Jean-Marc Gounon is well-known in the 24 Hours paddocks since he participated in the race 11 times during his career between 1995 and 2008. Now it's his son Jules' turn to try his hand at a Le Mans adventure.
Jules Gounon has recently joined the ranks of winners of a 24-hour race. The young driver (22) just won the 24 Hours of Spa at the wheel of an Audi R8 LMS entered by French team Audi Sport Team Saintéloc along with two GT experts, Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock.
His rise has been relatively fast, but started out quite surprisingly with his father, Jean-Marc Gounon. "One day, I woke my dad in the middle of the night and begged him to let me compete in karting. He didn't want to, explaining to me that it's a very complicated world. That was true, I realize it now, it is harder and harder to become a professional driver. One morning, I came up with a great trick: if I do well at school, will you reward me by letting me do karting? The following trimester, I had an average of 16, with the congratulations of the class council! That's how it all began in 2010. I debuted in National, a class in a low budget ladder series for young drivers (he finished as the best rookie). Then I was France Rotax champion in my second year of karting and that preceded a contract with Sodi Kart."
I want to thank my father because it's thanks to him and all my sponsors that I'm where I am today.Jules Gounon
Results did not delay: Jules Gounon became the European Karting X30 vice champion and, a few months later, was crowned world X30 champion. He continued to climb the ranks by way of Formula 4 (vice champion with six wins), Formula Renault 2.0 and the Porsche Carrera Cup France. "Then I started in GT by competing in the ADAC GT Masters (finishing third with three victories, Ed.) in 2016. This year, I am competing in my second year of GT3 and to win the 24 Hours of Spa is simply incredible."
Jean-Marc Gounon does not try to interfere in his son's career, as Jules confirms: "I have a manager named Didier André (who did one season in the IndyCar Series and has participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans eight times, Ed.) who helps me run my career. My dad has supported me since the beginning. He is the one who taught me everything about karting, like racing technique, for example, because I was behind early on, starting karting at 15 years old. He is still present, gives me tips but tells me often it's up to me to map out my own career. That's not something you see with all dads. I want to thank [my father] because it's thanks to him and all my sponsors that I'm where I am today."
Jules seems to have found his voice in endurance racing. "I did the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GTD class this year, finishing second, missing the win by two-tenths of a second. It was amazing. To win the 24 Hours of Spa, it's magical, I can't believe it. I love endurance racing and its team spirit, going to wake up my teammate at six in the morning with encouragement, pushing him. That's pretty exceptional."
Naturally, Jules Gounon would love to follow in his father's footsteps. The elder Gounon competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 11 times. He represented Courage Compétition four times, was an official AMG Mercedes driver in 1999 and finished second overall in 1997 with a McLaren F1 GTR. "I want to pursue endurance racing and my ultimate goal is to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is one of the 'big four' of 24-hour races with Daytona, the Nürburgring and Spa. Le Mans is bigger, I would love to add it to my track record if I manage to carve out a career in motorsports. I tried to do the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, but everyone we contacted asked for a budget. I don't have one. This year, I have been able to run in the ADAC GT Masters thanks to the people at Callaway who go above and beyond to help me compete and in the Blancpain Endurance Series thanks to Jérôme Policand and Jean-Luc Beaubelique."
Jules Gounon is a member of a small circle of French drivers to have won the 24 Hours of Spa during the GT era. He is joined by Romain Dumas (two-time Le Mans winner in 2010 and 2016), Christophe Bouchut (Le Mans winner in 1993), David Terrien, Sébastien Bourdais and Jean-Philippe Belloc. The last victory clinched by a French driver dates back to 2010 (Romain Dumas).