As we prepare for the 86th running of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, there’s a touch of sorrow to acknowledge with the recent passing of one of its most popular winners and ardent supporters.
Before his first Formula 1 grand prix start, and years prior to his introduction to the Indianapolis 500, Dan Gurney raced at Le Mans. Watching the race at home in Southern California was a tradition for the Big Eagle, who died at the age of 86 in January, and as a young professional trying to make his name on the world stage, Circuit de la Sarthe played a crucial role in Gurney’s development.
The proud American rookie traveled to Le Mans 60 years ago to drive a factory-affiliated Ferrari, returned in 1959 as an official Scuderia Ferrari pilot, and tried various cars, including Jaguars and Porsches, until Carroll Shelby and the Ford Motor Company descended on Le Mans in 1964.
As a cornerstone of the Blue Oval’s 24-hour assault, Gurney took part in four attempts to win for the home team, and bid farewell in style after taking the overall victory with co-driver A.J. Foyt in 1967. Altogether, Gurney made 10 starts at Le Mans, more than any other major sporting event during his career, including the Indy 500.
During the decades that followed, Gurney’s attention would turn to Le Mans each year as new cars sporting innovative technologies captured his imagination. As strict regulations gradually drove F1 and IndyCar away from their most pioneering days, Le Mans served as a beacon for the ever-curious icon.
In a pair of wide-ranging conversations about Le Mans in 2016 and 2017, Gurney took us inside his formative years at La Sarthe, and shared stories from 1967’s Golden Week where he won the 24-hour race and captured victory at the Belgian Grand Prix in his Eagle-Weslake F1 machine.
Although the Big Eagle is gone, we’re fortunate he left us with plenty of laughs and insights to enjoy in his absence.