Marsh finally finds what he is looking for - the road to Le Mans

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2007, 12:00am

For old-time's sake, Matthew Marsh looked up the musical history of June 1987, the year he attended his first Le Mans 24-hour race. The same time that U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For was about to top the Billboard Hot 100, Marsh was starting his 20-year obsession with the famed French race.

That hit single could have been used as Marsh's own anthem. It's taken two decades and one failed attempt, but the 38-year-old Marsh has finally found his way to Le Mans. It comes through improbable means - a young Shanghainese sponsor, an Italian team who were initially placed on the reserve list and lessons learned from Marsh's earlier attempt to field an all-Hong Kong Le Mans team.

Marsh will compete in the GT2 class at Le Mans on June 16 and 17, as part of the GPC Sport SRL, an Italian team owned by Giampaolo Coppi. He will be joined by two other drivers, Italian Fabrizio de Simone and Carl Rosenblad from Sweden. Marsh's sponsor is Chen Ying, a 34-year-old futures commodities trader who races cars in his spare time and at first questioned how sponsoring a driver would help his brand.

'I don't think there's much benefit for your brand,' Marsh said honestly. 'But you'll have a great time and it's really cool.'

Chen replied. 'Yeah, let's do it.'

It was a completely different method of finding the financial backing. In 2005, Marsh found sponsorship from the Noble Group and decided to make an all-Hong Kong driving team with Darryl O'Young. He planned a series of six-hour races on the European circuit and then wanted to race Le Mans in 2006. However, his application was rejected and Marsh's tenacity was pushed once again.

'Endurance racers, they've got to be able to cope with adversity so they have to be mentally and physically strong,' said Andrew Windeback, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Automobile Association. 'I think [Matthew has] first and foremost dedication, he is a quick driver and I think on the right team, he is a very good team player.'

With Chen's sponsorship, Marsh signed a contract with GPC, who submitted an entry into the 2007 race. However, when the entry list came out, GPC were not among the 55 teams listed, only being listed as second reserves. Marsh had two options: stay with GPC or try to find another team. He stayed.

'I decided not to compromise because I felt Le Mans has been an obsession, but it doesn't mean I should keep making the wrong choices,' Marsh said, referring to his previous attempt.

Marsh's decision was the right one. An American team dropped out and GPC were in. 'We were sure we were going to make it in and Matthew trusted us,' Coppi said.

Marsh, who won the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia title in 2004, first met Coppi three years ago when he and retired Hong Kong driver Charles Kwan teamed up with GPC for a race.

'He did very well for us and since that moment we have been in touch to work together for the Le Mans project,' Coppi said.

Marsh, who hasn't raced since crashing on the first turn in the Porsche series at last year's Macau Grand Prix, is now preparing for testing of the Ferrari 430GT in Italy before going to France for more testing and qualifying. The roof of the car will feature Hong Kong's flag.

Long road

The time in years it has taken Matthew Marsh to get a place in the Le Mans race: 20