"Americans are mainly familiar with NASCAR, but when I'm asked what I do and I mention Le Mans, most people have heard of the race," begins Tommy Milner, who has won Le Mans twice, in 2011 and 2015, with Corvette Racing.
Times have changed since the American cars' first appearance in 2000. Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan: "Interestingly enough back in 2011, National Geographic, not a motorsport magazine, called Le Mans the greatest sporting event in the world. That captured the mind of many Americans. They're thinking really that, the greatest sporting event in the world. It was the following year, in 2012, when Men's Journal - a men's fitness magazine - had it Number 1 on their bucket list of things to do. That's a young person's magazine for the most part. So what that's done is actually drive younger people to come and see what that event is about and of course they have a great time and then they go back and by word of mouth they tell their friends. So slowly but surely the reach of Le Mans is expanding into America. And of course when that happens the importance of the event grows, the prestige of the event grows in the minds of the spectators and in the minds of our management and obviously in the minds of our customers. We have no trouble selling the 24 Hours of Le Mans to our customers. They know it, they're expert, they ship their cars over here to drive around France for Le Mans. Our customers have fully embraced Le Mans and that helps it grow as well. The U.S. is an emerging market for Le Mans."
The American marque is working to boost the reputation of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the U.S. with an exceptional event organised at the Corvette National Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Next weekend, the race will be broadcast live and in full for a privileged few who booked in advance because the event is sold out. That's no surprise says Fehan: "Some of our American clients take their Corvette with them when they go to Le Mans to drive it all over France."
In addition to enthusiasts and experts, Corvette reaches new customers thanks to Le Mans: "We have no problem 'selling' our participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans to our board of directors because the return on investment is huge. The race is the pinnacle of motorsport, and on top of that, a win at Le Mans opens up any market in the world."
While Corvette works to develop Le Mans' reputation at home, the 24 Hours has allowed the American marque to gain recognition in France. "Very interesting story this week...the train horn the guy who blows the train horn, David James. He's in the store and he's buying supplies and he sees an older couple in line behind him talking and he gets the sense that maybe they're talking about him. So the guy pulls on his sleeve and says you are the guy who blows the horn. Are you kidding me? Here is just a citizen of Le Mans who follows Corvette, knows about the tradition of the horn and recognizes the guy who blows the horn. That tells you all you need to know about how Corvette has affected the whole Le Mans community. Which is exactly what we want. That was a great story for me to hear!"
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), 2019 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager.
PHOTO: Tommy Milner, Corvette Racing driver.