Gleason and Fairbanks announce LeMans venture

PHOENIX, April 19 - Chris Gleason disclosed today that he and Genesis Racing owner Rick Fairbanks may drive a Reynard for Roock Autosport in the most prestigious sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, on June 16-17. The...

PHOENIX, April 19 - Chris Gleason disclosed today that he and Genesis Racing owner Rick Fairbanks may drive a Reynard for Roock Autosport in the most prestigious sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, on June 16-17.

The news came as Gleason was at Phoenix International Raceway practicing for Saturday night's Grand-American Road Racing Association event, which will be telecast live on Speedvision beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Early next week Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa., and Fairbanks, of Greenville, S.C., will test the Reynard, #38, at Road Atlanta. Although none of the arrangements are complete, the third driver on the team for Le Mans may likely be one of Europe's best women drivers, Claudia Hurtgen.

"Le Mans is the Super Bowl of GT racing, so if Rick and I get to do the race it will be like two older amateurs making the U.S. Open," Gleason said. "There will be very few Americans in the race, and the ones that do go are professionals. Rick and I are amateurs; he's 50 and I'm 57, so it would be really great to get the chance to compete. Le Mans is to sports car racing what the Indy 500 is to open-wheel cars and the Daytona 500 is to stock cars. It's the biggest event for this type of racing on a global basis, not just in America. There's nothing like it."

Gleason, president of The Gleason Agency and Gleason Financial in Johnstown, Pa., co-drove a Dodge Viper to an impressive sixth-place finish in the GT2 class at Le Mans in 1997.

Gleason has been making a concerted effort to return to Le Mans all year. In anticipation the father of four has been actively training for the event both on and off the track. In February he, Fairbanks, Chris Miller of Fullerton, Calif. and Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif. finished sixth in the GT class and ninth overall at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in one of Genesis Racing's BMWs. Gleason was tenth in the GT class and 19th overall in a Porsche in the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. He had a podium finish in the GT2 class at Daytona in 1998.

This weekend at Phoenix Gleason is driving a white BMW M3, #7, fielded by Genesis Racing. His co-driver is Marc Bunting of Tinomium, Md. The car is one of 11 in the GT class at Phoenix this weekend out of 33 total entries in the event, called the Sun Automotive 200. The GT class has the most entries out of the five different classes which compete simultaneously on Phoenix's 1.51-mile, 11-turn road course. The layout uses the banked turns of the facility's 1-mile oval as well as infield road-course sections.

Practice on Thursday has been going quite well. The BMW was sixth in class in the first practice session and fifth in the second practice session. A third practice session will be held at 8 p.m. tonight. The latter will be the most important practice session of the day since the track temperature and other conditions should be similar to the race conditions Saturday night.

Qualifying for the GT class will be held at 4:05 p.m. Friday. The race, which will be approximately three hours long, will start at 7 p.m. local time or 10 p.m. Eastern Saturday night.

Gleason is also driving in the Grand-Am Cup race at Phoenix this weekend. He's in The Spirit of Miami's Acura Integra R #90 for that three-hour race, which will be held at 5 p.m. Friday. Aurelio Lopez of Mexico is his co-dri ver for that effort. That car is in the Sports Touring (ST) class. Qualifying for the Grand-Am Cup race will be at 10:45 a.m. Friday.

Gleason often works with local agencies to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the sport for people who would otherwise never get the opportunity, and this weekend at Phoenix is no exception. He, Genesis Racing and Phoenix International Raceway are hosting three students from the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz. - Justin Snearly, Brad Shussert and James Cowart - as well as their instructors, Val Beck and Carrie Snyder.

-Linda Mansfield

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About this article
Series Grand-Am , Le Mans
Drivers Bill Auberlen , Claudia Hurtgen , Aurelio Lopez , Chris Gleason , Rick Fairbanks , Marc Bunting , Chris Miller