IMSA driver Matt McMurry, 16, this weekend will become the youngest competitor ever in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 11, 2014) - Matt McMurry sat recently at Kansas Speedway, wide-eyed and beaming, knowing history awaited less than a week away in a riverside city 4,475 miles away in western France.
IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda driver McMurry, 16, this weekend will become the youngest competitor ever in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race, which has taken place annually since 1923. The twice-around-the-clock race will run Saturday, June 14 and Sunday, June 15 at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France.
Former Formula One driver Ricardo Rodriguez is the youngest competitor in the 91-year history of the race. He was 17 years, 4 months when he made his Le Mans debut in an OSCA S750 TN in 1959.
But McMurry isn't satisfied with just showing up and strapping into the Zytek Z11SN Nissan LMP2 prototype fielded by Greaves Motorsport on the legendary 8.47-mile circuit. He wants more.
"I want to finish the race and because how well we've done in ELMS so far, we finished fourth at Silverstone and Imola, there's a really good chance we can get on the podium," McMurry said. "That's a good goal to go for."
McMurry will share the Greaves car with Tom Kimber-Smith and Chris Dyson at Le Mans. In March, McMurry was named as the first member of the Dyson Racing Junior Development Program, and his performance in testing led to drives with the team this spring in European Le Mans Series events at Silverstone, England, and Imola, Italy. McMurry performed well, as the team finished fourth in both events. Greaves officials quickly named McMurry as a co-driver with Kimber-Smith and Dyson for Le Mans.
Hello, history. After more than 60 races in various series, 20,000 miles of seat time and 175,000 frequent flier miles, the dream became reality.
Now comes the hard part. The weeks leading up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans have been a whirlwind for McMurry.
He ended his sophomore year in late May with a 3.92 GPA on a 4.0 scale. He traveled across the Atlantic to compete in ELMS events and the Le Mans test days with Greaves. He raced Saturday, June 7 at Kansas in his 2014 full-time ride, a Mazda-powered Élan DP02 fielded by Performance Tech Motorsports in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda, before hopping on a plane for Paris the next day to begin Le Mans race week.
But McMurry has handled everything with maturity beyond his 16 years.
Perhaps it's because setting this record has been McMurry's target since receiving an assignment from his teachers three years ago asking him to list his long-term goals. His PowerPoint presentation included a slide of an Audi R10 with the words, "Become the youngest driver at Le Mans."
Perhaps it's because McMurry knows the unique qualities and demands of Le Mans better than most teenagers. His father, Chris, competed in the race in 2003 and 2008, and Matt traveled with his family to France in 2008 to participate in all the pre-race pomp and pageantry and watch his father race.
But perhaps the main reason McMurry has seamlessly adjusted to the pressures and demands of competing in the world's most prestigious sports car race is because the last few weeks have been a microcosm of his life since he committed to reaching this goal three years ago.
"I don't have to tell myself to focus," McMurry said. "It's just natural because everything has been so crazy busy for the past three years with racing and school that you don't have a choice to wander around in your thoughts."
Still, McMurry isn't so driven toward history that he refuses to take time to absorb the special moments.
Every 24-hour race is memorable due to the mind-bending phenomenon of driving a car twice around the clock, seeing the sun set and rise from the same vehicle at speeds approaching 200 mph.
"Just seeing the track throughout the whole day," McMurry said. "It's such a nice track. It's beautiful around there, like Road America. Going down to Indianapolis, there are trees all around you. That will be cool, seeing all that, as the sun goes up and down. Going down into Indianapolis as the sun's coming up."
McMurry has tested at night, but his first race at night came last Saturday at Kansas. That event took place under powerful floodlights, so McMurry is looking forward to the true night racing experience.
"I think it's fun to drive at night," McMurry said. "It's sort of more calming than the day. You're just really focused on what's right in front of you because you can't see anything else. You don't have the choice to focus on anything else."
Time for McMurry to think about his remarkable place in racing history can wait a little longer.