The Racing Journey of Michael Fassbender
The actor Michael Fassbender, known for films such as “X-Men,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “12 Years a Slave,” has also been carving out a career as a racecar driver with the goal of reaching the 24 Hours of Le Mans .
Fassbender, a two-time Academy Award nominee, will realize that dream by lining up on the grid at Le Mans this weekend, racing a Porsche 911 RSR -19.
Fassbender will race for the Proton Competition team in the GTE-Am class, designed for grand tourer cars that include at least one amateur in their lineup. That will be Fassbender, who will share driving duties with Zacharie Robichon of Canada and the Porsche factory driver Matt Campbell of Australia.
Fassbender, who could not be reached for comment, said in a Porsche news release in 2020 that racing was his “first dream,” even before acting, and that his goal was to reach Le Mans. “It was always very clear to me from a young age,” he said. “I always felt an affinity with cars, I felt a connection with driving and speed.”
Fassbender has been building his racing experience with Porsche, which has pushed him towards his Le Mans goal. He raced in a Porsche championship in Germany before stepping up to the European Le Mans Series in 2020, as well as racing in two Porsche Supercup races.
Proton Competition finished fourth in last year’s championship, with Fassbender scoring his first podium by finishing second in the 4 Hours of Portimão in Portugal. Further success followed earlier this year in France, where he scored third place at Le Castellet to leave him only five points off the lead of the championship after two races.
Fassbender is not the first Hollywood star with dreams of racing at Le Mans. Steve McQueen attempted to enter the race in 1970 while filming “Le Mans,” while in 1979, Paul Newman finished second overall in a Porsche 935. Patrick Dempsey first raced at Le Mans in 2009 and finished second in the GTE-Am class in 2015 . He remains an owner of the Dempsey-Proton Racing team that is a regular fixture at Le Mans.
Dempsey played an important role in Fassbender’s path to Le Mans after a chance meeting on a flight from London to Los Angeles. “I was following motorsports, and I was congratulating him on a good result at the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” Fassbender said in the news release. “We just started talking about getting into racing, and then he made the contact to Porsche Motorsport.”
Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest that organizes Le Mans, said the race “has always had special ties with the movie world.”
“Michael Fassbender has decided to take up the challenge, and I’m impressed by how he has gone about it, taking each step as it comes in preparation for Le Mans,” Fillon said. “He is approaching the race with tremendous determination, and I expect he’ll put in a great performance.”
Fassbender’s previous races have never been longer than four hours, making a 24-hour race a big step up. Mike Conway, one of the drivers who won Le Mans last year for Toyota, said the race was hard and “a slog” that could make you “hate it if things aren’t going your way.”
“But it’s definitely a really special one,” Conway added. “You don’t realize the history until you’re there at the moment, especially at the start of the race when you’ve got all the teams lined up and the national anthems play, and you realize this is really big.”
Luis Felipe Derani of Brazil has raced at Le Mans six times. His advice to Fassbender was to “save your energy.”
“It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and sucked into how big the event is,” Derani said, “and by the time you start the race, all your energies are gone, and you still have 24 hours of hard racing to do.
“Save your energy and save your body, because you’re going to need it, and that is going to make a huge difference in the final result.”