THEIR FIRST LE MANS: AUTOCON MOTORSPORTS
This is the first race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Autocon Motorsports but not the first for Bryan Willman and Chris McMurry. The two, who will drive the Autocon Creation-Judd prototype with team owner Michael Lewis, made their Le Mans debut in 2002 with Jeff Bucknum in a Team Bucknum Racing Pilbeam-Nissan but only lasted six hours before an engine failure. Nevertheless the Le Mans experience is one both are eager to relive this year.
"2003 didn't go very well but it was a great experience. There are three memories that come to mind. We showed up the morning of the test, and Chris (McMurry), Jeff (Bucknum) and I were going for a walk along the frontstraight. We walked 100 meters and it just hit me, '(Wow), I'm standing on the frontstraight at Le Mans...'
"No. 2 is we were out for a walk at the Porsche Curves and a guy in a white suit comes up, and I'm thinking I'll be thrown off the track. But he came up to me and said, 'Excuse moi, are you a pilot?' I said 'yes', and he asked 'What is your car number?' I said '23' and he said 'That's the Pilbeam - McMurry, Bucknum and Willman. Bucknum has hair, are you McMurry or Willman?' I was amazed. They knew every car, and a lot about drivers who they'd never seen or met before.
"And the thing that makes you want to drive in it, and you prepare months and months for this, is the drive down Mulsanne, then Mulsanne to Indianapolis. Those are both just magical. You're whipping along at 190 mph and there are these houses going by, and trees and farms and all this stuff from another world. You're racing on what are normally public roads, at tremendous speed.
"At driver tech, Andy Pilgrim was telling me to be prepared for people wanting autographs, and I'm thinking, 'Yeah, you're Andy Pilgrim with Corvette and I'm Bryan Willman.' But there was a guy who had a picture of me in a Formula Mazda in Worldspeed colors from '96 or so. And it wasn't a digital print; it was an RA-4 (from film.) I still wonder where he got that."
"The first memory is that my wife Bobbi regularly asks me prior to a race weekend, 'So are you excited?' I'm not a terribly excitable type, and typically I say something like, 'I'm looking forward to it.' When I got to Le Mans in 2003, I walked onto the front straight, with cell phone in hand, goose pimples on my arms, called Bobbi and said, 'I'm excited.' Le Mans feels similar to how Indy has been described to me by others, in that you can feel the heritage and importance of the place as soon as you set foot in it."
The 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans runs from 9 a.m. ET (3 p.m. local time) Saturday, June 14 to 9 a.m. ET Sunday, June 15 from the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. Forty-two drivers will represent the American Le Mans Series, whose teams have captured seven overall victories and 22 class championships since 1999. SPEED will televise the event live, and Radio Le Mans will have flag-to-flag coverage of the race as well as practice and qualifying on June 11 and 12.