24 Hours Stories: 2001, an unforgettable rookie Le Mans for Romain Dumas
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24 Hours Stories: 2001, an unforgettable rookie Le Mans for Romain Dumas

Throughout this month, we will bring you a very special Advent calendar dedicated to remarkable stories and anecdotes from the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. Today, here is a look back at 2001 and French driver Romain Dumas' first participation in the race that was based on mistaken identity.

Romain Dumas will always remember his rookie 24 Hours of Le Mans. When the French driver first arrived at the circuit, he astonished Manfred Freisinger, the team manager who had hired him thinking he had called on the services of another Frenchman, Sébastien Dumez!

A first class podium

Dumas shared Freisinger Motorsport's #77 Porsche 911 with fellow countryman Philippe Haezebrouck and American driver Gunnar Jeannette. During the last qualifying session, the latter exited the track violently, but emerged unscathed luckily. The chassis of the Porsche, however, was twisted. Manfred Freisinger and his mechanics managed to bring the car to working order all of Friday and Saturday morning before the race, and Dumas took the start from pit lane.

At the end of the first hour, he was leading the class, but the weather was about to become a factor. A major downpour hit the circuit shortly thereafter in the Arnage zone, causing a five-car pile-up. Difficult weather conditions continued to plague the race, and Dumas finished seventh overall and second in his class.

Two remarkable wins

After that first podium, Dumas continued participating in the 24 Hours at the wheel of a Porsche 911, in prototypes with Henri Pescarolo then as a factory Audi and Porsche driver. He is part of a group of drivers to win the race in more than one class, and also has two overall victories to his credit. Along with Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller in 2010 with Audi, Dumas established the current distance record at Le Mans. In 2016, with Marc Lieb and Neel Jani, his Porsche 919 Hybrid snatched the win in a stunning final lap after the Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima was forced to retire. Between those two victories, he also won the LMGTE Pro class in 2013 at the wheel of the Porsche 911, one of his favorite cars in his career.

So what of Sébastien Dumez in all this? He never competed in the 24 Hours with Freisinger Motorsport, but still made his debut at the race the same year as Dumas. At the wheel of a Porsche 911 entered by French team Larbre Compétition, he finished 10th overall in 2001 along with Jean-Luc Chéreau and Patrice Goueslard. Four years later, Sébastien Dumez and Romain Dumas actually teamed up, with Raymond Narac, at the wheel of another French Porsche 911 fielded by IMSA Performance, finishing 15th overall.

 

PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS 2001 & 2010. Freisinger Motorsport decorated the front of its Porsche with exposed teeth to accentuate the aggression of the car driven by Romain Dumas in 2001 (at top and center). Below, on the top step of the podium from left to right: Mike Rockenfeller, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (head of Audi competition at the time), Romain Dumas (behind the trophy) and Timo Bernhard.