Feature News Richard Craill June 10, 2024 (Comments off) (405)

Walden gets late Le Mans call up for ‘wildest ever’ driving opportunity

A last-minute call-up for an incredible driving opportunity will see Aussie racer / team owner Garth Walden go from running his race team at The Bend in South Australia, to racing at Le Mans within the space of three days.

The fact that he didn’t even know it was coming adds to the quick turnaround for what could prove to be the international racing trip of a lifetime for the Sydney-based racer.

Walden received a late Saturday evening call-up from France to join RLR M Sport’s Michelin Road to Le Mans team, for the pair of one-hour races that serve as the key supports to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend.

Walden, a bronze-ranked driver with extensive GT, Touring Car and Sports Car experience, will pair with Mexican young-gun Ian Aguilera in a Ligier JS P320 LMP3 entry amidst the 58-car Road to Le Mans grid.

To get there alone will be near 20,000 Kilometre odyssey, that saw Walden go from running a four car Radical Cup Australia team at The Bend to sitting on a plane in Sydney within 24 hours.

Walden plotted out the whirlwind process that led to his impromptu Le Mans debut.

“We had just won the first Radical Cup Race at The Bend and were out with the team (Garth Walden Racing) in Tailem Bend having a Pizza when the phone rang on Saturday night,” he explained.

“My phone rang at about 9:00pm local time, which isn’t unusual when you’re away racing. What was a surprise was that it was RLR asking if I could be in Le Mans by Wednesday – which aside from being an incredible opportunity also offers its own share of logistical challenges when you’re on the other side of the world.

“It was a lot to take in! I told them I needed to get through Sunday’s racing before confirming with them, fortunately we came through with four straight cars and a podium finish so the decision to go came then. Really, I couldn’t say no.

“Once I decided to do it there was a mad rush to sort flights – let alone having to get back to Sydney to grab the passport and all my gear.

“There was a lot to do in a short space of time but it’s absolutely worth it for this chance to live a dream and race at Le Mans.” 

As well as the logistics involved, Walden also had to plan around the fact that his GWR team has cars running in Porsche Carrera Cup Australia this weekend in Darwin.

“I rang (driver) Dylan O’Keeffe to make sure he was good with me not being there – he was jealous he couldn’t come!

“The guys that run his car have got him sorted so I’ll be watching from afar which will be strange, but it’s an opportunity I couldn’t miss and they all understand and support it.

“These things don’t come around often, especially at this point in your career, so I’m excited. I’ve never been to Le Mans so that’s pretty exciting and the 20-hours of travel to get there will be spent watching onboards, looking at data and track maps and trying to understand which way it all goes.

“I’ve done a lot in my motorsport journey, but this is the wildest thing I’ve ever done in my career, especially in such a short space of time.

“But you have to grab these opportunities when you can because at some point they’ll stop being offered, so I’m going to fully embrace it.”

The trip will be Walden’s first to Le Mans however won’t be his debut steering an LMP3 car – having made his debut in the class in the 2019-2020 Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of The Bend in January 2020.

There, driving with Peter Paddon and American Austin McCusker, he finished fourth in LMP3.

Walden has a lengthy career in the sport and continues to mix high-level driving with operating Garth Walden Racing, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Walden currently shares a RAM Motorsport / GWR Australia Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Mike Sheargold in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia Championship, the pair leading the Am driver and team championships following the first two rounds of the season.

He also paired with M Motorsport to finish fifth in the Pro-Am class in this year’s Repco Bathurst 12 Hour.

GWR’s Peter Paddon leads the Radical championship while Dylan O’Keeffe sits sixth in the Carrera Cup championship after two rounds, Pro-Am driver Dean Cook third in his class.

GWR also fielded a multi-car team in the Bathurst 6 Hour earlier this year, finishing second.

The Road to Le Mans event kicks off Wednesday with a pair of free practice sessions, with qualifying and Race 1 on Friday.

The second race will be the curtain-raiser to the 92nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Saturday, 15 June.

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