24 Hours Centenary – Adventurer Steve Fossett at Le Mans
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24 Hours Centenary – Adventurer Steve Fossett at Le Mans

24 HOURS CENTENARY – THE LE MANS EXCEPTION ⎮ Does the name Steve Fossett ring a bell? The American businessman is best known as the first person to circumnavigate the world solo and nonstop (in his plane the GlobalFlyer). Did you know he also competed twice at Le Mans? Here is a closer look at the exploits of this extraordinary human being, for whom breaking records had become a way of life.

Born in 1944, Steve Fossett made his fortune on the Chicago Stock Exchange and became famous by setting a staggering 115 world records in five disciplines thoughout his life! Among other things, he completed five trips around the world, whether in a hot air balloon or in a crewed boat or alone. Not very athletic in appearance, he nevertheless fed an insatiable thirst for breaking records and going faster and further. Steve Fossett: "I attempt these records for the satisfaction of beating them. I enjoy going faster or further than anyone before me." This extraordinary adventurer has been described as introverted, caring, determined and persevering, with impeccable organisation skills and a genius understanding of weather.

When he wasn't off surpassing records, Fossett split his life between Colorado and California where he owned three houses. One of them featured in the erotic murder classic "Basic Instinct" (1992) where it served as the home of Catherine Trammell played by Sharon Stone.

A life setting records

Fossett's first major exploit was to swim across the Channel in 22 hours in 1985. After that, there was no stopping him at sea or in the air. When he reached his forties, the billionaire decided to change the course of his life and invest his money in a new passion: breaking records.

In 1994, he finished fifth in the Route du Rhum transatlantic single-handed yacht race. The following year, he crossed fhe Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon. In 2001, he set the record for crossing the Atlantic in a maxi-Catamaran followed by the first circumnavigation of the Earth in a hot air balloon in 2002. Two years later, Fosset beat the hot air balloon speed record then sailed around the world with a crew aboard the Cheyenne. In 2005, he completed his first solo trip around the world, nonstop and without refueling, in the famous GlobalFlyer. In that same plane, he beat the world record for longest flight in 2006. The same year, Fossett broke the absolute altitude record in a glider, the first stratospheric flight in the history of gliding.

The American not only conquered the air and sea. He was also known for his mountaineering feats, climbing the highest peaks on the globe dating back to the age of 12 as a scout. Only Mount Everest, which he attempted twice, would deny him.

Fossett's fearless life ended suddenly during a plane crash in Nevada on 3 September 2007. It took more than a year for the wreckage and his body to be located and identified. 

Where does car racing come into play in this exceptional man's life? Motorsport has always attracted adventurers in search of an adrenaline rush and Fossett was no exception.

Steve Fossett takes on racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Like many fearless daredevils before him (such as the Bentley Boys, namely Glen Kidston, the first to fly from London to Cape Town, on 6 April 1931), Fossett turned his sights on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1993 then in 1996.

Prior to doing so, he took the start in several races at American circuits: first Laguna Seca in 1992 then the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1993 (finishing 11th at the wheel of the #19 Spice Chevrolet shared with David Tennyson and Le Mans local François Migault). Fossett, at the age of 49, teamed up with Almo Copelli and Robin Donovan for his rookie 24 Hours that same year at the wheel of a #15 Porsche 962 CK6 fielded by Kremer Racing. Starting from the 13th spot, the trio was forced to retire after 17 hours with a power supply problem as it held the 15th position.

In 1994, Fossett once again competed at Daytona with the #45, but like the previous year, he failed to make it to the chequered flag (broken engine). He also took part in Paris-Dakar.

Fossett returned to the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1996 at the wheel of a Courage C41, but his race ended after the car left the track. The same year, he took the start in the 24 Hours for the second time, again with Kremer Racing but in the #2 Porsche K8. He joined forces with Swedish driver and 1989 winner Stanley Dickens and South African driver George Fouché. Unfortunately, Fossett was forced to retire a few hours on Saturday evening after going off-track once again.

Le Mans did not spare this extraordinary man, proving once again that whether you are an outstanding adventurer or a veteran driver, the race remains unforgiving. And, adventurer or racing driver, aren't they the same thing? 

 

PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 1993-1996 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: for his two participations in 1993 (#15) and 1996 (#2), Steve Fossett (at the wheel here in 1996) called upon the expertise of German preparers specialising in Porsche, brothers Manfred and Erwin Kremer (the 935 they modified won the race in 1979 thanks to German driver Klaus Ludwig and American brothers Don and Bill Whittington).

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