THE VIEW FROM THE PIT WALL

Le Mans Memories: Part 4

 

Our famous win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 was unprecedented. Not only was the McLaren F1 GTR essentially a road car competing against purpose-built prototype racers, but it was also the first entry by McLaren in the world-famous endurance race. Yet we finished 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th, and we remain the only manufacturer to win Le Mans at their first attempt.

In the fourth of our ‘Le Mans Memories’ video series celebrating the 20th anniversary of this remarkable victory, we talk to Paul Lanzante. Team manager at Lanzante Motorsport, the small independent race team charged with running the Ueno Clinic-sponsored McLaren F1 GTR at Le Mans, Paul masterminded that famous 1995 victory from the pit wall.

‘AS MORE YEARS GO BY, THE MORE I REALISE WHAT WAS ACHIEVED. McLAREN WAS THE FIRST MANUFACTURER EVER TO WIN ON ITS FIRST ATTEMPT – BUT I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE WAY TO LE MANS, AND TODAY THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN DOING THE RACE FOR 20 OR 30 YEARS AND HAVE NEVER WON.’

Paul Lanzante

When McLaren Chairman Ron Dennis offered Paul Lanzante the chance to run an F1 GTR at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, Paul initially thought it was a joke. Then reality set in, and with Lanzante Motorsport committed to running chassis 01R at the race just a few months later, preparations began in earnest.

Neither Lanzante nor McLaren expected the No.59 F1 GTR to win at Le Mans. It was a new team, up against customer McLaren teams that had been running the F1 GTR throughout the 1995 BPR Global GT Endurance Series. And beyond that, all the McLarens were competing against purpose-built sports prototypes. For Paul and his team, qualifying was not about setting a fast lap time and trying to be at the front of the grid; rather, it was a chance for the team to gel, and learn how to work together.

In the race, though, the faster prototypes faltered, and Lanzante maintains that the other McLaren teams raced too hard. His strategy was just to keep going, the tortoise against the hares. In the first third of the race, the No.59 F1 GTR ran steadily. During the night, with driver JJ Lehto putting in one of the greatest performances ever seen at Le Mans, No.59 started to climb through the field. But it was only in the final few hours that Paul started to believe his team could win, at which point he changed strategy and went for outright victory. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the fourth of our ‘Le Mans Memories’ video series, Paul recalls his role in one of McLaren’s greatest motorsport achievements:

 

 

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LE MANS MEMORIES: PART 1

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THE McLAREN 650S

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