in France this week.
By more than halfway through the race, the perceived novelty of this race team was washed away with the rain. They not only proved themselves to be fierce competitors but a real threat to take the LMGTE Am class. Commentators noted their efforts and were pleasantly surprised that Dempsey more than has the goods to compete at this level. However, in the end it was the #76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, that took the top honors, while the all-American team settled for fourth place. Hopefully, they’ll make a return next year to earn a podium finish for the USA. Special mention must also be made of the Chevrolet Corvettes belonging to the factory and Larbre Competition teams. Ricky Taylor made his Le Mans debut in the LMGTE Am class and they finished in fifth place. While Jordan Taylor co-drove to fourth place in the LMGTE Pro class. As we shower the winners with accolades, much respect is due to the others that round out the top five and top ten in each division. Even if they have nothing to take home but memories and memory cards full of digital photos, this was Le Mans and they were a part of it.
It hasn’t yet been a full day since the race ended and there will be a lot of emotions to sort out. The old saying about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” rings true at this time. The winners like Audi’s Alan McNish and Tom Kristensen are not only securing their legacies, but young drivers like Oak Racing’s Martin Plowman who made his Le Mans debut, are just starting theirs. Plowman along with his former Conquest Racing teammate David Heinemeier Hansson, co-drove the top two LMP2 finishers. It must be an incredible feeling to win on your first attempt but then take a moment to look at the very last name on the official results. There you’ll see #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 – Total Time 8’20.731; and suddenly, hollowness materializes in your chest. It’s the dreadful feeling that comes with the sudden realization that while you and your friends are celebrating what may be your greatest triumph, there are others trying to recover from the worst day of their entire lives. RIP Allan Simonsen.