At Le Mans, the Magnussens (Father and Son) Team Up

At Le Mans, the Magnussens (Father and Son) Team Up

The drivers Jan and Kevin Magnussen of Denmark are about to gather for a weekend activity that few fathers and sons have tried: They will be racing as teammates at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where multiple drivers share the same car through the race.

“I hope it’s something I’ll hold and cherish for the rest of my life,” Jan, 48, said.

“It’s going to be pretty special,” Kevin, 28, said.

Kevin’s racing résumé is packed. He was a Formula 1 driver from 2014 to 2020, now races in the International Motor Sports Association, or IMSA, series and will be driving for Peugeot in the F.I.A. World Endurance Championship next year. That series includes Le Mans, which he has never raced.

But his father has — 22 times, winning his class four times with Corvette Racing. The first time he raced there, Kevin was 6 years old.

Jan was a Formula 1 driver in the mid-1990s before moving to Corvette, which he left in 2019. He then joined High Class Racing of Denmark in W.E.C.’s LMP2 division for 2021 and will be racing for the team in Le Mans.

Kevin got the opportunity to drive with his father when the event was moved from June to August. His schedule not only opened up, but the team was also allowed to enter a second car, thus creating seats for three more drivers, including Kevin. Jan moved into that car so he could drive with his son, and Anders Fjordbach will be its third driver.

“I was with a bunch of friends at a vacation house, having a weekend off and talking about what the extra car would do for the team,” Jan said. “We said, ‘Let’s give Kevin a call.’”

Kevin picked up the phone and thought his dad and friends “had had a few glasses of wine, so I was pretty sure it was not going to happen,” but he swiftly realized the project was possible.

“It has been a dream of ours for as long as I can remember,” Kevin said. “It had been a possibility a couple of times,” but “never happened for different reasons. I’ve been busy in F1, and my dad has been tied up with Corvette.”

The Magnussens are not the only family team to race at Le Mans. Louis and Jean-Louis Rosier did it in 1950, when they won the race; Nigel Mansell and his sons, Greg and Leo, raced in 2010; Martin Brundle and his son, Alex, raced in 2012; and Mario Andretti and his son Michael teamed up several times in the 1980s and ’90s.

“The proudest moments are when I’ve had my kids involved in the same endeavors with me,” said Mario Andretti, 81, who raced at Le Mans in four decades, including teaming with Jan Magnussen in 2000. “Michael and I were also teammates in IndyCar, we were together 15 times on the podium, and those are moments that are so precious.”

Kevin Magnussen said he received a go-kart on his first birthday and was a regular visitor to professional races. “I always wanted to be a racing driver,” he said. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have had that interest if my dad wasn’t a racing driver. That’s been the main motivation and inspiration.”

Jan said he was not a pushy parent who urged his son to race.

“I’ve always loved my life as a racing driver and always wanted Kevin to be happy,” Jan said. “I encouraged him to do it, but it wasn’t to become a racing driver, it was to have fun. But it became very evident, very early on, that he wanted more, and he was very driven.”

They began on-track preparations for Le Mans in late June, an experience Kevin said was extraordinary, with Jan “having extra goose bumps” at watching his son on the track. That preparation is crucial for an event at which, compared with open-wheel competition, driver teamwork is vital.

“It’s going to be a little bit different to have your dad or son as a teammate,” Kevin said. “In endurance racing, too much competition between teammates isn’t healthy. You need to be supporting each other and working together as you’re fighting for the same trophy. You want to be the quickest, of course, but when it’s your family you’ll be even more supportive.”

Jan concurred, but teasingly said there would be competition between them to be the fastest, prompting both to laugh.

“I know what I’m up against,” Jan said about driving with Kevin. “I’ll do my very best and push myself as hard as I can, while still being a good teammate.”

But this is not just an emotional jaunt around the French countryside. With 25 entries in the LMP2 class, the competition will be fierce.

“The target is to win; I think that’s pretty obvious,” Kevin said. “To do Le Mans, and race at Le Mans as father and son, is awesome. But to win Le Mans as father and son, that would be another level. That would be just incredible.”

The experienced Jan is more circumspect, aware that “Le Mans can be the most fantastic race in the whole world, but can also be the most evil in the world,” as “so many things can happen” during its 24 hours. “I think we can have a shot if we do this well,” he said.

Mario Andretti said that they should just enjoy the experience, but that doing well would be special.

“I think even subconsciously you probably give a little more of yourself as you know how precious it is to bring back a result together,” he said.

And while this is likely to be the only outing for the Jan-Kevin partnership, given Kevin’s impending multiyear Peugeot deal, Kevin himself became a father, in January, when his daughter, Laura, was born. Could there be another Magnussen collaboration in the future?

“It’s very hard to imagine, very hard to imagine,” Kevin said. “The short answer is no.” Jan, though, said he would be game.

“Yeah,” Kevin said with a laugh, “my daughter might be racing with her granddad.”

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