Le Mans has legendary status in the world of endurance car racing. Since the first car manufacturers were trying to convince the skeptical public that a car was as reliable as a horse in the early 20th century, through the epic battles between Ford and Ferrari of the 1960s, it was THE place to go to prove that your car had the engineering and build quality to race at the maximum for 24 hours. Le Mans remained an elusive un-finished story for the Marsh family and their family marque for over a quarter of a century until the dream finally came true in 1995.
With Chris taking a leading role in both the development and build of the car – as well as driving and managing the necessary qualification process – it was appropriate that Chris was at the wheel as car #71 crossed the line to rapturous applause. “It was a proud moment to watch him [Chris] racing, but indescribably emotional when he bought the car over the line 24 hours later”, recalled Jem in his book, the 2009 “Making my Marque”.
“Racing is very much a team effort, and although the focus tends to be on the cars and the drivers, without the support teams there is no car and there are no drivers. The team at Le Mans was incredible – we truly discovered what the phrase “under pressure” actually reveals!” says Chris of the gargantuan task that is successfully getting the team there from nothing but an idea some 6 months earlier, to having 2 cars at the start line for the tiny privateer Marcos team.
“All sorts of things happened during the race – including my headlights going out whilst haring down the Mulsanne Straight at some 200mph. I ended up doing much of the night driving and I had a charity teddy bear keeping me company in the cockpit. After the lights went out I turned to him – as you do after cumulative sleep deprivation – and said ‘bet you s***t yourself bear?!’”. That bear justifiably secured more money in the subsequent auction than any other British bears.
Both cars made it to the Sunday morning which was an extraordinary achievement given that the BRDC GT championships comprised no more than 20 lap races. Unfortunately, having replaced the whole exhaust system, car #70 died on Tommy Erdos – as far from the pits as it was possible to be, and its race was over.
Car 71 battled on and eventually Chris had the privilege of crossing the line and then (illegally) being handed a British flag en route to the parc ferme. It was only then that Chris was made aware of the need for a different sort of speed – the sprint back to the safety of the garages before being swamped by a hundred thousand delirious spectators!
It was without a doubt the pinnacle of the Marsh and Marcos story – and won a whole new generation of fans for the marque. In particular, two French brothers, Emeric and Pierre-Etienne Bordet fell in love with the plucky privateer British marque that weekend – and eventually tracked down both the Le Mans cars from corners of Europe over a decade later, restoring them to their full Le Mans glory.
For Chris himself, recalling his experience at Le Mans “It was the most incredible experience – to this day, going back there gives me goose bumps”. He elaborates, “Its quite fitting actually, that my return to Le Mans in the Classic in 2018 reminded me how much I love racing and was the spur to my setting up Chris Marsh Racing”. Watch this space…
Jump in, buckle up and enjoy the ride!