Tag Archives: S7R


From 19Bozzy92.

Published on Sep 27, 2019
This video is about a beautiful Saleen S7-R I saw in action at Monza Circuit last weekend. The car is chassis 029R and it’s the first one of the “Evolution” version built from 2004 in California rather than in UK by RML like the first series (S7R was totally redesigned, both on the aero and especially on the constructive side). It was raced in the 2004 ALMS under the Acemco colours and in the 2009 FIA GT championship with K plus K Motorsport team.

Now this S7R has been restored by Art & Revs and it’s used in the Endurance Racing Legends series around Europe. Listen to the mighty roar of the 7.0 N/A V8 engine!

[Source: 19Bozzy92 via YouTube]


Nearly 20 years on, the Saleen S7 is proving itself a classic

By: TOM WILSON on August, 2019
Original Article: DRIVETRIBE.COM

Nineteen years after its introduction and twelve years since it went out of series production, the Saleen S7 supercar is again attracting considerable attention. A new generation of enthusiasts is re-discovering the classically handsome, race-bred Saleen with still mind-bending performance. Plus, Saleen’s recent expansion into China has exposed the S7 to a giant new market that’s running up the S7 search engine hits on the Internet. But along with this new interest has come much speculation and mis-information about the iconic supercar and its origins.

Some of the mystery is due to the relatively thin official technical and build information available about the big Saleen. The early-aughts were hectic days at Saleen and there wasn’t the time or interest from the enthusiast magazines of the time to delve deeply into the details of the supercar’s origin. Saleen press materials had laid out the basics, the magazines had covered that and their driving impressions in new car reviews, the car sold itself on merit and there was plenty of international S7 racing to support, plus the whole business of building Saleen Mustangs. But aside from those early magazine reports, there’s been nothing of substance on the S7 story in many years; today that’s lead to a bit of unintended mystery surrounding the car, at least to those not familiar with the effort.

Now spanning 19 years, the Saleen S7 story has evolved from the completely unexpected upstart at its 2000 debut to a timelessly classic supercar as epitomized by the mega-powerful 2019 S7 Le Mans edition seen at the Corona, Calif. headquarters.
Now spanning 19 years, the Saleen S7 story has evolved from the completely unexpected upstart at its 2000 debut to a timelessly classic supercar as epitomized by the mega-powerful 2019 S7 Le Mans edition seen at the Corona, Calif. headquarters.

If there’s anything the Internet can’t support, it’s the mystery and all sorts of hokum that has surfaced regarding the S7. Eager enthusiasts can perhaps be forgiven for making assumptions about the car’s origins, but the amount of speculative, un-researched and downright wrong ‘journalism’ surrounding the S7 on the Internet is shameful and tilting toward the absurd.

The S7 truth is simple enough and follows the narrative laid out in the legitimate press during the car’s introduction. To briefly review, in 1999, Steve Saleen, realised the existing Mustang-based race car – the Saleen Mustang SR as campaigned in the U.S. and at Le Mans in 1997 – had reached the end of its development life. He ultimately decided to build his own, all-new race car, and by starting with a clean computer screen, opted for a mid-engine layout with a goal of winning the LMGT1 class at Le Mans.

While the previous Saleen Mustang SR racers had evolved from street cars into race cars, the S7 was from the beginning a dual-purpose machine, a race car simultaneously developed as a street car. Steve not only wanted a winner at the most demanding sportscar race in the world, but also a purebred sports/supercar for the street. During the car’s design, the racing and street versions were kept amazingly similar, which explains why the S7 has always been a no-excuses driver’s car, one which in street form easily preserves the directness and honesty of its racing roots. It also belies any misplaced concept that the S7 was some revision of an existing design; it’s simply too specialized for that; combining its thumping V8 and high downforce aero package are incompatible with any previous designs.

Steve Saleen was present at every step of the S7’s development. Here he and Billy Tally discuss the S7 engine with Neil Hannemann looking on.
Steve Saleen was present at every step of the S7’s development. Here he and Billy Tally discuss the S7 engine with Neil Hannemann looking on.

While Saleen as a company was well-versed in racing and speciality car manufacturing in 1999, like any car maker it needed to augment its engineering and fabrication capabilities when laying down their supercar’s chassis and suspension. After all, creating a Le Mans chassis from scratch requires specialized engineering and prototyping skills, especially when the latest, F1-level of aerodynamic knowledge is being sought. So, Saleen went looking for specialist contractors and found them, not unexpectedly, in the home of international road racing, the English Midlands. Besides its technical advantages, the Midlands also offered remoteness from the U.S. automotive scene and thus eased the security that such projects require.

While the prototype S7’s all-new, honeycomb-reinforced space frame chassis came together in England, back in Irvine, California Steve directed Saleen’s in-house race engineer and all-round secret weapon, Billy Tally, to develop an American-style cam-in-block V-8 for the new car. Leveraging extensive motorcycle, NASCAR and off-road racing experience into the S7’s namesake 7.0-litre V8, Saleen specified his own block casting, innovative clutch, starter, intake, dry-sump oiling, NASCAR-derived cylinder heads and front engine dress to package the powerplant in a mid-engine chassis. Saleen also determined all engine internals and tuning, including camming, electronic tuning and valvetrain oil spray system. Dyno development was done by Tally in Southern California and the engines built in-house at Saleen. Transaxles were RBT units on street cars and Xtrac on S7R race cars.

S7 development and production was based completely in Saleen’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters.
S7 development and production was based completely in Saleen’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters.

All S7s, both street and race, naturally-aspirated or turbocharged, have used this engine with only minor variations. The exception is the final Le Mans edition S7s. More the product of 2019 engineering, they retain the 427’s 7.0-litre displacement and bottom end, but have seen considerable changes in the cylinder heads, intake, turbos, charge cooling and a generational advancement in electronic engine management to arrive at 1,300bhp on gasoline and just shy of 1,500bhp when running E85 ethanol/gasoline fuel and 20+lbs of boost. The original engine was equally capable. In its first, naturally aspirated trim it was rated at 550bhp; adding twin turbochargers to it in the S7 Twin Turbo model bumped its rating to 750bhp via a mere 4.5lbs of boost. A pair of optional, non-street legal upgrades bumped the TT all the way to 1000bhp for track use at just 8lbs of boost.

Along with the chassis built by Ray Mallock (RML) in the English Midlands, and engine development at Saleen in Irvine, Calif., the S7’s body and interior were designed by Steve and Phil Frank, the latter having exercised his considerable talents at Saleen for five years by the time of the S7 project in 1999-2000. Aerodynamic work in England and the wind tunnel at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, plus rules requirements of the ACO organization running the Le Mans race were factors in the S7’s shape, a form that Phil and Steve worked especially closely together on.

When the S7 debuted in August 2000 at the Monterey Historic Races, it was both a complete surprise to the public and a prototype still some way from series production. Much work remained to arrive at a saleable street car, or even more immediately, a workable race car.

Before 2005 when the Twin Turbo street version of the S7 appeared, essentially every system, part and manufacturing process of the S7 was U.S. based, mainly in Saleen’s own Irvine facility or by a few remaining contractors. The chassis took form in Saleen’s in-house fabrication shop, the engines were built in the Saleen engine shop, the bodywork laid out in Saleen’s carbon shop and painted in the Saleen paint shop, the interior crafted in the Saleen upholstery shop and the whole car assembled on Saleen’s dedicated S7 assembly line.

List of S7 Contractors

No automaker designs or builds something as complex as a new car without the aid of skilled specialist contractors. Some of those individuals and companies that contributed to the S7 success are:

• Aria Group (USA)

• Brembo S.p.A. (Italy)

• Andy Coventry, Williams F1 aerodynamicist (UK)

• Frazero (UK)

• Lola Cars International (CTS carbon fiber division) (UK)

• Ray Mallock Limited (UK)

• RBT Transmissions (USA)

• University of Scotland (UK)

• Xtrac Transmission Technology (UK)

Series production of the S7 took place completely on the Irvine, Calif. S7 assembly line. Saleen Mustang production is just visible in the background.
Series production of the S7 took place completely on the Irvine, Calif. S7 assembly line. Saleen Mustang production is just visible in the background.

As a race car, the S7R was, like the street car, a major success, winning over 100 professional events and proving one of the outstanding customer racecars of the modern era. Its combination of blistering speed, durability, easy serviceability and support from the Saleen factory ensured its steady employment among teams contesting IMSA, ALMS, FIA and Le Mans series events in the United States and abroad. And yes, it did – finally – win its GT class at Le Mans in 2010.

Such racing success significantly differentiates the S7 from its supercar classmates, nearly all of which are street-centric. As a rule, such supercars are certainly capable, but tuned to protect the more exuberantly enthusiastic drivers rather then reward the skilled. By comparison, the track-bred S7 is honed right to the edge and delivers a far less-filtered, purer driving experience that’s loud and high effort because that’s the way hardcore driver cars are. It’s not for everyone, but it gives those in the know a uniquely authentic race car experience and doesn’t hurt the car’s honestly earned cache one bit.

Critics have called the S7 out precisely for its elemental approach, saying the project was too large for Saleen to complete, or hinting it was somehow not really a Saleen product and was opportunistically brought in from elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s more of Steve Saleen in the S7 than any other car he’s built.

When the S7 was publicly unveiled at Pebble Beach in 2000, it ushered in a new era of supercar design and performance.
When the S7 was publicly unveiled at Pebble Beach in 2000, it ushered in a new era of supercar design and performance.

He conceived the very idea of the car, directed every aspect of its engineering and design, was its chief development driver and has been hands-on for every step of the S7 story. In return, the S7 inarguably cemented Saleen’s reputation as a manufacturer, so much so that in 2002, the Ford Motor Company contracted Saleen for the engineering, painting and manufacturing of its own supercar, the first generation Ford GT, in a Saleen assembly plant.

Today, although long out of production save the final handful of Le Mans edition cars, the S7 continues as the Saleen flagship, still drawing attention both in the West and in China where its star power has visibly anchored the immense Saleen initiative there. It’s a natural job for the S7 as its direct approach to driving, prodigious performance and timeless styling have made it a modern classic among supercars.

Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson’s three decades of full-time auto journalism have included a 16-year association with Road & Track magazine, features and new car reviews for MSN Autos and editing Super Ford magazine, along with several technical books and aviation writing. Tom has driven nearly every Saleen model ever built and has chronicled the S7 story since the start. He is currently working on the definitive S7 book set for publication by next year.

[Source: DriveTribe]


Own a Piece of Racing History!

2001 S7R (01-014R)
2001 S7R (01-014R)

Price: $899,900.00
Private Seller: gtdriving
Location: Mount Dora , FL
Contact: (407) 574-7152

Item Details:
Ad Number: 183933336
Condition: Used
VIN: 1S9AD11E81B551014

2001 Saleen S7 R
Own a piece of history and one of the best race cars ever created!

Race winning Saleen S7R, chassis #014. Extensive spares package included, inventory provided upon request. Engine is Ford 7.0L V8 with Xtrack gearbox, Motec ECU, and KW dampers. Only 10-hours on the car since last refresh.

Car took part in 24 hours of Le Mans, 24 hours of Spa, various rounds of the American Le Mans Series, multiple seasons of FIA GT and FIA CEZ Trophy.

Highlights include:
Four (4) pole positions in FIA GT and 3 wins in FIA CEZ Trophy.

Past drivers include:
Sean Edwards, Franz Konrad, Walter Brun, Toni Seiler, Charles Slater, Gavin Pickering, Rodney Mall, Sean Murphy, Jean-Francios Yvon, Walter Lechner Jr., Harald Becker, Paul Knapfield, Klaus Alberlein, Max Stanco, Wolfgang Treml, Alex Margaritis, Rafal Janus, Maciej Marcinkiewicz, Adam Lacko, Miro Konopka, Miroslav Hornak, Paul Daniels, and Andrej Studenic

Car located in Europe.

Click here to participate in the discussion.

[Source: Racing Junk]


Nearly Two Decades Later
The Saleen S7R Is Still A Paragon Of A Big Displacement Race Car

Original Article: PETROLICIOUS.COM

What constitutes historic and classic racing is likely to be an ever-evolving discussion, as the years roll on and cars that don’t seem to be that far on the fringes of history begin to turn up to classic race meetings while others slowly fade away.

New historic divisions for cars that are often less than twenty years old—love them or loath them—do turn out some fabulous racing, and grids populated by cars you might have forgotten about in the last two decades. Cars such as the seldom-seen Saleen S7, of which there were two present at the recent Spa Classic in their motorsport “S7R” trim, which some may remember competing in various top-level GT championships at the turn of the millennium.

Petrolicious, Saleen S7R
Petrolicious, Saleen S7R

The hand-built road-going version debuted in 2000 and produced roughly 550hp from its naturally-aspirated 7.0L V8, but gained most of its notoriety from the fact that it was a rare breed in general: a mid-engine production supercar made in America. The brainchild of Steve Saleen, who up until this point had been mostly involved with building hot Mustangs, the car was also developed in the skilled hands of Ray Mallock LTD, the famous Britain-based motorsport and engineering company. Indeed, it was RML that assembled the racing versions of the S7, and the first S7R finished late in 2000 was immediately shipped stateside to compete in that year’s American Le Mans event at Laguna Seca, where it finished in 26th place.

Saleen always quoted the S7R as being not very far removed from the road-going car, seeing as it was indeed built on the same space frame, steel-tubed chassis, with bolt fasten sub-assemblies, used the same suspension design, and even the same brakes—albeit without the ABS that was fitted to the production versions.

Petrolicious, Saleen S7R
Petrolicious, Saleen S7R

Of course, the Ford Windsor-derived engine is in a higher state of tune in the S7R, and the gearbox features straight cut gears that produce that familiar whine. And on the subject of noise, this is a machine that sounds just plain terrifying, as V8 racing cars ought to. Fired up inside its pit box, warmed up with short stabs of the throttle, the barks from the back end are felt in your guts; hands cover ears in quick panic around me as the unrestrained V8 is brought to operating temperature.

Petrolicious, Saleen S7R
Petrolicious, Saleen S7R

On the track and on song, it’s much the same story, as the pistons spin up to the 7000rpm redline and the six-speed ‘box finds another gear to repeat the tremendous ascension of noise all over again. Although this car isn’t really old in the grand scheme of things, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic, there’s just something about the noise of a screaming racing car with hundreds of horsepower and three pedals. But while the car is going around quite well around Spa, was it actually any good during its contemporary competition years?

Well the answer to that is yes, actually. It may not have quite had the same impact as the Vipers and ‘Vettes, it did enjoy a successful racing career during a hotly contested period of GT competition. A class victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in its infancy stated its intentions and proved its competency, as well as a European Le Mans class championship win and a class podium at Le Mans itself in the same year, 2001. Further successes followed, with wins around the globe and championships earned in both British and Spanish series.

Petrolicious, Saleen S7R
Petrolicious, Saleen S7R

The #163 car pictured in this article is chassis S7-03-029R, which competed in the 2004 ALMS championship under the ACEMCO banner, driven at that time by Johnny Mowlem and Terry Borcheller, although David Brabham did have one drive early in the season. The team finished 2nd in class that year, behind the better-funded Corvette factory outfits campaigning the C5-R, and this was to be an indicator of how the Saleen racing story would reach its conclusion. Financial troubles started to hit the teams running the S7R’s in various series, and as such, starting in 2005, Saleen began to downsize its racing efforts to focus on a few specific championships. The car pictured wearing the #66 was ACEMCO’s example of doing just that, as it focused solely on the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2006, where the car managed an overall finish of 11th.

By the end of 2007 the teams involved in running the S7Rs had either folded or moved on to other platforms (it was getting quite long in the tooth after seven years), and despite one last hurrah in 2010 when an S7R took the LMPGT1 class win at that the great 24-hour race. It showed what might have been had the racing efforts been better funded, but also showed just what a capable racing machine the S7R continued to be despite its age. Thankfully, this wonderfully mean machine now has a series to compete in once again in the newly-reformed Endurance Racing Legends Championship, and we can once more revel in its presence.

Petrolicious, Saleen S7R
Petrolicious, Saleen S7R

[Source: Petrolicious]



We are very proud to present a selection of pictures of the Saleen S7R GT1 chassis 031R after its in-house restoration by Art & Revs. It was a real joy and moment of pride to put the car in our studio after working so hard for such a result.

The great 031R was ordered together with 029R in late 2003 by ACEMCO, an important US company in the motor car industry in the US. The aim was to compete at the highest level in ALMS and Le Mans, notably against the factory Corvettes ran by Pratt & Miller. ACEMCO had by this time built up a fantastic racing team around Ron Mack and Jim Bell.

This legendary car raced in the 2005 ALMS including an 8th overall finish at Sebring 12 Hours and it finished second in the Championship. The pinnacle of its history came certainly in 2006 when it raced at Le Mans 24 hours, finishing an impressive 11th place overall, making 031R the first Saleen to ever finish the world’s most prestigious endurance race. This important result bears testimony to the car’s performance and reliability.

The car was not used in 2007 and 2008, and was sold to Europe in 2009 to be raced in the FIA GT Championship with K Plus K, driven by Karl Wendlinger and Ryan Sharp, notably winning Silverstone’s Tourist Trophy among other motorsport firsts. Back then the competition between Maserati, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Saleen was at its height.

Very few know the S7R’s history and that the first series of S7Rs were actually engineered and built at RML in UK. However the « Evo » version was totally re-engineered by Saleen in their all new factory at Irvine in California, this is where they also built the 4,000 Ford GTs on behalf of Ford. 029R & 031R were the first Evo cars built and accordingly benefited from all new chassis, suspension, gearbox and aero. The Saleen S7 7.0 liter engines were in fact built from Ford`s 5.0 liter « small » block and reliability has always been a real issue. It has to be said that the engines built at Roush-Yates have always been disappointing and notably deprived most of the S7Rs from finishing Le Mans.

In the first stages of their Saleen project, ACEMCO being generously funded, contracted Panoz ( Elan Technologies ) to build up a 7.0 liter version of their largely proven LMP900 engine, originally a 6.0 liter. The Elan 7.0 liter was a total success and ACEMCO would never retire because of an engine failure. In unrestricted specifications, 031R’s engine recently shown 728 HP on the dyno at Elan after its rebuild. Only the two original ACEMCO cars would actually be equipped with the fantastic Elan engine and four units were built.

031R was completely stripped down to its bare components by Art & Revs and meticulously restored and reassembled by our highly skilled staff, most of whom have a large experience in Formula 1 or Endurance.All of the car’s components were reconditioned or replaced in close collaboration with the original suppliers wherever possible, just like the engine which was rebuilt at Elan. For safety purposes, the major components were crack tested.

This highly iconic silver S7R is now ready for new adventures on the historic racing scene and more widely in the classic car world. This is a great part of the Saleen S7R legend, the first all-American supercar to ever compete at Le Mans and in major international championships.

Click here to participate in the discussion.

[Source: Art & Revs]


By: KURT ERNST on January 7, 2016 at 9:00 am
Original Article: HEMMINGS.COM

Hemmings Find of the Day – 2004 Saleen S7R

In 2004, the ACEMCO Racing team debuted a new Saleen S7R in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Championship, placing second in the GTS class behind the all-conquering Corvette C5-R. Chassis 029R, the Saleen S7R driven by Terry Borcheller, David Brabham and Johnny Mowlem, later went over to Europe, competing against Maserati MC12s, Corvette C6.Rs, Nissan GT-Rs and Ford GTs in the FIA GT series. Now, this 2004 Saleen S7R, last run at this year’s Classic 24 at Daytona, is for sale on Hemmings.com, giving fans a chance to purchase an American endurance racing sports car once run at the sport’s highest levels. Prepared for last November’s Daytona event, the car features a fresh engine rebuild with just four hours of use, and is said to be in “fantastic condition,” both technically and cosmetically. From the seller’s description:

2004 Saleen S7R ALMS GT1. This is chassis 029R the 2004 ACEMCO car that finished 3rd at the Championship, later raced FIA GT 2009 and beat many times the MC12s. This is the very first “evolution” car after the S7R was totally redesigned and built in CA ( previous ones were built in UK by RML ). It received major evolutions in terms of aero, suspension, gearbox, brakes and reliability. Acemco had their engines built by ELAN ( a Don PANOZ company ) now unrestricted and producing 730HP. The car is in fantastic technical and cosmetical condition and has been totally rebuilt from the chassis ( engine by ELAN ), only 4 hours since. It comes with a few spares and is ready to race. Raced the 2015 Daytona Classic, constantly lapped in 1,46 with non professional driver and unbeatable in GT. The evolution S7Rs are extremely quick and easy to drive. A real ALMS legend. Car located in Luxembourg and welcome to any inspections.

Price: $725,000
Location: Howald,
Availability: Available

Find more Saleens for sale on Hemmings.com.

Click here to participate in the discussion.

[Source: Hemmings Daily]


Note from SOEC Staff: This announcement is not related to Saleen Automotive in Corona, CA. Hancock Park Associates, primary holder of Saleen Inc from 2004-2008, retained these assets through bankruptcy while parts and vehicle inventory were sold to MJ Acquisitions back in February 2009.

GA Global Partners Offers a ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Opportunity to Purchase the Assets and Intellectual Property of the Saleen S7, S7R and Saleen S5S Raptor Supercars

By: GA GLOBAL PARTNERS on July 14, 2015 07:48 AM EDT

WOODLAND HILLS, CA – (Marketwired – July 14, 2015) – GA Global Partners will be offering for sale the assets and intellectual property of the Saleen S7, S7R and S5S Raptor with a Date Certain Private Treaty Sale. The sale will include all remaining inventory, parts, memorabilia, molds, designs and intellectual property related to the Saleen S7, S7R and the Saleen S5S Raptor.

Included in this unique offering are six remaining chassis/frames for the Saleen S7 and S7R, and the one-of-a-kind concept car for the never-produced Saleen S5S Raptor.

“These prized assets have been kept in safe storage for the past five years which makes this a truly rare and historic opportunity to own all assets and rights to the first ‘Great American Supercar,’ and allow a new owner to continue the legacy with the S5S Raptor,” said Adam Alexander, CEO of GA Global Partners.

The street-legal Saleen S7 was introduced in 2000 and was followed by the S7R racing version in 2001. The S7R won nearly 30 poles and set 27 fastest laps at several tracks, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Saleen S5S was unveiled at the New York International Auto Show in 2008 but was never produced.

The Saleen S7 has been featured in numerous blockbuster movies like Bruce Almighty, Need for Speed, and Iron Man and has been covered extensively by the media and automotive magazines. The Saleen S7 and S5S Raptor have also been featured in top-selling video games, including, Asphalt, Forza, Midnight Club, and Gran Tourismo.

Prospective purchasers are encouraged to visit GAAuction.com for more information, photos and bidding details.

About GA Global Partners:
Across virtually every sector of the economy, at every stage of the business life cycle, GA Global Partners helps companies to realize the maximum value of their assets. In business for more than 40 years, our company and team of trusted professionals have developed unparalleled expertise at assessing the value of assets in a variety of businesses and, when necessary, managing the sale of those assets. For more information, visit www.gaauction.com or call (818) 340-3134.

GA Global Partners is the Auction Division of Great American Group LLC which is a subsidiary of B. Riley Financial, Inc. (OTCBB: RILY), a diversified provider of collaborative financial and business advisory services through several subsidiaries, including: B. Riley & Co. LLC, a leading investment bank which provides corporate finance, research, and sales & trading to corporate, institutional and high net worth individual clients; Great American Group, LLC; B. Riley Capital Management, LLC, an SEC registered Investment Advisor, which includes B. Riley Asset Management, a provider of investment products to institutional and high net worth investors, and B. Riley Wealth Management (formally MK Capital Advisors), a multi-family office practice and wealth management firm focused on the needs of ultra-high net worth individuals and families; and Great American Capital Partners, a provider of senior secured loans and second lien secured loan facilities to middle market public and private U.S. companies.

B. Riley Financial, Inc. is headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in major financial markets throughout the United States and Europe. For more information on B. Riley Financial, Inc., visit www.brileyfin.com.

Media Contact:
Jackie Reau
Game Day Communications
(513) 929-4263

Click here to participate in the discussion.

[Source: GA Global Partners]


My first Le Mans

By: OLIVER GAVIN on June 01, 2015

It was a dark and stormy race… The 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans was certainly a baptism of fire. In fact, the extended periods of torrential rain that lashed the Loire Valley made that year’s edition of the twice-around-the-clock enduro one of the most brutal of all time.

Drivers: Konrad, Gavin, Borcheller
Drivers: Konrad, Gavin, Borcheller

My first experience of the French classic definitely stands out as one of the hardest of my career, but I look back at the race with pride, because I was involved in a great David and Goliath-style tale, driving alongside Franz Konrad and Terry Borcheller for the relatively small Saleen-Allen Speedlab squad, against the might of the factory Corvette Racing team.

Saleen Team at Le Mans 2001
Saleen Team at Le Mans 2001

We arrived at Circuit de la Sarthe off the back of a surprising victory on the Saleen S7R’s debut in the 12 Hours of Sebring. The car had never run for more than three hours in pre-season testing so nobody expected it to last, but we ended up taking pole position and translating that into a race win, beating the Velocity Yellow Corvettes.

All of a sudden, our GTS rivals stood up and paid attention and we headed to central France confident that the #60 car would be fast, but unsure how the story would unfold.

As at Sebring, pole position was ours. Franz elected to start the race and, using his many years of experience, instilled a sense of confidence within the Speedlab garages, a strong belief that we could survive and overcome the treacherous conditions.

However, we would be punished for our complacency when a freak shower between Arnage and the Porsche Curves caused a series of crashes involving as many as 15 cars, including ours.

A spin sent Franz into the Armco, necessitating extra pitstops to repair a damaged rear wing and rear deck, and I suppose this is where the larger and experienced teams come to the fore, as Corvette Racing wisely split its tyre strategies and simply drove around the carnage to establish a healthy and ultimately indomitable lead.

2001 Saleen S7R
2001 Saleen S7R

There were many times when I asked myself how the organisers could allow the race to continue as conditions worsened. It’s quite something when you’re aquaplaning on the Mulsanne Straight with zero visibility through a fogged up windscreen, trying to spot your braking point by gazing through the side windows for road markings and other landmarks, while listening intently to the engine notes of the cars ahead of you.

A stick with a sponge taped to the end accompanied Terry, Franz and I in the cockpit; the Saleen’s gullwing doors would send rainwater into your lap and the car’s electronics during the stops, only for the moisture to then accumulate on the inside of the windscreen.

As a result, misfires and other strange problems developed, but we kept plugging away and the #60 S7R was in an ideal position to grab a runner-up spot in the latter stages of the event but lost an engine cylinder with little more than three hours remaining.

The Speedlab crew repaired the ailing V8 engine for one last tour of the French countryside, having already completed the necessary laps to earn an official finishing position.

As I’ve always said, finishing is a victory in itself and that was never truer than in 2001. Proudly carrying battle scars and limping home on seven of its eight cylinders, Terry took the #60 machine over the line, third in the super-competitive GTS class, etching the Saleen name into the Le Mans record books.

2001 Saleen S7R
2001 Saleen S7R

My maiden Le Mans was an extreme experience and coming through such an ordeal taught me a huge amount, standing me in good stead and setting me up nicely for everything the French endurance classic has thrown at me since first entering the Corvette Racing fold in 2002.

I have taken the start of the 24 Hours on all but one occasion since. I have a good feeling for how to drive the opening stint of the race, but I also know that once you get past those first few laps, it’s pretty much all out of your control.

Of course, the story of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans is yet to be written; I’ll probably draft the first chapter and then the plot will thicken with unexpected twists in the tale, inevitable moments of doubt and dramatic swings in fortune, building towards a tense and emotional climax.

You throw in other variables like changes in climactic conditions and driver error, as well as the challenges associated with racing during sunset, the hours of darkness and sunrise and you have a masterpiece on your hands. These are all parts of the narrative and Le Mans is one of those books you just can’t put down.

To be continued…

[Source: Motorsports Online]