A Coldstream sports car racer is gearing up for the race of a lifetime.
Cameron Cassels has earned a spot in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s longest-standing endurance race held at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe in rural Le Mans, France.
“Every person who races cars dreams to eventually get there,” said Cassels, who admits he never expected to reach this milestone, let alone so early in his professional racing career.
The 51-year-old said he was “late to the game,” having started professional racing in 2015. Prior to that year, Cassels had competed in amateur stock car racing and motocross, and had raced in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo in North America and Europe.
“I’d never raced sports cars in my life, it was always ovals, so I only knew how to turn one direction,” he laughed.
His journey to Le Mans took full flight in 2018 when he joined Performance Tech Motorsports, a team based out of Florida that races under the NASCAR-owned International Motor Sports Association banner, the largest sanctioning body in North America for professional racing.
At Performance Tech he learned to manoeuvre the powerful Le Mans prototypes used in the 24-hour endurance test.
“They don’t really look like a car” he said of the Le Mans Prototypes 2 and 3 he’s raced over the past two years. “My kids call them a spaceship.”
|Coldstream’s Cameron Cassels competed in IMSA’s 2020 Prototype Challenge series driving the Le Mans Prototype 3 (Contributed)|
Cassels got off to an auspicious start with Performance Tech, helping steer the team to success soon after his arrival.
“I drove their LMP3 car, and was fortunate to win a championship in 2018,” he said, referring to the Masters Championship in IMSA’s Prototype Challenge.
2019 proved to be his biggest year to date. He competed in full seasons in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship—what Cassels calls “the pinnacle of all sports car racing in North America—and the Prototype Challenge. That meant spending most weekends driving two different cars in two different professional races.
Cassels and his team went on to win the WeatherTech endurance championship, a finish that helped him earn the Jim Trueman Award, which goes to the driver with the most points on the season.
Securing the Jim Trueman Award comes with more than bragging rights: it also comes with an automatic invitation to Le Mans.
“It’s the biggest endurance race in the world so there’s huge demand to get in and only so many garage spaces,” he said. “There’s kind of only one way you can win an entry if you’re running IMSA in North America and that’s the Jim Trueman Award.”
Normally held in June, the 88th annual Le Mans race has been postponed to Sept. 19 and 20 due to COVID-19.
“Unlike some of the other venues this year for racing, whether it’s IndyCar or sports car, Le Mans was very adamant to say the show will go on,” Cassels said.
Those who have watched Clint Eastwood’s 2019 film, Ford v Ferrari, will have seen the race as it looked in 1966. Cassels says movies often fail to properly depict real endurance racing, but named Eastwood’s film as an exception.
“It gives you an idea of what an endurance race is and some of the challenges behind it,” Cassels said.
Cassels learned much about the challenges of the sport earlier this year, when his team’s car sat 40 minutes from the finish line at the WeatherTech 24 Hours of Daytona.
“We had a mechanical failure after 23 hours and 20 minutes of racing. We didn’t finish the race.”
For Cassels, the mechanical breakdown highlighted just how precarious the sport can be. In his first time competing in the Daytona last year, his team placed second.
“Twenty-four hours is an incredibly long time for a race, so I don’t care how much money you put into it, just to finish some of these races is an amazing feat.”
For now, Cassels looks forward to having his wife and four kids present at Le Mans.
“They’ve all been exposed to a lot of racing, and unfortunately for my wife they all want to become professional race car drivers, much to her dismay!”