24 Hours Centenary – Movie stars take on the role of official starter

24 Hours Centenary – Movie stars take on the role of official starter

24 HOURS CENTENARY – THE LE MANS EXCEPTION ⎮ The 24 Hours of Le Mans is no stranger to the world of cinema, serving as either a focal point or the backdrop for several films. So it's no surprise to see stars of the silver screen on the pre-grid driving on the track or waving the French flag to assist in the start of the legendary race.

Alain Delon had the honour in 1996 of becoming the first actor to serve as official starter at Le Mans, followed six years later by Luc Besson in the middle of filming Michel Vaillant. The film adaptation of the comic strip created in 1957 by illustrator Jean Graton centred around the 24 Hours. Two cars were even fielded in the race to represent fictitious rival teams Vaillante and Leader, so inviting director-producer-screenwriter Besson to give the start at the 70th running was an obvious choice.

2016 | A Hollywoodian walk of fame for the 24 Hours

Fourteen years later, A-lister Brad Pitt served as the official starter at the 2016 24 Hours. The U.S. was celebrated that year not only by PItt's presence but by Ford's return to competition 50 years after its historic hat trick and with an exhibition called Americans in Le Mans.

The star of Seven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, among others, found himself in excellent company on the starting grid in 2016, surrounded by the likes of Keanu Reeves, Patrick Dempsey, Jason Statham and Jackie Chan. At the time, Pitt was even tipped to play Carroll Shelby in the film Le Mans '66 released in 2019, but ultimately the part went to Matt Damon.

Acting legends at the heart of the 24 Hours

Other big names in movies have hit the track at Le Mans, whether as a driver, team manager or simply as a spectator.

Let’s first go back in time, to 1971, when Steve McQueen was named Honorary President of the 39th 24 Hours. The film Le Mans was released on the big screen that year, with the American actor serving as star and producer. Filming at Le Mans had taken five months from June to November 1970 with the movie using real footage from the actual race, racing sequences reconstituted at the circuit and scenes with actors.  

Paul Newman was one of the first actors to compete at the 24 Hours, in 1979, winning his class and finishing second overall at the wheel of a Porsche 935/77A. 

The nephew of 1954 winner Maurice Trintignant and a great motorsport enthusiast, French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant took the start the following year at the wheel of a Porsche 935 K3, but was forced to retire after an incident. 


Two modern driver-actors

Fast forward to the 2000s when Patrick Dempsey, best known for his role in the television show Grey's Anatomy, participated in the race three times, finishing second in LMGTE Am in 2015 with a Porsche 911 RSR. He returned to Le Mans as co-owner of the Dempsey-Proton Racing team (winner in the same class in 2019) set to be on the starting grid in a few weeks for the 24 Hours Centenary.


Also expected as a driver on 10 June (his rookie appearance took place last year) is German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender (X-MenInglourious Basterds…) representing Proton Competition at the wheel of the #911 Porsche 911 RSR-19. 

And let us not forget the incomparable Jackie Chan, co-owner of Jackie Chan DC Racing from 2016 to 2020, the only LMP2 team to finish on the overall podium in the history of the 24 Hours (2nd and 3rd in 2017).

Will an actor serve as the official starter for the 62 competitors at this year's Centenary on 10 June? The race is just around the corner!


PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO/Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 1996-2022 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: Brad Pitt holding the French flag at the start in 2016 flanked by two-time winner Alexander Wurz and ACO President Pierre Fillon; 20 years earlier, Alain Delon became the first actor to serve as the official starter; Luc Besson (at right) in 2002 with ACO President from 1992 to 2003 Michel Cosson; Brad Pitt on the pre-grid in 2016 with Jackie Chan (at left) as well as Pierre Fillon and FIA President from 2009 to 2021 Jean Todt; Keanu Reeves at the race in 2016; Brad Pitt with Patrick Dempsey (at left) and Jason Statham in 2016; Michael Fassbender made it to the chequered flag for his rookie 24 Hours last year along with Matt Campbell and Zacharie Robichon.

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