Josh Pierson, a full-time driver this year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, is about to become the youngest to ever race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The driver he’s about to supplant for the honor has some simple advice as Pierson prepares to take on the legendary endurance race.
“Just stop and try to enjoy it and soak it all in while you’re there, too,” says Matt McMurry. “It’s a pretty incredible thing to do.”
Like Pierson, McMurry was 16 when offered the opportunity to race at Le Mans in 2014. Along with co-drivers Chris Dyson and Tom Kimber-Smith, they finished 25th overall and 11th in the LMP2 class in the No. 42 Caterham Racing/Greaves Motorsport Zytek Z11SN-Nissan.
When the 90th running of Le Mans starts Saturday, Pierson will be some 85 days younger than McMurry was in his debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Pierson is also racing in LMP2, paired with WeatherTech Championship DPi aces Alex Lynn and Oliver Jarvis in the No. 23 United Autosports USA ORECA 07.
“It was always a race that I knew about and watched,” says Pierson. “I particularly grew up very fond of a lot of films and documentaries about Le Mans. ‘Truth in 24’ was a documentary about Audi I watched a lot, so to be here and to have the opportunity and the chance to win it is something very special to me.”
Pierson has been racing an LMP2 for PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports in the WeatherTech Championship and for United Autosports in the FIA World Endurance Championship this year. He says the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January has been his most helpful race to prepare for the Le Mans undertaking because it allowed him to understand what it takes to be sharp throughout the same 24-hour marathon. Teammates Lynn and Jarvis also have been of immense benefit sharing their racing wisdom. Pierson also knows what his role is as the least experienced and Silver-rated driver in the car.
“If I can come in and I can be the best Silver driver that I can be, if I can bring the car back in one piece and help Alex and Oliver do their job, that’s really all I have to do,” Pierson says. “For me, it’s just being consistent, no mistakes and bringing the car back to them in one piece.”
McMurry can vouch for that. He remembers all too well his first stint at Le Mans in 2014. A few laps in, he noticed raindrops on his windshield. He radioed in to ask if he should pit for wet-condition tires but was told the shower would miss the track. Wrong. Just after he passed the pit entrance, the skies opened up.
“It just starts dumping rain,” McMurry recalls, the frightening memory still fresh, “so now I have eight miles to survive on the way back. That was challenging. A lot of other people didn’t make it around that lap. You really had to crawl.
“Hopefully, Josh won’t have to do a full lap in pouring rain on slicks like I had to do.”
McMurry went on to win back-to-back WeatherTech Championship titles, in LMP2 in 2019 and GTD in 2020. He also earned an aerospace engineering degree and works as a vehicle dynamics engineer for Honda Performance Development in the sports car program while he seeks to reboot his racing career.
McMurry fondly recalls driving during sunrise at Le Mans in 2014. “It’s just beautiful,” he says. “You come up out of the Dunlop Chicane and the sun’s right there. That’s a really cool time to drive and when the track’s fastest and the car’s fastest. That’s extra fun.”
He also was selected to drive the last stint to the checkered flag and enjoyed the cooldown lap when the corner workers salute the drivers by coming onto the track and waving their flags. It’s those types of things he hopes Pierson will take in and savor. Of course, McMurry knows Pierson still has a job to do and he has advice for that as well.
“Stay calm and keep the big picture in mind the whole time,” McMurry says. “It’s easy to get sucked into a battle with someone else and do something that can hurt your race with still a long way to go. Just focus on your own thing.”