A month out from the 90th running of 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car endurance classic, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) announced that GRAND-AM Road Racing founder and NASCAR Vice-Chairman Jim France will wave the French flag to start the race on Saturday, 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 (ALMS) presented by Tequila Patrón. Both France and Panoz are on the board of a new International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) organization which will sanction United SportsCar Racing (USCR), resulting from the ongoing merger of GRAND-AM and the ALMS. Last month the ACO officially endorsed the merger agreement.
There will be plenty of familiar faces to ALMS fans, as Audi Sport Team Joest will have three cars entered in the race, while the two Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Toyotas will be entered. Level 5 Motorsports will have one car entered in the LMP2 class, while SRT Motorsports will have both Vipers entered in the GTE-Pro class. Corvette Racing will also have two cars entered in the class.
Dempsey/Del Piero will have one entry in the GTE-Am class, as Patrick Dempsey will team up with Joe Foster and Michael Avenatti.
Many team drivers will be joining other teams, as Muscle Milk's Lucas Luhr will drive for Jota Sport in the LMP2 class, sharing driving duties of the team's Zytek Z11SN Nissan with Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey.
Bill Auburlen will move from behind the wheel of his BMW to one of Aston Martin's three GTE-Pro class entries, joining Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy.
Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler, known to ALMS fans as a co-driver of the Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, will drive one of two ISMA Performance Matmut Porsches in the GTE-Am class.
Olivier Beretta, back in the ALMS with Risi Competizione, will return to drive for AF Corse in the GTE-Pro class.
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."