WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., May 16 - Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. will use the next round of the Rolex Grand American Sports Car Series, where he is currently fourth in the national driver point standings in the GT category, at Watkins Glen, N.Y., this...
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., May 16 - Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa. will use the next round of the Rolex Grand American Sports Car Series, where he is currently fourth in the national driver point standings in the GT category, at Watkins Glen, N.Y., this weekend to prepare for the most prestigious sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France June 16-17.
Gleason will drive a Lola B2K40 powered by a 3.4-liter V6 Nissan engine in the twice-around-the-clock classic in Europe. He'll be joined on that team by Genesis Racing's team owner, Rick Fairbanks of Greenville, S.C., and one of the best female race car drivers in the world, Claudia Hurtgen of Germany.
"Rick and I doing Le Mans is sort of like two amateur golfers making the cut to play in the U.S. Open," Gleason said. "Although we both have a lot of experience, we're not professional race car drivers; I'm an insurance broker. It's going to be an incredible experience. It's a Yankee 'me' and a Reb 'Rick' in King Louie's court!"
Roock Knight Hawk Racing is fielding Gleason's entry in the grueling 24-hour event. Debuting in 1990, Roock Racing is famous for preparing championship-winning Porsches in international sports car competition. After winning four championships with Porsches, Roock moves into new territory with the Lola B2K40, competing in the LMP 675 prototype class.
Lola, a British sports car manufacturer with state-of-the-art facilities, including one of the fastest wind tunnels in the world, constructed Gleason's car. The Lola B2K40 was originally designed to compete in the SRII category, which prohibits the use of carbon fiber in the car's construction. The chassis is made of aluminum while the bodywork is constructed of fiberglass.
The No. 32 Roock-Knight Hawk Racing Lola will be powered by a Nissan 3.4-liter engine. The Nissan engine started life as a 3.0-liter engine but AER of England modified and rebuilt the engine, increasing its displacement to 3.4 liters.
Gleason competed at Le Mans once before, with excellent results. He finished sixth in the GT2 class at Le Mans in 1997 in a Viper GTSR.
Although Fairbanks' racing resume is also extremely impressive, this will be his first appearance at Le Mans.
Hurtgen has already earned one victory at Le Mans, winning her class in 1996. In her four appearances at Le Mans, a race with a high rate of attrition, she has managed to finish every time, a feat in itself.
Le Mans places special demands on the driver as well as the car. Gleason has been involved in a rigorous training program, matching his physical conditioning to suit the special demands of the prototype cars. "Fitness is a very important part of this race," said Fabian Roock, senior manager for Roock Racing. "Chris has trained to develop more upper body strength. You need a lot of muscles because you drive the prototype more with your upper body than with your whole body."
Despite having never raced in the prototype category, Roock has been pleased with Gleason's performance in testing. "At first he was a question for me," said Roock. "The prototype has a completely different feel than Genesis Racing's BMWs; it's lighter with more downforce. After a few laps Chris understood the difference. From his speed, I have no concerns about him. He is quick enough to do it and I have confidence in him."
When high-performance race machinery pushes the limits for 24 hours, attrition will take its toll. Just finishing a 24-hour race is cause for celebration.
"We face very strong competition from the factory efforts," said Roock, "but everyone who is qualified for the race has a chance to win. Our program is very reliable. At Le Mans, you just never know. It's a difficult race. We have the organization and preparation. We'll see if we have the luck."