AutoMatters & More: Le Mans 2016 & “Michelin 24 Hours Forza Challenge” at The Petersen


Located at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire Boulevards, the Petersen Automotive Museum recently reopened after a massive renovation. Its mission statement is “To explore and present the history of the automobile and its impact on American life and culture using Los Angeles as a prime example.” The museum accomplishes these goals through its spectacular combination of historically significant vehicles, breathtaking exhibits and special events.

One such event was a viewing party for the 2016 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France. Sponsors of the “Michelin 24 Hours Forza Challenge” included FORZA Motorsport, Ford, Brembo, Polk, title sponsor Michelin and the Petersen Automotive Museum.

This turned out to be a race of firsts for the 24-hour race that had begun many hours earlier. For the first time ever in its history, due to heavy rain and dangerous track conditions, at the appointed hour the race began behind a safety car. Soon, however, the sun came out, the track dried and the racing began.

By the start of the viewing party, the race was about half over. Nighttime had fallen in Le Mans as we watched the action being live-streamed on a big screen in the museum’s Precious Metal Gallery, surrounded by priceless automobiles.

Dinner and beverages were served, and we were free to explore several of the museum’s galleries. In addition to the cars in the Precious Metal Gallery, others vehicles included Lightning McQueen from the Cars movies, a road-going 1967 Ford GT40 Mark III, a rare 1970 Triumph Bonneville T120RT motorcycle and the 1948 Cadillac Sedanette “Cadzzilla” by Hot Rods by Boyd – inspired by Japanese movie monsters and commissioned by Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist for the rock band ZZ Top.

The Michelin Man was there, and many of us posed for pictures with him.

Throughout the evening we drove Forza 6 racing game hot laps on the Le Mans track, competing for great prizes, while in another room teams of drivers raced against each other.

The hot laps competition was intense, made even more challenging since we were only permitted to drive one lap each time we got behind the wheel. I drove twice and had some really fast segments, but in each lap I went off in the same spot on the racetrack. Plowing through the gravel in the runoff area killed my times.

At the end of the evening there were drawings for raffle prizes, including a racing game seat.

The finish to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans was jaw-dropping – perhaps the most dramatic ever. It had been 25 years since the only time a Japanese manufacturer (Mazda) had ever won Le Mans overall. Despite several attempts Toyota had never been able to do so, but this year one of their LMP1 prototype-class cars looked certain to win. With only minutes to go, the number 5 Toyota TS050-Hybrid had a healthy lead over the second place prototype – the number 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid – when the unthinkable happened. The Toyota suddenly lost power, slowed and then stopped on track. Porsche passed Toyota and won the race in the final lap. As if anything could make things worse, even though the Toyota was able to limp around the track, its lap time was too slow so it was not classified as having finished. To race for almost 24 hours only to have their race end in this way was absolutely devastating.

50 years after the Ford GT40 won against the Ferrari challenge, it was fitting that the brand new Ford GT won its class besting a Ferrari again. The winning car in class LMGTE Pro was the number 68 Ford GT of Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, driven by IndyCar driver and Le Mans native Sébastien Bourdais (France), Joey Hand (US) and Dirk Müller (Germany). An understandably jubilant Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, commented: “This is an historic moment for the Ford Motor Company. We dared to dream that we could return to Le Mans, 50 years after the incredible 1966 win, and take on the toughest competition in the world. The pride we all felt when the Ford GT crossed the line at Le Mans is indescribable. We cherish our history and heritage, but today we made history again and I couldn’t be more proud.”

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Copyright © 2016 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #442