Roger Penske’s 61 year quest for Le Mans victory: ‘We’ve got to win!’

Le Mans News

He's achieved a string of victories in some of motor sport's legendary races, but a Le Mans win still eludes Roger Penske. He's determined to change that in 2024

Roger Penske at Porsche Le Mans press conference

Penske told a Porsche press conference that Le Mans victory was his goal

Fred Tanneau/AFP via Getty Images

There aren’t many people who have been trying to win the Le Mans 24 Hours for as long as Roger Penske.

Now, 61 years on from his first attempt at the race, the 87-year-old IndyCar series and team owner believes that this is the year he could finally taste the victory champagne.

The signs are auspicious. In January, the Penske team won its first Daytona 24 Hours in 54 years; last month Penske celebrated his team’s 20th Indy 500 win.

Now the factory Porsches run by Penske Motorsport offer ‘The Captain’ a chance to fill a void in his staggering roll call of success.

The team arrived as favourites and driver Kevin Estre delivered pole. Speaking ahead of the race, Penske said that his goal was now to host the victory press conference.

“We’ve got to go back 60 years when I raced here and the goal was to win this race,” said Penske. The partnership we’ve developed with Porsche has been amazing. This pole position that Kevin delivered us, this gives us much more energy to win this race.”

Roger Penske and Pedro Rodriguez at Le Mans in 1963

Penske, in checked shirt, stands next to Pedro Rodriguez in 1963

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Penske raced a Ferrari 330 at Le Mans with Pedro Rodriguez in 1963 and was in contention for victory until an oil line burst nine hours in. He was back in 1971 as a team owner, again with Ferrari, but the Mark Donohue and David Hobbs 512M retired with engine failure.

He was away from Le Mans for decades, racking up most of his team’s 20 Indy 500 victories, 17 IndyCar championships, four NASCAR national championships and a Formula 1 win.

But, having won in legendary races at Daytona, Sebring, Indianapolis and Bathurst, success at Le Mans was still lacking.

Roger Penske with Mark Donohue at Le Mans in 1971

Penske, in blue, with Donohue in 1971

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

He ran the Porsche 917 in Can Am in the 1970s and, last year, renewed his Porsche partnership, running its factory 936 Hypercar. From Porsche’s perspective, the less said about last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours the better.

But the outlook this year, is much brighter. “We don’t really brag about how good we are,” Penske tells Motor Sport. “I think it’s better to show the results as we did [in qualifying].”

The timing is right, he adds. “When you look at the history of our racing team, it goes back with Porsche to the 917. I’ve been associated with Porsche as a dealer for many, many years. When you think of our ability to take the opportunity to win at Daytona in 2024, Indianapolis in 2024, now we’ve got to win Le Mans so that’s our goal.”

Speaking at a press conference, he praised the Porsche’s partnership with Penske and said that the team’s work since last year’s race could prove key.

“I think it will be tactical,” said Penske. “I think we have to be smart. We fought very very hard on reliability. For me, it’s a goal that I wanted many years ago. Everybody is committed.”