24 Hours of Le Mans - Jochen Mass: “Le Mans is eternal”

24 Hours of Le Mans - Jochen Mass: “Le Mans is eternal”

Jochen Mass has raced the 24 Hours of Le Mans eleven times. He took pole position in 1986 with a Porsche 962 C and won in 1989 with Sauber Mercedes. The German driver also has 114 Grands Prix to his name, including a victory in Spain in 1975. He was happy to share some memories with us.

1972: first time at Le Mans, with Hans-Joachim Stuck in the Ford Capri 2600 RS (Retired) “It was the year Joakim Bonnier was killed [in the Lola T280], so it wasn’t easy. The Ford Capri wasn’t very fast. In 1972, it was by no means ideal having prototypes and Gts in the same race.”

The regret: not having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Porsche (in 7 attempts) “Yes, I do regret not having won with them. We got very close on two occasions [one of them was in 1982 when he came second with the Porsche 956 on its maiden Le Mans]. But it wasn’t our lucky day."

Did you think you might never win? “It didn’t occur to me. I had to wait 17 years to win, but I’ve always loved the race. I was just a bit unlucky up until then. It didn’t bother me. I always thought I would win one day, with the right car. I’ve never been superstitious.”

"“I always thought I would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day!”"
Jochen Mass

The 1989 victory with Manuel Reeuter and Stanley Dickens in the #63 Sauber C9 Mercedes: “My Sauber period began in 1988 and it didn’t get off to a great start. We had to withdraw because of a tyre issue and we didn’t start the race. The car wasn’t very well balanced. There was too much aero and the tyres couldn’t stand up to it. We solved the problem with Michelin in time for the following year. The Sauber C9 had improved, even though we still lost time in slow corners. But the car was solid. The 5l engine was excellent and we were fast on the straights. Fast enough to win, but it wasn’t an easy ride."

“We returned two years later, in 1991. I was in the Sauber C11 Mercedes with Jean-Louis Schlesser and Alain Ferté. "We almost won again. We were way ahead, 3 or 4 laps in hand. But a small part broke and caused the engine to overheat. I really regret not winning that year."

The last Le Mans, with John Nielsen and Thomas Bscher in the McMLaren F1 GTR fielded by West Competition “It was in 1995. The McLaren was a good car, but we had a problem with brake cooling. On the top of that, the electric motor that powers the windscreen wipers broke down. Which was a pain, because it rained a lot that year. Things had changed since my Group C days in the eighties. That was my last Le Mans, but I always watch the race. Le Mans is eternal."

Is winning Le Mans the high point of your career? “On paper, yes. But the most satisfying thing about my career is to have got through it alive. (laughs) I’m so glad I never had any serious accidents. I’ve just turned 70 and I still race [at Le Mans Classic, for example]. That’s not bad going." (smiles)