Watchspotting At The 24 Hours Of Le Mans 2015 Starring Chopard, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Rebellion, And Franck Muller
The 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race is legendary among motorsports enthusiasts, and thus I was overjoyed to have been Chopard’s guest during what is for many the most famous motorsport race in the world.
Among watch enthusiasts Le Mans it also has its place in history, perhaps most notably because it is the place that kickstarted (TAG) Heuer’s career back in 1970.
TAG Heuer’s most interesting watch model is one that has become a legend: the Monaco. And it actually thanks movie star Steve McQueen for its prominent place among automotive-themed sports watches.
In preparing to shoot the cult film Le Mans, scenes of which were shot on location at the 1970 edition of the race, Steve McQueen’s main source of inspiration was his friend Jo Siffert, the Swiss race car legend who in 1969 became the first race driver ever sponsored by a watch brand: Heuer. (TAG, standing for Techniques d’Avantgarde, was added in 1985 as the result of a takeover.)
McQueen insisted on wearing the Heuer Monaco, which had just been launched in 1969, in the film. Perhaps it was McQueen’s influence, or perhaps it was Siffert’s (and maybe it was both), but the Monaco seemed to become the preferred chronograph of the racing and fashion world in the 1970s. Its unique, uncompromising geometry didn’t hurt, either, aiding in kicking off a new trend of shaped timepieces.
The “McQueen Heuer Monaco” (reference number 1133B) is still instantly recognizable. It has since been reissued a few times: in 1998 (limited edition of 5,000 pieces) and in 2003 (slight redesign and outfitted with a stainless steel bracelet comprising square links to echo the bold aesthetics of the case).
And again in 2009 with the Caliber 12 Chronograph and the 40th Anniversary Re-Edition Automatic Caliber 11 Chronograph, a true-to-form reissue in a limited series of 1,000 pieces with a case back “signed” by Jack Heuer and engraved in honor of McQueen. Jack Heuer designed the original Monaco, which was named for the Formula 1 race in Monte Carlo.
At the 2015 edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans, I spotted one on the wrist of 73-year-old Derek Bell. Bell is a five-time Le Mans winner (1975, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987) mostly associated with Porsche during the high point of his career.
Le Mans continues to fascinate makers and wearers of fine timepieces alike. At this year’s event I counted a great number of watch brands in attendance in some way.
Of course, Rolex was most prevalent as the official timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which it has been since 2001.
Rolex was not only visible in all the official signage, but also in the fact that Rolex CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour walked down the track to greet the drivers and peruse the cars just before the official start of the race on June 13. He was in the company of FIA president Jean Todt. Longtime Rolex ambassador Tom Kristensen, who was attending his first race since his official retirement, led the field on its pace lap in his role as honorary Grand Marshal before the race started.
TAG Heuer part deux
As this is TAG Heuer’s “home turf,” so to speak, naturally it had a number of sponsorships present in the race – like the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo hybrid car in the LMP1 class (competing against the winning Porsches), which it announced in 2014 as part of its repertoire of motorsports ambassadorships (see TAG Heuer Touches Down In 2015 Super Bowl Commercial). Nissan has been absent from Le Mans for the past sixteen years.
Max Chilton (center) was one of the drivers of Nissan’s GT-R LM Nismo car number 23 sponsored by TAG Heuer; Chilton is an Armin Strom ambassador and it is not possible to tell what watch he is wearing in the photo.
You may remember Chilton from Formula 1’s ill-fated Marussia team (please see Formula 1 At Hockenheim With Armin Strom, Max Chilton, And The Marussia Team). Car number 23 unfortunately retired after 234 laps.
And TAG Heuer had three watches on wrists during the race: on Chinese-Dutch driver Ho-Pin Tung and Indian driver Karun Chandhock, both friends of the brand competing in the LMP2 class. Nissan placed cars in first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh in this class.
Naturally, though, it was celebrity competitor Patrick Dempsey racing in the LM GTE Amateur class with his Dempsey-Proton Racing team in a Porsche 911 that garnered most of the attention. This team came in second in its class.
Chopard, Porsche, and more
As discussed in Porsche Wins 24 Hours Of Le Mans And Chopard Presents Superfast Chrono Porsche 919 Jacky Ickx Edition, Chopard has been the Official Timing Partner for Porsche Motorsport since 2014. As such, the team’s drivers wore the Classic Racing Superfast Power Control, including eventual rookie race winner Nico Hülkenberg.
Most of the other manufacturer’s teams also have watch brands among their sponsors: Audi (who finished in third) with Oris, and Hublot is a main sponsor for Ferrari, for example. I even saw Franck Muller proudly emblazoned across the car of the Sard-Morand team’s Morgan Evo (car 43) competing in the LMP2 class.
The reason for this seemingly dissonant sponsorship is explainable: the team’s new principal is none other than Jean-François Ruchonnet, who is simultaneously research and development director at Franck Muller. “With the backing of Franck Muller we believe we can attract big companies [as sponsors],” he said.
As the leading FIA WEC privateer team, Rebellion was, of course, present with its own racing team at Le Mans, and in fact unveiled a new car it is calling its “new LMP1 contender.” This team’s cars finished the race despite a tough time during the night.
The Swiss team raced the 24-hour endurance run with two cars; Nicolas Prost, son of four-time Formula 1 champion Alain Prost, was among the team’s drivers. I couldn’t see anyone’s wrist from my seat in the stands, but I’m pretty certain the team would have been wearing Rebellion watches.
Finally, my time at the Sarthe Circuit in Le Mans was over and I headed back out to start my journey home. And who else should I spot but Roger Dubuis CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué enjoying the races himself. Le Mans appears to be some sort of horological meeting point!