Drayson Racing Embraces Le Mans Dream with All-British Driver Line-up in Aston Martin Vantage GT2
The 24 Heures du Mans holds a poignant place in the heart and mind of even the most casual observer. It is a special race that transcends cars and drivers to reach mythical status; an event of which dreams are made. The dream will be realised 13-14 June as Drayson Racing makes its debut appearance in the grandfather of all sports car races. In an all-British driver line-up, teaming behind the wheel of the No. 87 Drayson Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT2 will be Paul Drayson (London/Gloucestershire, UK), Jonny Cocker (Guisborough, Yorks, UK) and Marino Franchitti (London/Edinburgh, UK). Dale White (Bozeman, MT, USA) will manage the Official Partner Team of Aston Martin Racing (AMR) to what he hopes will be his third LM GT2 class victory at Le Mans.
Each of the Banbury, UK-based team’s drivers has had obstacles to overcome to reach Le Mans in its 77th meeting. Paul Drayson’s journey to Le Mans has been a long one. Despite growing-up with the sounds of racing from Brand Hatch echoing inside his boyhood home, it took the current UK’s Minister for Science and Innovation most of his life to reach his youthful dream. First, a successful tenure in business kept him from the cockpit. An initial role in government as Minister of Defence Procurement coincided with national racing in the British GT sports car championship until in 2007 Lord Drayson took a leave of absence from government to pursue racing fulltime in the American Le Mans Series for 2008. His aim then to qualify for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Despite a call from Prime Minister Gordon Brown drawing him back to London to oversee the national science research budget, innovation policy and space programme for the United Kingdom, it was a licence regulation which proved the greatest barrier to realising his Le Mans dream. Born blind in one eye, FIA regulations prevented all individuals with monocular vision from holding an international competition licence. Therefore, Drayson was barred from racing at the 13.629 Km/8.468 mile-long, Circuit de la Sarthe. After several years of making the case to remove the blanket ban on one-eyed drivers, a December 2008 FIA rules change will allow Drayson to chase his dream this June, and allows all drivers with monocular vision to have their racing capability assessed on an individual basis.
The wait is coming to an end for Cocker as well. In his third season driving with Drayson, the 2004 British GT Champion will finally see that prospect realised. Franchitti debuted at Le Mans in 2005 but has not returned since. Focusing on both GT and prototype cars, primarily in North America, Franchitti had not found the right opportunity to return to France. Now he has in the sole LM GT2 Aston Martin.
Drayson Racing is set to make its 24 Hour premiere representing the great British marque on the occasion of its overall victory 50 years ago (1959). The British racing green Vantage GT2 will undergo scrutineering by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) in the Le Mans City Centre at 9:40 local time, Tuesday, 9 June. The Michelin tyre-shod car will turn its first laps on the full Circuit des “24 Heures” with free practice on Wednesday, 10 June and practice/qualifying the following day. The race itself will begin slightly after 15:00 on Saturday, 13 June and coming to a conclusion 24 hours later.
Paul Drayson, Driver/Owner: “Now that we are just a few days away from racing at Le Mans it feels like its been a long trek to get to the base of the mountain. Soon I’m going to have the thrill of climbing that mountain. It is the special sense of knowing that a big challenge that you haven’t tried before is coming. That you’ve prepared a great deal for but that is still a big unknown. There is, of course, only one ‘first time” at anything but first time at Le Mans 24 Hours is seriously special. It’s so famous, has such history but still has a very modern unique appeal in motorsport. 24 hours of the most intense racing on partly public roads against the best drivers and sports car machinery in the world.”
“Of course being the 50th anniversary of Aston Martin’s win in 1959 will add further drama. I’m delighted that we will be racing in support of the Aston Martin Owners Club and Heritage Trust who do such a great job. I’m counting down the days now to that moment when I’m sitting in the Vantage V8 and I get the signal to start the engine to commence my first lap of the Le Mans circuit.”
“I’ve been delighted by the progress made by our new team. The results achieved this year in the Le Mans Series have shown that the car is now competitive and reliable. Getting everything ready from scratch in January to be on the grid at Le Mans on June 13th has been a daunting task but Elspeth [Lady Drayson, Owner/CEO], Dale and the team have done a great job in getting it all together.”
Dale White, Team Manager: “This is my fifth time managing a team at Le Mans. I have won my class twice, been on the podium three times and we were on our way to another victory the last time I was here in ’06. Despite all of that, no race in the world gets me more excited. Le Mans is a dream to race at and no matter how many times you do it, that thrill never wears off. If anything, it becomes even more special because you know just how hard getting here is and just how tough winning this race is.”
Jonny Cocker, Driver: “Le Mans is the race that we all aim to compete in. For me it’s a massive milestone in my career. I have never been looking forward to a race this much, it’s going to be an amazing experience and something that I will never forget! I think it’s up there with the Indy 500 and Monaco GP in terms of status as a motorsport event. To be part of such a massive race is an amazing feeling! I think it’s important that I approach Le Mans and treat it like any other race. Getting caught up in the atmosphere could take away focus and I need to be aware of that. It’s going to be a huge learning experience for us but we are definitely prepared. It’s the trophy that everyone wants, which would make it that much sweeter to come away with a result.”
Marino Franchitti, Driver: “Racing at Le Mans is the reason I became a sports car driver. The place has an energy, a life force that is impossible to describe but that has to be experienced by everyone at least once! It’s special to be following so many great names of the past. Drivers like Moss and the 24 Hour victors of 1959, [Roy] Salvadori and [Carroll] Shelby, especially in this anniversary year. My fiancée, Holly, races a former pre-War Aston Martin Le Mans car so she has educated me on the finer points of the marque’s history. I’m just delighted to be finally competing again at the home of endurance racing. To be returning with an all-British team is so cool. The history is the biggest thing for me; all the amazing battles of the past and the cutting edge cars that have introduced new technologies to not just our sport, but the cars we drive every day.”