Tag Archives: Le Mans

Documentary view — Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans

(This article was co-written with tomvox1, who helped fill in the biographical blanks of McQueen’s Hollywood career)

Legendary screen icon Steve McQueen was not only one of his generation’s most interesting and successful actors but he was also a serious motorsports addict. An accomplished racer on both two wheels and four, McQueen began spending lavishly on racing machines just as soon as he started making money as an actor after his discharge from the Marines, where he had even attempted to soup up his squad’s tank. Tearing around Greenwich Village in a wire-spoked 1950s MG, he graduated to ever more exotic fare upon moving to California and hitting the big time with his starring role on the Western TV series, Wanted: Dead or Alive. As well as means, McQueen had exquisite automotive taste and would come to be identified with some of the most remarkable cars of the second half of the 20th Century: the 1958 Porsche Speedster, the stunning Jaguar XK-SS, the 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso and, perhaps most famously, his personal gunmetal gray 1969 Porsche 911S and the Highland Green ’68 Mustang GT fastback from Bullitt.

Throughout the 1960s, running parallel to his rise as a Hollywood superstar, McQueen honed his craft as an expert racer. While truly gifted on a dirt bike, the King of Cool worked hard to become one of the top amateur sports car drivers in the US. In fact, despite being hampered by a broken foot in a cast, McQueen and co-driver Peter Revson drove their Porsche 908 Spyder prototype to an impressive second overall at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970, and first in the P2 class. After a gritty and inspired run, McQueen and Revson only missed out on the overall win when Ferrari drafted the great Mario Andretti into their second car as the laps wound down. It was the pinnacle of McQueen’s racing career but it was almost incidental to the real reason for purchasing the 908 in the first place: he was bound and determined to make the greatest racing movie of all time.

And that’s where the excellent documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans, picks up the story. In exhaustively researched detail, the film, a 2015 Cannes official selection, delves into how McQueen put the full force of his stardom and clout behind making his racing epic for good and for ill. Grabbing hold of a project originally titled “Day of the Champion” but now renamed simply “Le Mans,” his vision was to capture as realistically as possible the thrills he himself was experiencing in the cockpit of a high performance race car. And as the title now suggested, the indispensable backdrop for all of the action would be the greatest race of them all, the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. With a cast full of real-life professional road racers and innovative filming techniques, including converting the Sebring Porsche 908 into a 150 mph camera car, the aim was to mix actual race footage with realistic recreations executed at speed by top pros along with McQueen driving a Gulf-liveried Porsche 917 as the movie’s protagonist, Michael Delaney.


But despite the dedication and advanced technology brought to bear for the driving sequences and McQueen’s personal desire to eclipse John Frakenheimer’s 1966 Formula 1 epic, Grand Prix, as the the greatest racing movie of all time, production of Le Mans was star crossed from the get-go. Continue reading

Cars we want — 2017 Ford GT

No, we don’t usually get into the whole realm of supercars in this feature, as how many of us really have that kind of money? But look at this thing. Ford’s new GT is definitely worth dreaming about… and perhaps cashing out the old 401k a bit early for (I never did say I was a qualified financial advisor). With its pin-up worthy low slung looks a definite homage to the original Ferrari-slaying GT40 prototypes of the 1960s, this is a car that is at once aware of its illustrious heritage and determined to surpass it. Specifically built and marketed for a triumphant return to LeMans in 2016 on the 50th anniversary of the GT40s remarkable 1-2-3 overall finish in 1966, the new iteration will compete in the GTE Pro class of production cars against Corvette Stingrays, Ferrari 458s, Porsche 911s, Audi R8s, and Astin Martin Vantages. Which is maybe a bit unfair since not even those elite rides come close to the estimated 2017 GT’s $400,000 true-supercar price tag. Nonetheless, the Ford Motor Company is shrewdly betting on the historic resonance of their return to Le Mans to motivate a new generation of gearheads to worship at the altar of the Blue Oval. And if they’re not able to afford the GT perhaps they’ll at least pony up for a new Mustang.


With help in racing development from major league motorsport player Chip Gannasi Racing and their all-star lineup of drivers, including the venerable king of sports cars Scott Pruett and the excellent former DTM driver Joey Hand among other potential all-star cameos, preparation will include a twin-track effort in 2016 Tudor Series events in the States and World Endurance Championship races in Europe. Clearly, Ford is aiming to be competitive by the time they roll off the truck for their LeMans debut in mid-June of next year. That may be overly ambitious, as very few Le Mans programs are successful in their first year, and that includes Ford’s rocky early efforts to take it to Ferrari in 1964-5 before breaking through to dominance in ’66. In motorsport, as in all sports and life in general, you’ve very often got to fail before you succeed. But with a pedal-to-the-metal effort fully supported by the factory in Dearborn, the new GT should still get towards the sharp end of the field rather quickly.

As always in endurance racing, the cars’ durability will be key. With an all-carbon fiber monocoque and aluminum front and rear subframes it should be interesting to see how this new GT survives under variable loads at a big, hybrid road-oval course like the 24 Hours of Daytona. Continue reading