In this edition of ‘The Torque Tube’, TDC caught up with Bruce Ledoux from Guardian Angel Motorsports on his participation in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. This year marked the 50th anniversary of this legendary race on the steep banking at the Daytona Speedway, and it proved to be a memorable weekend for everyone involved. To learn more about GAM, check out their website HERE, and also read their previous ‘Torque Tube’ feature. Enjoy!
How did team GAM end up finishing throughout the weekend?
Bruce was involved in an accident back at the beginning of January during the “Roar Before the 24″ practice race. He slid into the wall and ended up with minor injuries. Fortunately, the crash wasn’t too serious and he was able to take part in the race weekend at Daytona. This year, Bruce competed behind the wheel of a Mazda MX5 in the support race that takes place before the Rolex 24 hour race. Another GAM driver, Eric Curran, drove a Chevrolet Camaro in the 24 hour race.
“My three hour race last year was with over 60 cars, this year it was over 80… It was packed, packed, packed… It brought out a lot of competitive people and I thought that was a neat part of the equation for us… We didn’t get good seat time in the car before qualifying so when I got in the car, I was still pretty jittery from the accident.
“When I got in the car to drive it, the seat was pretty far back, too far back actually and when I sat in it, in the garage, my line of sight was actually underneath the steering wheel and over the dashboard… The clutch was at the end of my toe and I had to actually lurch forward to grab the shift lever if we were in the odd gears because it was too far forward… We didn’t have any time so I just jumped in the car.
I had two snap spins from missing my downshifts because I couldn’t get my hands on the [gear lever] right… So, we brought the car in and made some adjustments and the next time I got in the car was actually qualifying and I was feeling a ton of pressure. I hadn’t been in the car at all to do any fast laps, so we just stickered it up and shot me out there… I was delighted to find that of the four MX-5’s that were out there, I qualified P2!”
The Mazda MX5 is a phenomenal race car, but at a big, fast track like Daytona, it’s immediately at a disadvantage car because of its lack of horsepower. In the hands of the right driver, however, it can be a seriously competitive machine
“Fast forward to race day and it’s pouring… I mean, pouring. For some reason, our guys decided to send us out on the parade laps on slicks, and I was doing maybe 35 or 40 miles per hour, and the guy in front of me [slowed] up and I just brushed my brake pedal and shot toward the wall… My nerves were really, really frayed as we went into the start of the race… The green flag dropped and I don’t know where it came from, but the car just felt like a million dollars. I was able to move seven spots in the first two turns… Then we went into the bus stop in the back and I was able to divebomb a few guys and get up into the 13th or 14th position up from 26th. The car came to life, the chassis was fantastic and I was able to run pretty hard.
We run a Mazda RX8 differential in the car and it’s slightly different than the stock differential… Come to find out, when one wheel is doing two mph faster than the other wheel on the banking, it gets the diff pretty hot, which makes the casing expand, which caused it to spring a leak. So, it started burning up… It got to the point where our straightaway speed was down 10 mph. When you’re full throttle for 26 seconds or so like when you’re at Daytona, that drop in speed is crippling.”
Despite lack of speed and the differential working against them, the team was able to maneuver through the field all the way up to P12. “We were thinking we had a top 10 finish on our hands, and that’s when the diff blew up with 22 minutes left in the race. And that was it, party’s over.” Naturally, the team was heartbroken with the result. Overall, however, when Bruce looked at the car’s performance before it broke—being ahead of all the other MX5s by five or six places, and this being the first time the team had fielded a Grand Am car—he was thrilled with how everything turned out.
Fast forward once more to the 24 hour race, and Eric Curran and his team are basically driving the wheels off their car. They were cranking through the field and posting great lap times. “I logged onto the internet [to check the current lap times] at 4 in the morning, and they were turning laps that were only half a second off their qualifying times…. What was amazing was that we were at hour 13, and they were still flogging a car like it was qualifying.”
The thing about endurance racing is that it’s not all about your fastest lap time. A lot of the challenge of these races is finding the balance between outright performance and conserving the car. And, like so many other competitors, Eric’s car suffered a major mechanical failure and wasn’t able to finish the race. “The car gave up at the 21 hour mark and they were really upset about that. They had all really, really worked hard.”
How did you involve the families and kids from The Starlight Foundation who came to the race?
“We were giving them what we called a ‘Great Escape’—They could come down and basically forget about life for a couple of hours and escape all of the pressures that they are dealing with. We got them into the track, we got pictures with the cars, we got to have four kids push the car with the crew and the drivers out onto the gird as the team was being announced, it was very, very cool.
“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the impact that seeing these kids would have.[The kids] got around the car and there was an eerie silence. No one was talking within 50 yards of the car, there were few dry eyes; it was so profound.”
More than the racing, this weekend solidified for Bruce that the things he and GAM are doing is genuinely having an impact that extends way beyond the track. “There was one guy there named Eric, he’s mid-teens and in a wheelchair… We headed out to the chain link fence right at turn three… About an hour later, Linda and I walk by and Eric is not only standing out of his chair with his dad, but he’s stuck to the fence. He’s got his fingers through the fence and he’s just elated with what he’s seeing. His parents sent us an email after and said that they can’t remember the last time that he was standing out of his chair for as long as he was… You just can’t put a value on that.”
What was another highlight of the weekend?
“Another family that showed up has a fifteen year old girl who’s in a wheelchair and it’s difficult for her to communicate. She was being introduced to [one of GAM’s sponsors, Jason] that was there. The father said, ‘Thank you for doing this, we don’t go out because of her being in the wheelchair.’ So, Jason said, ‘I feel so badly for you, Elexis.’ And she said, ‘Oh, don’t feel badly for me, I’m a fighter.’ Jason couldn’t believe it, he was totally blown away and burst into tears. It was off the hook.”
Despite having both cars not finish their races, the entire event was a major success for GAM; there is even the potential a NASCAR race will be named for them. Through GAM and the efforts of Bruce and Linda Ledoux, the thrill, excitement, and camaraderie of racing at Daytona was given to people who may otherwise never make it to the track.
“All in all, even thought we didn’t post great finishes for either car, we won in the paddock… One of the things I’m learning when I stand outside and look at this is reframing your expectations and what you’re hoping to get from your outing has to include winning in the paddock and translating that sense of good feeling and voyage to all the people who can’t be there. That’s our mission.”
– Many thanks and much respect once again to Bruce Ledoux for his time and energy for this interview. Be sure to visit Guardian Angel’s website and support their tremendous cause!