With a month to go until the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) is delighted to announce that GRAND-AM Road Racing founder and NASCAR Vice-Chairman Jim France will give the start to the event on Saturday June 22.
This event is timely as sports car racing in North America is about to undergo a new phase of expansion in 2014 under the leadership of France with the contribution of the ACO and its partner, Don Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans Series.
Thirty-seven years after his brother, Bill France Jr., Jim France (68) will be entrusted with the task of lowering the French flag to unleash the 56 cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Frances are the sons of Bill France Sr., founder of the prestigious NASCAR stock car racing organization in North America.
On April 14, the ACO agreed to the accord between the ALMS and GRAND-AM to create a unified sports car series in North America to be called United SportsCar Racing.
The creation of United SportsCar Racing ensures that this form of motor sports started by the ACO with the first running of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1923 will be in the best possible hands in North America.
The French flag with which France will give the start to the 2013 event will be handed to him symbolically on June 20 by Don Panoz in the presence of ACO President Pierre Fillon.
It is the first time in the 90-years’ history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that the start of the race will have been given by two members of the same family.
Pierre Fillon: President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest: “We are particularly honored that Jim France has accepted to give the start to the Le Mans 24 Hours in this very symbolic year, in which we’re celebrating the 90th anniversary of the greatest endurance race in the world. It proves just how close are the links between the club that created endurance racing and the authorities of North American motor sports."
Jim France: Grand-Am Founder and NASCAR Vice-chairman: “I will be waving the flag to start next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans on behalf of the entire North American sports car community. It demonstrates the universal interest in the consolidation of America’s two leading road racing organizations. The world-wide racing community is already anticipating the debut of United SportsCar Racing at the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona, with its close association to the ACO and link to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On a personal note, it’s gratifying to serve in a role that my brother Bill performed in 1976. My dad Bill Sr. always appreciated the international appeal of sports car racing, which he felt was epitomized in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Flash-back to 1976: Bill France Jr. gives the start to the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Such was the economic and sporting context at the time in 1976 that the Automobile Club de l’Ouest decided to favor the on-track spectacle rather than energy saving. That year, in order to fire the enthusiasm of the spectators eager for innovations, the Le Mans 24-Hours race had a distinctly American flavor about it with the creation of the Daytona/Le Mans Challenge, an IMSA-GTP category, and to thicken the mix a few “monsters” from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starting with John Greenwood who decorated his 750 bhp Chevrolet Corvette with the Lafayette flag.
The second Art Car in the event’s history was the work of American artist Frank Stella who embellished the bodywork of a BMW with mathematically-drawn paper-like lines! To signify this appeal to America, Bill France Jr. NASCAR President at the time, gave the start as the ACO’s guest of honour.
He was guided by then ACO President, Raymond Gouloumès and Alain Bertaut, “Mr Regulations,” who had gone to see him in Florida at the end of January to offer him this honor.
Bill France Jr. was accompanied by his teenage son Brian who got his first taste of European motor sport.
However, the exotic American cars like the Dodge Charger, Ford Torino, Chevrolet Monza and the Chevrolet Corvettes did not see the chekered flag in a race won by Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep in their Porsche 936.