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Opinion

Why the outgoing modern day Le Mans 'garagiste' deserves to be celebrated

OPINION: The Glickenhaus squad will not return to the World Endurance Championship's Hypercar class next year. And while the news may not have significant consequences for the championship, the plucky privateer's time in the series deserves to be celebrated

#708 Glickenhaus Racing Glickenhaus 007: Romain Dumas, Ryan Briscoe, Olivier Pla

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

Glickenhaus driver Olivier Pla took me to task for describing his employer as a garagiste a while back. It seems it’s a pejorative term for the French. Not so for we Brits. Quite the contrary: there’s something celebratory about it. And that’s why we should rejoice in the successes of the Glickenhaus Racing squad now that it has told us that it is bowing out of the World Endurance Championship and its Hypercar class.

I hope that in times future we’ll talk about the American entrant — with a team run out of Italy — in the same breath as other plucky privateers that built and ran their own machinery to take on the ultimate challenge in endurance racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours. I’m referring to the likes of Alain De Cadenet’s tiny operation based in a mews garage near the heart of London and Pescarolo Sport, like Glickenhaus teams good enough to get on the podium with chassis of their own construction. Or at least substantially reworked versions of someone else’s machinery.

That last point is why I think team founder Jim Glickenhaus isn’t quite correct to describe his operation as a privateer. He’s only half right.

The words privateer and garagiste, and independent too, are interchangeable for some. But to me the distinction between a privateer and a garagiste lies in who builds the car. Kremer was the first privateer home at Le Mans in 1983 with an off-the-shelf Porsche 956. Glickenhaus matched that feat in 2022 as a garagiste because he built his own Le Mans Hypercar, the 007, and commissioned a bespoke engine for it to boot.

Glickenhaus is part of a proud sportscar racing tradition that includes the DeCads that went into battle in the 1970s and early ‘80s and then the cars built and run by Le Mans legend Henri Pescarolo’s team in the 2000s and into the 2010s. The race has never just been about big manufacturers, sometimes even up in the rarefied atmosphere of the first few rows of the grid. I hope it never will be.

PLUS: The great Le Mans garagistes that challenged factory might

For every garagiste success story at Le Mans there are probably three, four or even more tales of indifference: cars that flattered to deceive, didn’t live up to their potential or just simply weren’t fit for purpose. But the three-season story of Glickenhaus in the WEC truly was a success.

Glickenhaus' Le Mans podium in 2022 is a fine achievement regardless of the lack of depth in the top class that year

Glickenhaus' Le Mans podium in 2022 is a fine achievement regardless of the lack of depth in the top class that year

Photo by: Nikolaz Godet

Even if the top class was in a rebuild with new regulations when Glickenhaus collected its biggest accolades, its achievements shouldn’t be played down. Jim and his team, everyone at Podium Advanced Technologies and Joest Racing, can walk away with their heads held high. No one should scoff at a Le Mans podium however many cars were on the grid in class. We don’t look down at those garnered by De Cadenet and Pescarolo against limited factory opposition.

Glickenhaus might have ended up with two Le Mans podiums: it came close on debut in 2021 with a brand new car with just two races under its belt. And then there are its other achievements: three more bits of silverware collected in regular WEC races and a couple of pole positions.

One of those came at Monza last year, a race Glickenhaus could and arguably should have won. On a day that its 007 was in the ascendent, the team was coming back from a penalty and looked to have more than a fighting chance of beating the Toyotas when a brand new turbocharger smokily gave up the ghost.

Glickenhaus arguably had it easier than De Cadenet and Pescarolo thanks to rules designed to slash the costs of entry into the highest echelons of sportscar racing. But that is to overlook what it achieved this year at Le Mans. Big Jim G probably sums it up best when he says, “we beat the likes of Porsche and Peugeot - it really doesn’t get any better than that”.

Without Glickenhaus would the class even have got off the ground? A pair of Toyotas against an old ORECA P1 with an Alpine badge nailed to the front and a snazzy blue paint job wouldn’t have been much of a launchpad for the glorious era we are entering right now

The team might have got on the podium when the manufacturers weren’t out in force, but it still finished in the top six when they were. And its sixth and seventh-place finishes this year were ahead of the two marques he mentioned, which happen to have a combined total of 22 Le Mans wins.

Peugeot and Porsche have joined the WEC along with Ferrari and Cadillac since Glickenhaus last made it onto the podium. BMW, Alpine and Lamborghini will show up next year, and Aston Martin the year after, so you might contend that the series doesn’t need the likes of Glickenhaus, the ByKolles-run Vanwall team and the Italian Isotta Fraschini brand that should be part of the show in 2024. The argument goes that if you’ve got the big guns, then you don’t need anyone else.

But I reckon it does, and for two reasons. The first I have already mentioned: the garagistes have pretty much always been an integral part of sportscar racing in general and Le Mans in particular. The other is that the while the WEC doesn’t necessarily need them right now, it one day undoubtedly will. Just like it did when the Hypercar division replaced LMP1 for 2021. History has a habit of repeating itself.

Glickenhaus was one of the first marques to commit to the LMH class that has rejuvenated sportscar racing, and will have a special place in history as a result

Glickenhaus was one of the first marques to commit to the LMH class that has rejuvenated sportscar racing, and will have a special place in history as a result

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Without Glickenhaus would the class even have got off the ground? A pair of Toyotas against an old ORECA P1 with an Alpine badge nailed to the front and a snazzy blue paint job wouldn’t have been much of a launchpad for the glorious era we are entering right now. So when the history books are written, we need to remember that Glickenhaus was there from the start. Something that has largely been forgotten is that Jim was in fact first to stick his hand up and commit to building an LMH.

The rules that encouraged him to do so, the performance windows that are such an important component of the cost reduction and the strict limits on development, perhaps should have kept Glickenhaus in the game longer. But the law of the jungle means the little guy is always going to be up against it when it comes to staying on terms with the big manufacturers.

Besides, Jim and his company have other fish to fry. He’s becoming a bona fide manufacturer building his 004 sportscar that we’ve seen in its ‘C’ racing spec at the Nurburgring 24 Hours and his off-road Boot under the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus banner. Perhaps in the future, if Glickenhaus comes back, we won’t regard him as a garagiste.

But he was just that during his three-season WEC adventure with the 007. And I guess we’ve got Enzo Ferrari to blame for the description, which is somehow fitting given that the Italian manufacturer was the one marque Jim really wanted to go up against.

Some 60-plus years ago, the Old Man famously described the British teams increasingly becoming a thorn in the Scuderia’s side in Formula 1, the likes of Cooper and Lotus, as garagistes, and also assemblatore. It was intended as a disparaging remark, make no mistake.

The term Ferrari intended to be derogatory was adopted as a kind of badge of honour by the British motorsport industry, more usually used in its French rather than Italian form. That explains my use of the word garagiste to describe Glickenhaus Racing and why I couldn’t make any apology to that man Olivier.

Glickenhaus will be missed in the WEC next year

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Glickenhaus will be missed in the WEC next year

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