Special to Highlands Today
Four-time Le Mans class winner Jan Magnussen has his sights set on a fifth crown for Corvette Racing when the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans kicks off this weekend.
"When I first started racing here at Le Mans, I never really enjoyed it the same way I do now, but since joining Corvette Racing, there's a big difference – we have a realistic chance of winning it," Magnussen said. "Because of that, Le Mans has become my favorite race of the year, and something I look forward to every year. Le Mans is the one to win, the one we all look forward to and everything we do is in it for this one race."
Magnussen first drove for Corvette in 2004 and immediately charged to victory lane with Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta. The Dane then continued a winning run to repeat the effort in 2005 and 2006.
"That was a special moment, and a special race, because we started off looking really good, and then we got taken out just around midnight, and all during the night we were fighting our way back," Magnussen said of the 2004 victory. "In the morning we were back in second place, four or five laps behind the leader, and then they had a problem and we were on the same lap as them and we had to fight them for it from there. It was a series of fantastic battles all night and then for the lead.
"Before that I'd never had as much success at Le Mans – my best was a fourth overall in 2003 (in an Audi R8), but winning put it all into perspective. And then we backed it up with two more wins in a row – 2005 and 2006."
He added a fourth crown in 2009 when he took the Chevrolet Corvette C6.R to victory with Johnny O'Connell and Antonio Garcia.
Magnussen and Garcia are now full-time teammates for Corvette Racing and will be joined at Le Mans this week by rookie, Jordan Taylor..
"I've got some great and fast teammates with Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor," Magnussen said. "Antonio is who I'm paired with for this year (in ALMS) and he's been great, even a little faster than me at times. He's got lots of experience and we work well together.
"Jordan is a super good kid – he's only 21 years old and this is his first time at Le Mans. There's a steep learning curve, but from the experience I've had with him previously I don't think it's going to be a big issue. I think the driver lineup in the No. 73 car will certainly be one to beat."
Magnussen said the competition is going to be tough, beginning with the sister No. 74 Corvette C6.R.
"For sure the No. 74 car is always a tough car to beat," Magnussen said. "They have a great driver lineup with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook. That's a fast combination of drivers and they also have a lot of experience here.
"My gut feeling is that the No. 74 car will be tough, but our main competition will be coming from one or all of the four Ferraris in the class, but we'll have to see how it turns out."
Magnussen said both Corvettes have the advantage of great pit crews, something that is invaluable in a 24-hour race.
"The Corvette Racing crew is fantastic, and they work so hard," he said. "For those guys it's a minimal amount of sleep all week and then when race day comes they get up super early for the morning warm-up and then it's time to get ready for the race. Then we race for 24 hours, with all types of situations happening. Some of them may have the chance to get a little bit of sleep, but it's not much and it's more or less standing up in the pit waiting for something to happen.
The race starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday and will be broadcast live by SPEEDTV.