An American car hasn’t taken outright victory at Le Mans since 1969. Jim Glickenhaus believes that could all change with the SCG 007
On one side of the Pacific Ocean stands Jim Glickenhaus, the owner of a niche American sports car company producing a few hundred models each year.
On the other are the vast research and development facilities of Toyota, the largest car manufacturer in the world.
Any mention of David and Goliath would underplay the chasm between the two firms, but in June 2021, both will be competing for overall victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
Earlier this month, he revealed the firm’s sports car challenger: the swooping SCG 007. And what Glickenhaus lacks in scale, he makes up for in belief.
“It’s absolutely possible that we could win in the first year,” he says, adding the caveat: “Am I predicting it? No, of course not.”
“We’re already competing against Toyota and Aston Martin – quite frankly we beat both of them at the ‘Ring.”
No American car has claimed overall victory at Le Mans since Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver’s 1969 win for Ford, and Glickenhaus is determined to end the 50-year wait.
“Of course an American car can win at Le Mans!” He says. “Henry Ford showed that a car built in America could win at Le Mans, Jim Hall certainly did well with his effort and the Chaparral. Carol Shelby won the manufacturing championship. So yes, it can.”
Should Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus even lead the race, ahead of factory entries that will include Aston Martin as well as Toyota, it would arguably be a greater upset than Ford’s victory over Ferrari in 1966.
But the comments aren’t purely made in blind faith; they reflect a new approach to the top level of sports car racing.
Hypercar regulations, being introduced from next season, are designed to allow privateers to compete with factory teams, using Balance of Performance adjustments.
Prototypes and road-based cars, powered by hybrid or conventional powertrains, should all be able to compete for victories in next season’s World Endurance Championship (WEC), which culminates in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
A similar system is already in place for GT cars, both in WEC and at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, where Glickenhaus competes against factory GT cars.
“We race anyone that shows up at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring,” says Glickenhaus.
“We race Porsche factory, Mercedes factory, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini and we’ve done well.
“Of course Le Mans is a fantastic, exciting, important race and we want to race there, but we’re already competing against Toyota and Aston Martin — quite frankly we beat both of them at the ‘Ring.”
Intimidated he is not, but he is equal parts ambitious and realistic.
Entry to WEC had been of vague interest to the American but the extortionate costs and unfavourable conditions of competition prevented any serious intent materialising.
That all changed when the hypercar rules were touted.
“We’ve been for a long time asking a lot of people saying – in our opinion – it was much more interesting when the top class at Le Mans looked like cars that were aspirational prototype versions of sports cars, back to the days when you could drive a car to Le Mans and race it, and if you didn’t destroy it, come back and drive it to dinner.
“I think what happened was that the LMP1 category became so expensive and hyper-technical that even guys like Porsche and Audi said no. And that’s when we entered.”
The outright win at the famed endurance race has not been achieved in American machinery since 1969; a Ford GT40 in the hands of Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver the winning combination that day.
“I no longer think it is just a question anymore of who has the largest wallet”
Victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe may be the primary goal for Glickenhaus but the company has already confirmed a full entry for the 2020/21 WEC season, and there is sound reasoning behind the decision.
“We wanted to do a full season because we really wanted to be a serious effort, we wanna learn from racing in WEC what we might need to be successful at Le Mans.
“This really isn’t a publicity-generated thing, this is what we do, we love racing, we make race cars, we make road legal examples, we build a road-legal car that you can drive down to and race in the Baja 1000 and then drive home.
“We make a GT3 that has a road-legal version that is as close as to a GT3 race car as you can buy. We love doing this.”
“We are hiring 30 dedicated people to work on the project. The overall project will be overseen by the guys that we’ve worked with before – the young engineers who are not quite as young as they once were! And they come from Formula 1 and LMP1 backgrounds so I think we will have very capable people.”
With its old-school looks, particularly a familiar wheel rim design, an expected third-party engine supply would combine a beautiful race car with a historic significance, only furthering its allure.
Time will tell though.
While a ruleset allows entries to run with or without a hybrid system, the decision will impact the number of road-going versions a manufacturer will be required to sell.
Glickenhaus has already confirmed that they intend to build 20-30 road-legal versions of the car depending on customer interest, and the cars that do line-up on the WEC grid will do so with a traditional internal combustion engine only.
“We think that an ICE hypercar will actually be easily as quick as a hybrid one – especially in light of the fact that no matter what you do they’re going to BoP (Balance of Performance) the cars.
“When they made it 750, the maximum total horsepower, that became feasible and once again it’s a question of weight. If you have to put in a hybrid system, you have to dedicate a differential in the front, you’re not allowed to put the motors on the wheels because you can torque vector, and you need batteries and so you’re adding weight that once again makes it harder, so I don’t see that there’s any particular advantage to hybrid at this stage.”
Glickenhaus isn’t blind to the challenges that will no doubt arise with the project, but the New Yorker is resolute in his belief that under the new rules package, and with a slice of luck, his car could achieve an outright win.
“I no longer think it is just a question anymore of who has the largest wallet, I think in fairness to the ACO and the FIA, they’ve come up with a system that a privateer could do very well.
“I feel confident that they will treat us completely fairly and I think in their heart, they’d be delighted if we won first overall.”
A win at Le Mans is not a simple feat by any means, but he believes that outright victory is possible, and the SCG 007 would be a stunning addition to the winners’ list.