History will be made when Matt McMurry straps himself behind the wheel of Greaves Motorsport’s Zytek Z11SN Nissan this weekend.
After three years, 60-plus races and more than 20,000 miles of seat time, the 16-year-old American will reach his long-held childhood dream of becoming the youngest driver to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
McMurry, a high school sophomore from Phoenix, is set to eclipse the 55-year record held by Ricardo Rodriguez, who was 17 years and four months old when the young Mexican driver took part in the race in 1959.
“I got my first taste of Le Mans in 2008 as a 10-year-old, when my dad [Chris] raced there,” McMurry said. “Two years later for a 7th grade school project about what I wanted to accomplish before attending university, I listed ‘to become the youngest driver ever at Le Mans.’ That’s when this incredible journey began.”
From karting to Formula Skip Barber, Formula Mazda Bondurant, USF2000 and IMSA Lites, the second-generation racer has been on the fast track to Le Mans. He worked his way through the junior open-wheel and prototype ranks in less than 40 months under the direction of driver coach Gerardo Bonilla, a former factory Mazda LMP2 pilot.
Remarkably, McMurry only turned his first laps in a Le Mans-style prototype in December, before jumping in Greaves’ Zytek-Nissan LMP2 entry for a series of tests and his European Le Mans Series race debut at Silverstone in April. There, he earned a fourth place finish with co-drivers Tom Kimber-Smith and Chris Dyson.
Less than two months later, he was at Le Mans, completing his first laps around the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe during the official test day, and inching one step closer to reaching his dream.
Matt has not only been able to lean on his father, Chris, a two-time Le Mans starter, for advice, but also co-drivers Dyson and three-time class winner Kimber-Smith, as well as other mentors such as Johnny O’Connell and Guy Smith, both of which have also stepped on the top step of the podium.
“Probably the most consistent theme was to not do too much too quickly and to incrementally build speed,” McMurry said. “Everyone says this place can bite you and everyone says that it’s a long race and avoiding mistakes is the key.
“So that’s how I approached it, and how the team organized the test. I would do one fuel load of 11 laps, climb out, review video and data while Tom and Chris drove, and then hop back in for another fuel load and more progress.”
McMurry ended up gaining valuable running time — nearly 400 miles — which has given the teenager added confidence heading into the race itself.
“I’m totally ready to do what needs to be done,” he said. “We’ve prepared hard, logged the miles, done night-driving tests, and competed with good results against many of the same teams in ELMS.
“For me personally, I’ll judge my individual performance in the race based on lack of mistakes and good pace. For the team, success is a podium finish. That’s our goal and we think it’s obtainable based on the team’s past performance and based on it’s current make-up.”
In addition to the start record, McMurry could also end up becoming the youngest driver to finish the race, currently held by Gunnar Jeannette from 2000, and to claim a podium result, achieved by Colin Braun in 2007.
Both feats appear to be in the cards, especially considering Greaves’ track record at Le Mans, which includes a class win in 2011 and podium finishes in two of the last three years.
But with his main goal within reach, McMurry is already thinking about the bigger picture, and that’s establishing a long and successful career in the sport.
“It’s sort of strange how everything has evolved in that it’s now more about racing and a career in motorsports, and the records are secondary even though they are what set us on this journey in the first place,” he said.
“I would be disappointed if we didn’t at least eclipse Ricardo Rodriguez’s youngest starter record, but like I said my eyes are on other goals in the sport now. If we get the record trifecta, now that would be very special.”