It’s the 87th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance classic this weekend, and there are a handful of Australians and New Zealanders in contention to win this most coveted event.
While much of the attention is on the Toyota Gazoo Racing team to take line honours with a Toyota TS050 with two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso at the wheel, there are four Australians and New Zealanders in with a real shot of winning their categories.
Australia’s best hope is Matt Campbell (below), who returns this year in a Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE Am category. It’s an evolution of the car in which he won last year’s race driving for the Dempsey-Proton Porsche team.
Yes, Dempsey as in Patrick Dempsey: actor, Hollywood heart-throb and amateur race driver who has driven in four Le Mans 24 Hour events himself for a best result of second in class in 2015.
It was as a team owner that Dempsey finally reached the top step of the podium at Le Mans, when Matt Campbell and co-drivers Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer beat a Ferrari to win the GTE-Am class. Kiwi racer Earl Bamber finished third in another Porsche.
This year, Bamber (below) is driving a Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE Pro category, and is hoping for his third win at Le Mans. He will start from fourth on the GTE Pro grid.
Campbell was quietly positive about his chances in the race when WhichCar caught up with him in the pits before final qualifying on Thursday.
“I think the race week is going positive so far. The test day went well. Qualifying was a little difficult early on with the changing conditions and a bit of bad luck with traffic [Wednesday]. We're third in class, so I'm hopeful.”
Campbell’s trio moved up into second in final qualifying, just two-tenths of a second behind the team’s other car.
Australia’s other big hope for the race is Ryan Briscoe (below), a seasoned professional who spent 11 seasons competing in IndyCar and came third in the championship in 2009.
Since 2016 Briscoe has been driving for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team in the GTLM Sports Car Championship and finished second in both the 2016 and 2018 seasons.
Briscoe’s Ford GT (entered in the GTE Pro category) will be co-driven by another Australasian, Kiwi Scott Dixon (below), and England’s Richard Westbrook.
Dixon is a five-time IndyCar champion who holds more race wins than any other current IndyCar driver.
Another highly successful driver, Westbrook’s most recent success came at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2018 which he, Dixon and Briscoe won.
Briscoe is feeling positive about the team’s potential in the race. “In our preparation and my own preparation, I’m feeling pretty good. [But] we won't really know until lap one of the race.”
Briscoe’s car will start from tenth in the GTE Pro category.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans starts at 3pm on Saturday local time, which is 11pm Australian Eastern Standard time.