Berliner Tageblatt - F1 fireball survivor Grosjean realising Le Mans dream

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F1 fireball survivor Grosjean realising Le Mans dream
F1 fireball survivor Grosjean realising Le Mans dream / Photo: © POOL/AFP

F1 fireball survivor Grosjean realising Le Mans dream

Romain Grosjean, whose Formula One career ended in flames at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2020, is among a posse of F1 drivers competing in this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours race.

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The 92nd edition of motorsport's mythic endurance test has lured no fewer than 18 ex F1 drivers.

Grosjean, who is sharing the driving of one of Lamborghini's two cars in the elite hypercar category, is joined by 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button, behind the wheel of one of Porsche's six entries.

Nyck De Vries, abruptly sacked by AlphaTauri after 10 races in his rookie 2023 F1 season, is driving a Toyota, while Mick Schumacher is in an Alpine.

While many F1 drivers have been seduced by the magical race that sets off at 1400GMT Saturday and concludes 24 weary hours later, only five have succeeded in adding their name to its illustrious roll of honour.

Mike Hawthorn was the first in 1955, followed by Phil Hill in 1958, 1961 and 1962, Jochen Rindt (1965), the Graham Hill in 1972, with Fernando Alonso winning for Toyota in 2018-2019.

For Grosjean, the very notion of taking part at Le Mans was the furthest thing on his mind as he made a miraculous escape from a terrifying fireball when his Haas car split in two in a high speed first lap crash in Bahrain four years ago.

"It's amazing to make my return to France and see the French fans. I never thought I'd have the chance to see them again after my Bahrain accident, when they watched me on television jumping away from my little barbecue" he reflected on Friday.

Grosjean, who has recently been competing in the Indy series in the United States, took part in Le Mans in a junior category back in 2010.

"I've had the luck to take part in the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500, and now Le Mans in the elite category," said the 38-year-old.

"That's really something exceptional. When I was a kid I could never have imagined this.

- 'Unique' -

"When I drove here in 2010 one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to return to drive in the top class. It's taken me 14 years but I've made it.

"It's a race unique in the world. I'm thrilled to be with Lamborghini, the aim now is to finish the race and to work well with my teammates."

Also among the 186 intrepid drivers who will receive their starting orders from French football icon Zinedine Zidane are three women - Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting.

This trio, sharing the driving for Lamborghini in the GT3 category, add to the list of only 66 women to compete in the race held at the Sarthe circuit since the inaugural edition in 1923.

"Our aim is to say to young girls that anything is possible, that if they want to pursue a career in motorsport, women have their place in it," said Belgian Bovy.

"The goal is obviously to do better than last year, when we finished fourth. In any case, we are not here to string together pearls" she added.

The Le Mans weekend pulled in a record crowd of 325,000 for its centenary edition last year - all descending on the town in the west of France equipped with tents, liquid sustenance, and lots of coffee to keep them awake during the night.

Ferrari took the centenary race honours and are hoping to make it back-to-back triumphs.

The celebrated Italian marque's two cars start from the second row after Porsche nabbed pole position in qualifying on Thursday with Cadillac sharing the front row.

In keeping with the tradition of securing a star name to act as starter Zidane succeeds LeBron James, who carried out the duty 12 months ago. Other starters have included Brad Pitt, Rafael Nadal and in 1971 Steve McQueen.