Grand-Am Road Racing founder and NASCAR vice-chairman Jim France will wave the French flag to start the 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Saturday, June 22, it has been announced.
The news is timely, as sports car racing in North America approaches 2014 and a new era under the leadership of France and Don Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). Both France and Panoz are on the board of a new International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) organisation which will sanction United SportsCar Racing (USCR), resulting from the ongoing merger of Grand-Am and the ALMS. Last month the ACO officially endorsed the merger agreement.
Thirty-seven years after his brother, Bill France Jr., was accorded the same honour, Jim France will have the task of lowering the French flag to unleash a 56-car field in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Frances are the sons of Bill France Sr., founder of both NASCAR and IMSA.
The flag France will wave to start the race will be presented during a press conference at Le Mans on June 20 by Panoz and ACO President Pierre Fillon. This year will mark the first time in the 90-year history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that the start will have been given by two members of the same family.
“We are particularly honoured that Jim France has accepted to give the start to the Le Mans 24 Hours in this very symbolic year, in which we're celebrating the 90th anniversary of the greatest endurance race in the world,” said Fillon. “It proves just how close are the links between the club that created endurance racing and the authorities of North American motorsports.”
France added: “I will wave the flag to start next month's 24 Hours of Le Mans on behalf of the entire North American sports car community. It demonstrates the universal interest in the consolidation of America's two leading road racing organisations. The world-wide racing community is already anticipating the debut of United SportsCar Racing at the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona, with its close association to the ACO and link to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“On a personal note, it is very gratifying to serve in a role that my brother Bill performed in 1976. My dad Bill Sr. always appreciated the international appeal of sports car racing, which he felt was epitomised in the 24 Hours of Le Mans."