Eddie Cheever: "Just being at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was magical"

Eddie Cheever: "Just being at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was magical"

One of the leading drivers of the eighties, Eddie Cheever lined up in 143 Grand Prix between 1978 and 1989 and won the famous Indianapolis 500 in 1998. The American has fond memories of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he entered three times.

First time at Le Mans: "It was in 1981. I was with Lancia Martini Racing. I had great teammates in Michele Alboreto and Riccardo Patrese. It was my first long-distance race. It was very exciting to be at Le Mans, but I was very unhappy because I didn’t have a fast car. But it was magical just to be there. Really, there are three races in the world: the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianopolis 500. And maybe the Daytona 500."

Two seasons with Jaguar in the XJR-6 and XJR-8: "It was a phenomenal car to drive. The first year, 1986, we had a problem. Jean-Louis Schlesser got a puncture on the Mulsanne Straight. The next year, we came back and the race was in our pockets. Then, with one hour to go, a little thing in the gearbox broke. Losing that race bothers me more than anything else in my whole career.”

Favourite teammate at Le Mans: "Warwick, Derek Warwick [Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1992, Peugeot 905]. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, he would do three hours, I would do three hours and so on. If I did four hours, then he would do four hours. It gives me a headache just thinking about it. He was also my teammate in Formula One and we often liked the same things. It was lucky that I liked blondes and he preferred girls with brown hair, so that solved the biggest problem." [laughs]

Fascination with Le Mans: "When I did Le Mans, Mulsanne was straight, there was no chicane. It seemed every year I went there, a driver died. So I have a lot of respect for Le Mans and I take my hat off to drivers who do it often.  I follow the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans and I’m very happy that endurance racing is becoming relevant on a worldwide scale. I’m still passionate about drivers and teams. I have immense respect for technical prowess, but when it comes down to having to be in an Audi or a Porsche to have a chance of winning, then it’s not good. There’s also a question of mathematics. Money. When you have to spend 200 million dollars to win one race, it defeats the purpose, it’s like a dragon eating its own tail."

Motor racing in the USA compared to Europe: "It’s very different. In the eighties, a European would never have dreamed of racing in the States. When I came to the States from Formula One I thought, ‘this is crazy, why do people do this?’ You have to live it to understand it. This [the USA] is the church of speed. It’s only about speed. Drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, who comes from Formula One, adapt very quickly. If you make a mistake on a circuit like Indianapolis, you are in serious trouble. There is a human element that is not in Formula One as much."

Cheever is now an ABC commentator for the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 with Scot Goodyear, also a former Le Mans driver (second in 1996 with the Porsche 911 GT1). 

Eddie Cheever’s record at the 24 Hours of Le Mans:

1981: Lancia Beta Monte Carlo Martini Racing, with Michele Alboreto and Carlo Facetti, 8th

1986: Jaguar XJR-6 Silk Cut Jaguar TWR, with Jean-Louis Schlesser and Derek Warwick, retired (flat tyre, then suspension issue)

1987: Jaguar XJR-8 Silk Cut Jaguar TWR, with Raul Boesel and Jan Lammers, 5th