DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A month out from the 90th running of 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car endurance classic, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest announced that Grand-Am Road Racing founder and NASCAR Vice-Chairman Jim France will wave the French flag to start the race on June 22.
This event is timely, as sports car racing in North America approaches 2014 and a new era under the leadership of France and Don Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. Both France and Panoz are on the board of a new International Motor Sports Association organization, which will sanction United SportsCar Racing, resulting from the ongoing merger of GRAND-AM and the ALMS. Last month the ACO officially endorsed the merger agreement.
Thirty-seven years after his brother, Bill France Jr., was accorded the same honor, Jim France will have the task of lowering the French flag to unleash a 56-car field in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Frances are the sons of Bill France Sr., founder of both NASCAR and IMSA.
The flag France will wave to start the race will be presented during a press conference at Le Mans on June 20 by Panoz and ACO President Pierre Fillon. This year will mark the first time in the 90-year history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that the start will have been given by two members of the same family.
Said Fillon: “We are particularly honored that Jim France has accepted to give the start to the Le Mans 24 Hours in this very symbolic year, in which we’re celebrating the 90th anniversary of the greatest endurance race in the world. It proves just how close are the links between the club that created endurance racing and the authorities of North American motorsports.”
Added France: “I will wave the flag to start next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans on behalf of the entire North American sports car community. It demonstrates the universal interest in the consolidation of America’s two leading road racing organizations. The world-wide racing community is already anticipating the debut of United SportsCar Racing at the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona, with its close association to the ACO and link to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“On a personal note, it’s gratifying to serve in a role that my brother Bill performed in 1976. My dad Bill Sr. always appreciated the international appeal of sports car racing, which he felt was epitomized in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Flashback, 1976: Bill France Jr. Gives The Start To The 24 Hours Of Le Mans
In 1976, aiming to fuel enthusiasm of fans eager for innovations, the 24 Hours of Le Mans had a distinctly American flavor with the creation of the Daytona/Le Mans Challenge, an IMSA-GTP category, and with a special appearance of several cars from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series along with John Greenwood who decorated his 750-horsepower Chevrolet Corvette with the Lafayette flag.
To increase the appeal to America, Bill France Jr., NASCAR President at the time, gave the start as the ACO’s guest of honor.
He was guided by then-ACO President, Raymond Gouloumès and Alain Bertaut, “Mr Regulations,” who had gone to see him in Daytona Beach, Fla., at the end of January to offer him the honor.