Dave Maraj (center), Allan McNish and Dindo Capello celebrate victory at Mosport, 2006.
Le Mans-winning sports car team owner Dave Maraj, 65, drowned in a boating accident early Sunday morning.
The native of Trinidad and Tobago became a force in the world of sports car automobile sales in Florida, most notably through this Champion Motors dealerships, and with the full embrace of Audi Sport in the 2000s, Champion Racing dominated the American Le Mans Series as its factory team.
“We had 200 people recently come to the Champion Racing reunion and was so beloved by everybody,” Brad Kettler said of his former friend and boss. “He loved the idea of racing with Roger Penske and being in the paddock with him. And he’s been working in sailing to put together a race team just the same way. He took a heck of a shot on me, a hill boy from Indiana, and let me flourish. I’m going to miss him.”
Victory at the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans (above) was considered Champion’s crowning achievement, and with numerous ALMS LMP1 titles to his credit, Maraj’s outfit set the standard in North American prototype racing. A downturn in the economy led Audi to withdraw its factory effort ahead of the 2009 season, and with Champion Racing sitting idle, Maraj turned to his passion for boating and other personal interest to occupy his time away from the sport.
IMSA president Scott Atherton, who oversaw the ALMS championship, shared his condolences for a man who was regarded as one of the kindest and most giving team owners in modern history.
“All of us at IMSA are shocked and saddened by the news of Dave Maraj’s passing,” he said. “As a team owner in the American Le Mans Series, Dave and his Champion Racing organization were the epitome of professionalism and excellence, as their five series championships and 24 Hours of Le Mans victory will attest. Dave was a tremendous competitor and a great friend to all in the paddock throughout his time in our sport. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dave’s family and friends and to all of his associates at Champion Motors.”
Although the official cause of death has not been released, it’s believed Maraj went missing while out sailing with his girlfriend on the large sailboat that had become his favorite craft. His body was found in the water near the Boca Raton Resort and Club where he and his girlfriend were staying.