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Modern 'gentleman' drivers at Le Mans and other races.


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#1 Andrew Hope

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 00:22

I should probably know this by now, but in reading up on this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans I realized I don't really know how these 'agreements' between people and racing teams come about these days. I'm thinking mainly in sports car racing, but I suppose touring car racing and other kinds as well (apart from F1), and not historically, but in the last few years and the future.

How does it work? Surely professional racing teams don't just auction off seats to the highest bidder, or is that in effect what happens? What does a gentleman driver (or pay driver, or whatever you want to call them) need to do to race at Le Mans, or Spa, or the Nurburgring 24 hours, or any of the other big races of the year? Does he need to come from a racing background? What sort of licenses are needed? I don't really understand how these things come about. Are they 'rich' people who just fork over x amount and can drive the car for a race or two? Are the drivers strangers to the teams who have little or no racing experience, or are they failed professionals that spend years looking to buy a ride? Club racers? Has anyone ever (not in F1, but in other types of racing) started out paying to race as an amateur, and ended up with a paid factory drive?

If you decided today that you, at whatever age you're at, wanted to race at Le Mans for instance, what would the steps to take be? Is it something you need to be a millionaire for, or at least have several hundred grand in the bank, or is it something someone with modest means could theoretically do if they saved up, pinched every penny? Where does 'luck' come in to this, are there hundreds or thousands of people that try to buy rides with professional teams each year, or do seats go to the highest bidder? Why do professional teams even need or allow gentleman drivers to race in their cars? Do you need (or would very much appreciate) connections in the racing world?

Anyone that can help me out on these has my thanks, I apologize for being so ignorant on the subject but it doesn't hurt to ask, and I know a few of you are likely to know the answers to most or all of these questions. Thanks to anyone who can help shed light on the subject for me.

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#2 zepunishment

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 00:32

I should probably know this by now, but in reading up on this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans I realized I don't really know how these 'agreements' between people and racing teams come about these days. I'm thinking mainly in sports car racing, but I suppose touring car racing and other kinds as well (apart from F1), and not historically, but in the last few years and the future.

How does it work? Surely professional racing teams don't just auction off seats to the highest bidder, or is that in effect what happens? What does a gentleman driver (or pay driver, or whatever you want to call them) need to do to race at Le Mans, or Spa, or the Nurburgring 24 hours, or any of the other big races of the year? Does he need to come from a racing background? What sort of licenses are needed? I don't really understand how these things come about. Are they 'rich' people who just fork over x amount and can drive the car for a race or two? Are the drivers strangers to the teams who have little or no racing experience, or are they failed professionals that spend years looking to buy a ride? Club racers? Has anyone ever (not in F1, but in other types of racing) started out paying to race as an amateur, and ended up with a paid factory drive?

If you decided today that you, at whatever age you're at, wanted to race at Le Mans for instance, what would the steps to take be? Is it something you need to be a millionaire for, or at least have several hundred grand in the bank, or is it something someone with modest means could theoretically do if they saved up, pinched every penny? Where does 'luck' come in to this, are there hundreds or thousands of people that try to buy rides with professional teams each year, or do seats go to the highest bidder? Why do professional teams even need or allow gentleman drivers to race in their cars? Do you need (or would very much appreciate) connections in the racing world?

Anyone that can help me out on these has my thanks, I apologize for being so ignorant on the subject but it doesn't hurt to ask, and I know a few of you are likely to know the answers to most or all of these questions. Thanks to anyone who can help shed light on the subject for me.


Interesting topic. I personally don't have much knowledge of this, but I do remember Tommy Byrne saying in his book that he was employed at one point to co-drive with what he would probably term as a 'fat rich b**tard.' From what I gather the man was useless, but money talked. This was at a lower level though than le mans.


#3 pingu666

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 01:05

mostly wealthy business people with a interest in motorsport tbh, quite a few actully own the team (like drayson racing, robertson racing for example)

aston martin racing have 3 pay drivers in one of the lmp cars, adrian fernandez with lowes sponsorship, and i cant remmber the other two, but there all genunialy good drivers

oak racing is a bunch of business people i think.



#4 jk

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 12:52

Getting a budget for the lower classes at Le Mans through sponsorshop alone is almost impossible. The teams needs money to run the car. One method of getting the money, is by giving rich people a seat and receive compensation either through funding or personal sponsorship.
That is the way it has always been in sportscar racing. Unless you are backed by a manufactor or has a very strong sponsor (Playstation for Pescarolo or Matmut for Oreca) you need to get funding from the drivers.

You could feel that it is a shame that the best drivers don't always get the drives. However without paydrivers we would not have that many good cars at the race. Furhtermore paydrivers are not all bad. I can pretty much guarentee you that the guys that have been at this for a couple of years would kick ass at your local club race. Some drivers like Miguel Amaral or Mike Newton develop into very decent drivers. Radio Le Mans has begun to name these guys "sportsman" drivers. Yes they do bring budget, but their driving ability is not what you normally would describe as a "gentleman" driver.


How it exactly works is different on a case by case basis. Some guys own or are affiliated with a team over a long time. Others move their backing between teams. The good paydrivers will want to be paired with pros, to have a chance at a good result. For example Lars-Erik Nielsen who is a business man and brought good money, was able to get on the Le Mans podium 3 times in a row. Other times the teams want to cash in and sells the seats to pretty much the highest bidder without ambitions for the race. This is where the new GTE Am class comes in.

You do need to be a decent driver to be allowed on track at a race like Le Mans. Noone goes straight froma board meeting to a seat at Le Mans. However it is much easier to get a seat if you are able to bring a substantial budget. Money makes it possible to go racing, and it has always been like that.

#5 marcm

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 13:33

How does it work? Surely professional racing teams don't just auction off seats to the highest bidder, or is that in effect what happens?
What does a gentleman driver (or pay driver, or whatever you want to call them) need to do to race at Le Mans, or Spa, or the Nurburgring 24 hours, or any of the other big races of the year? Does he need to come from a racing background? What sort of licenses are needed? I don't really understand how these things come about. Are they 'rich' people who just fork over x amount and can drive the car for a race or two? Are the drivers strangers to the teams who have little or no racing experience, or are they failed professionals that spend years looking to buy a ride? Club racers? Has anyone ever (not in F1, but in other types of racing) started out paying to race as an amateur, and ended up with a paid factory drive?

If you decided today that you, at whatever age you're at, wanted to race at Le Mans for instance, what would the steps to take be? Is it something you need to be a millionaire for, or at least have several hundred grand in the bank, or is it something someone with modest means could theoretically do if they saved up, pinched every penny? Where does 'luck' come in to this, are there hundreds or thousands of people that try to buy rides with professional teams each year, or do seats go to the highest bidder? Why do professional teams even need or allow gentleman drivers to race in their cars? Do you need (or would very much appreciate) connections in the racing world?

Anyone that can help me out on these has my thanks, I apologize for being so ignorant on the subject but it doesn't hurt to ask, and I know a few of you are likely to know the answers to most or all of these questions. Thanks to anyone who can help shed light on the subject for me.


Yes - it's perfectly possible to buy a drive for Le Mans. The teams make their living from running cars at these races so they will happily take funding either from sponsors or rich drivers. Sponsorship is exceptionally difficult to come by even if you are a superstar driver. You'd be suprised how much of the sponsorship you see on cars actually comes from a family business or some kind of business deal. Most up and coming drivers pay for their drives right up to GP2 and beyond. Plenty of them pay for sportscar drives too on the way up. Motorsport is still very much a rich mans sport!

You can't however just turn up as a complete Rookie with a wedge of cash and get a drive. Le Mans will require an international level license before you can race which will require you to have completed a certian number of lower level races. Also - a team is a lot less likely to put you in their car if you are likely to bin it first corner (unless of course your wedge of cash is plenty big enough to cover that!)

If you look at the entry list for 2011 here: http://en.wikipedia....Mans#Entry_list you can follow the link to many of the drivers wiki pages. You'll see that even some of the LMP1 drivers are rich businessmen rather than professional racing drivers.

The majority of drivers at a race like Le Mans used to be "gentlemen" or "amateur" drivers. Even in the group C era you didn't need a gigantic budget to get a decent drive. These days it's a hell of a lot more expensive, but there are still plenty of rich businessmen who have the budget required. I have no idea what you'd pay for a seat at le mans these days but I'd guess you'd be looking it £50k or probably more for a seat in a GTE class
car.

The Nurburgring 24hrs however is a huge race with 100s of entries. Many of the cars are relatively modest from various saloon car championships and you can get a drive for anything from a few £1000.

If you want to race at one of these races my suggestion would be to go out, earn a lot of money, start racing - then when you get your wallet out, you'd be suprised how many opportunities suddenly present themselves.

Regarding the "gentlemen" drivers. Many of them are actually extremely competent and not far off the level of the pros. Others maybe not so much :)
I wouldn't immediately assume that they are lesser drivers simply because they pay for their drive however - as some of the pros are only there themselves because of the huge amounts of money thrown at their careers in the first place!



#6 Zarathustra

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 14:31

See if you can get a hold of License to Le Mans...well worth a watch.

#7 Dolph

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 15:16

Mika Salo spoke very badly of Tracy Krohn.

#8 mechadaniel

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 15:25

Isn't the definition of gentleman driver at Le Mans, that you didn't get a race licence before the age of 30, and have little/no single seat experience?

#9 Kevan

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 16:41

The ACO grade drivers as 'Platinum', 'Gold', 'Silver' or 'Bronze' according to background and experience.

The gradings are based on previous experience and results. According to the official regs:

3.4.2 - Definitions of the drivers categorisations :
Platinum: Professional driver generally recognised as a well-known
driver on the international scene, under the age of 55, and satisfying at
least one of the following criteria :
- has held a Super Licence (for Formula 1)
- has won the Le Mans 24 Hours outright,
- has been a Works Driver, paid by a car manufacturer
- has finished in the top 10 of an F3000, CART/Champcar, IRL or
GP2 Championship,
- has finished in the top 6 of an F3 International Series
(British/EuroF3) or major international single-seater Championship
(example : World Series by Renault)
- is a driver whose performances and achievements, although not
being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as a
professional driver by the Sports Committee.
Gold : Semi-Professional driver in international series or who has
distinguished himself in national Championships and satisfying at least
one of the following criteria :
- driver satisfying the criteria of Category A (platinum) but aged 55 to
59;
- has finished in the top three of a secondary international singleseater
series (A1 GP, Renault V6, FR2000 international, …)
- has finished in the top three of a national single-seater series (F3,
FR2000, …);
- has won the entry level single-seater (F.Ford – F-BMW, F-Zip,
Autosport Academy, …);
- has finished in the top three of the Porsche Supercup,
- has won a national or international manufacturer’s promotion series
(Porsche, Seat, Peugeot, Renault, …);
- is a driver whose performances and achievements although not
being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as
Gold by the Sports Committee.
Silver : Driver satisfying at the latest one of the following criteria :
- driver aged under 30 and not satisfying the criteria of Platinum and
Gold categories.
- driver satisfying the criteria of the platinum category but aged 60 or
over,
- driver has finished in 1st place in national Championships or
international series in association with a professional driver,
- driver has won a non-professional drivers series (Ferrari Challenge,
Maserati Trophéo, Lamborghini Supertrophy),
- Driver has competed in a single seater series for a full season
- is a driver whose performances and achievements although not
being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered asGold by the Sports Committee.
Silver : Driver satisfying at the latest one of the following criteria :
- driver aged under 30 and not satisfying the criteria of Platinum and
Gold categories.
- driver satisfying the criteria of the platinum category but aged 60 or
over,
- driver has finished in 1st place in national Championships or
international series in association with a professional driver,
- driver has won a non-professional drivers series (Ferrari Challenge,
Maserati Trophéo, Lamborghini Supertrophy),
- Driver has competed in a single seater series for a full season
- is a driver whose performances and achievements although not
being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as Silver by the Sports Committee.
Bronze : Amateur driver. Any driver who was over 30 years old when
his first licence was issued, and who has little or no single-seater
experience.
3.4.3 - Recitification
Any driver has the right to ask the Sports Committee to rectify his
categorisation. He must sent a written request by email
(sport2@lemans.org) at least 15 days prior to the beginning of the first
event in which he takes part, with the support of all the necessary
proofs and documents. Without proof, the request will not be examined.
3.4.4 Only for the LMP2 group, the rule for the team's driver formation
according to the drivers' categorisations: Any 2 or 3 drivers' crew must
be made up of minimum one Silver or Bronze driver
3.4.5 - Only for the GTE Am group, a team of 2 or 3 drivers must
include one Platinum or Gold driver maximum.
3.4.6 - Only for the LMP1 group, Bronze drivers are not accepted.
3.4.7 - For the LM GTE group : the driver line up is free.



http://www.lemans.or...regulations.pdf



#10 Andrew Hope

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 22:30

Thanks for the help guys, already learned loads.

Anyone got anything else to add?

#11 WestMcLaren99

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Posted 04 June 2011 - 00:51

Thanks for the help guys, already learned loads.

Anyone got anything else to add?



With the new division of GT Pro and GT Am, many team owners can run in one car with some drivers near their skill, while hiring professionals to drive another car in the GT pro class. For example, the owners or associates of Flying Lizard Motorsports, Team Flebermayr-Proton, and AF Corse can race for a class win in the amateur class. Meanwhile they can hire Porsche, Ferrari, etc. funded professional drivers to go for the GT Pro category race win.