Steve Millen is a very accomplished racer. He’s bagged the 24 Hours Of Daytona, IMSA GT Driver’s Championships, a whole bunch of other things and most relevantly today, he ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice including a stint behind the wheel of the factory-sponsored Nissan 300ZX in 1994.
Millen, who’s also known as the name behind performance parts purveyor Stillen, had some insights and amazing pictures from that ’94 Le Mans run put up on the company blog and they’re pretty cool.
Like everybody in the grid, Millen had his struggles at Le Mans. Some were funnier than others. “Both times I ran Le Mans, 1990 and 1994, someone broke into my caravan and swiped my racing suits and helmet.” I mean, what? “It was hectic having to hunt all over the paddock for another helmet and suit, but it’s kind of funny now. I always pictured some frenchman on a beat up Moped speeding off through town, wearing my suit and helmet.”
Millen did get suited up eventually, and got the famous red-white-and-blue 300ZX over 200 mph “at four different places on the track… in a car setup for grip.”
That turbo Z was apparently much more dialed in for American Le Mans racing, where cars generally run more downforce than they do in Europe. Still, the car won its class and took fifth place overall despite breaking a camshaft in the second half of the race. Millen said the team had the engine repaired in only 20 minutes, but time was never made up enough to get the Z into fourth or third place overall.
That car still gets trotted out for historic events now and then, and Millen’s company is still going strong selling upgrade parts for Nissans, Infinitis and other makes. As for what’s happening in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans that’s running right now, Millen offered some insight:
“When you’re dominant, you’re not racing anyone else, you’re racing the track, and that’s what’s happening with Toyota this year. Every so often in racing it happens that one team is really dominant and nobody can touch them, and this year, that’s Toyota. Back in 1994, we were really dominant and in a similar position. We’d won the 24 Hours of Daytona by 20 laps, and then followed that up with winning Sebring by 7 laps. We were ahead of the field, and that’s where Toyota is going into the 24. Toyota isn’t really facing any competition that can match its speed – so they won’t be racing the competition, but rather, Toyota is racing against Le Mans, the track itself.”
As for what he remembered most, about running an iconic car in such a historic race, that would be the smell of sausage of course.
“The most memorable thing for me, was around 5-6 a.m., I was out racing. The thing wasn’t the sunrise… at that time of day the air is the coolest, so the car picks up more power and is the fastest then, and as you’re pushing your fastest, you smell it. The smell of bacon and sausage as kitchens all over the french countryside begin cooking breakfast, and your stomach’s growling in the car. I almost wished I could stop, it smelled so good. I’m thinking, ‘Man, that smells delicious, how long ’til breakfast?’”
I wonder if the Toyota TS050 has a snack stash in it. Or at least a cupholder. If I had to run this race, I would definitely demand a cupholder. That’s probably one of the many reasons I’ll never be invited.