The 70th running of the world's most famous endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has attracted entries from 23 American racing drivers. The sports car racing event will be run June 15-16 at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France.
Americans have competed at Le Mans for many years, but only 12 have tasted overall victory in the 69 previous runnings of the event. Interest in Le Mans by Americans had waned until the birth and growth of the American Le Mans Series, which started in 1999 as a series of sports car races in North America using the same rules and many of the same drivers and cars that compete at Le Mans.
Because of the relationship that exists between the American Le Mans Series and the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, racing teams that regularly compete in ALMS events receive special consideration in the Le Mans selection process. Thirty-one of the 50 teams that will compete at Le Mans also competed in the Sebring 12-hour event that opened the 2020 ALMS season in March.
As evidence of the increased interest in Le Mans in the United States, the participation of 23 American drivers represents a growth of 28 percent over the 17 participants in last year's event. The drivers represent 11 states.
The last time an American driver was part of the overall winning team was in 1996 when Davy Jones graced the podium. In last year's running, Americans Johnny O'Connell and Scott Pruett were part of the Corvette Racing team that won the GTS class at Le Mans, and Butch Leitzinger helped steer a Bentley to the GTP class win, finishing third overall.
This year's Le Mans participants who are Americans, by state, include:
ARIZONA (2): Terry Borcheller, Phoenix, Konrad Motorsport, Saleen S7R (GTS class); Mel Hawkins, Scottsdale, KnightHawk Racing Lola EX257-MG (LMP 675 class).
CALIFORNIA (7): Bill Auberlen, Hermosa Beach, Panoz Motor Sports, Panoz LMP-1 (LMP 900 class); Peter Baron, San Mateo, Orbit Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 RS (GT class); Kevin Buckler, Novato, The Racer's Group, Porsche 911 GT3 RS (GT class); Kelly Collins, Corona del Mar, Corvette Racing, Chevrolet Corvette C5-R (GTS class); Bryan Herta, Valencia, Panoz Motor Sports, Panoz LMP-1 (LMP 900 class); Leo Hindery, Hillsborough, Orbit Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 RS (GT class); Cort Wagner, Santa Monica, JMB Racing, Ferrari 360 Modena (GT class).
COLORADO (1): Steve Knight, Castle Rock, Knight Hawk Racing, Lola EX257-MG (LMP 675 class).
FLORIDA ( 4): Gunnar Jeannette, Palm Beach Gardens, Panoz Motor Sports, Panoz LMP-1 (LMP 900 class); Andy Pilgrim, Aventura, Corvette Racing, Chevrolet Corvette C5-R (GTS class); Charles Slater, Fort Lauderdale, Konrad Motorsport, Saleen S7R (GTS class); Wayne Taylor, Altamonte Springs, Team Cadillac, Cadillac Northstar LMP 02 (LMP 900 class).
GEORGIA (2): Jim Downing, Atlanta, AutoExe Motorsports, Auto Exe 02-Mazda (LMP 675 class); Johnny O'Connell, Flowery Branch, Corvette Racing, Chevrolet Corvette C5-R.
INDIANA (1): Tony Kester, Michigan City, Orbit Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 RS (GT class).
NEW YORK (1): Duncan Dayton, North Salem, KnightHawk Racing, Lola EX257-MG (LMP 675 class).
NORTH CAROLINA (1): Jim Matthews, Chapel Hill, Riley & Scott Racing, R&S; MkIIIC-Elan (LMP 900 class).
OHIO (1): John Fergus, Powell, AutoExe Motorsports, AutoExe 02-Mazda (LMP 675 class).
PENNSYLVANIA (2): David Donohue, Malvern, Panoz Motor Sports, Panoz LMP-1 (MP 900); Butch Leitzinger, State College, Team Bentley, Bentley EXP Speed 8 (GTP class).
TEXAS (1): Dr. Stephen Earle, Garden Ridge, JMB Racing, Ferrari 360 Modena (GT class).
The American drivers who have scored overall wins in the past at Le Mans, in addition to Jones, include three-time winners Hurley Haywood, Phil Hill and Al Holbert. Others were Price Cobb (1990), Masten Gregory (1965), Dan Gurney (1967), A.J. Foyt (1967), Carroll Shelby (1959) and Bill and Don Whittington (1979). In addition, Luigi Chinetti scored his third Le Mans win in 1949 after he had become an American citizen.