Plenty of Americans to cheer for, just not in the top class.
When the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes the green flag on June 13, it will fall on a truly global field of racers.
If you’re a casual fan from the U.S., you might not be that familiar with some of the top runners, since, for example, there’s only one European Le Mans Series race in America each year – at Circuit of the Americas in Texas – and that’s the only chance we get to see the LMP1 cars, which are the fastest and most sophisticated in the Le Mans field.
Consequently, it’s to be expected that many of us might not be familiar with, say, Russian driver Mark Shulzhitskiy in the number 21 Nissan GT-R LM Nismo, or Austrian Dominik Kraihamer in the number 13 Rebellion R-One AER.
But in the other three classes – LMP2, LMGTE Pro and LM GTE Am – there are quite a few American drivers that U.S. sports car fans should recognize, as well as some drivers who, while not from the U.S., have spent plenty of time here.
Following is a quick checklist:
LMP2: There are three U.S.-based teams – numbers 30 and 31 are Extreme SpeedMotorsports Ligier JS P2 Ligiers, powered by Honda engines, and the number 40 Krohn Racing Ligier JS P2 with Judd power.
In the number 30 Extreme Speed car is co-owner Scott Sharp, who, like the car, is based in Florida. His teammate is Scot Ryan Dalziel, who is almost an honorary American, living in Orlando. The third driver is David Heinemeir-Hansson, from Denmark.
In the number 31 car is Ed Brown, also a Floridian, and like Sharp, a team co-owner and a top executive at Tequila Patron. You’ll remember co-driver Jon Fogarty from his long stint in the GAINSCO Prototype, where his regular teammate was Alex Gurney, son of Dan Gurney. Their third driver is Johannes van Overbeek, longtime Flying Lizard who, like Gurney, lives in California. Despite the European-sounding name, he’s born and raised in the U.S.
In the number 40, team owner Tracy Krohn is a Texas oilman. Teammate Nic Jonsson is Swedish, and Joao Barbosa is from Portugal, but as a regular in the Action Express Prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, he’s well known to U.S. fans.
The number 29 Pegasus Racing Morgan-Nissan has David Cheng back; though born in Bejing, China, he holds a dual citizenship. He shares the car with Ho-Pin Tung (Dutch-Chinese) and Leo Roussel of France.
Finally, financier Mark Patterson, driver of the number 48 Murphy Oreca 03R with Nissan power, is listed as a U.S. citizen, and he is – but the New York resident was born in South Africa. Before deciding to race overseas, he spent plenty of time racing in the U.S., mostly in the Grand-Am series.
LM GTE Pro: By far the two best-known U.S. teams in any class are the numbers 63 and 64 factory-backed Corvette Racing C7.Rs. The 63 has Jan Magnussen (Denmark), Antonio Garcia (Spain) and Ryan Briscoe (Australia), while the 64 car has Olivier Gavin (Great Britain), and Americans Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor, a TUDOR Championship regular in the family Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP with brother Ricky, where they are third in points.
None of the Ferraris, Porsches or Aston Martins have any American drivers.
LM GTE Am: Two teams are flying the American flag: Number 53, the Riley Motorsport-TI Auto SRT Viper GTS-R, and the number 62 Scuderia Corse Ferrari 458 Italia.
The Viper has team principal Ben Keating, the Texas auto dealer, and Marc Miller, a Continental Tire Challenge regular, joining Dutch driver Jeroen Bleekemolen.
And in the Ferrari, it’s an all-American lineup, with Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal joining Townsend Bell, who can expect a busy month, racing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Detroit Grand Prix with Sweedler in their TUDOR Championship GT Daytona Ferrari, where they are second in points.
The number 61 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia has American Peter Ashley Mann in the cockpit, but he has done the majority of his racing overseas. His two co-drivers are Italian.
Though the number 77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche 911 RSR is a German entry, two of its drivers are American: Actor Patrick Dempsey, and Porsche stalwart Patrick Long, co-driving with Marco Seefriend of Germany.
And finally, the number 66 JMW Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia is a truly international car – it’s a British entry, with Saudi driver Abdulaziz Turki Alfaisal, Polish driver Jakub GierMaziak, and Californian Michael Avenatti, who has raced in the TUDOR Championship GTD class.
At this writing there are five reserve cars on the official entry list, and none of the drivers named in those cars are American.