Porsche works driver Richard Lietz feels Michael Fassbender is well-prepared for his second Le Mans start next weekend and deserves a better result after his turbulent debut at the event in 2022.
The Irish movie star, who will share Proton Competiton’s No. 911 Porsche 911 RR 19 with Lietz and Martin Rump, has been improving every time he steps in the car, according to the four-time Le Mans class-winning Austrian.
GTE Am’s 21-car field for the category’s final trip to Le Mans is set to be hotly contested, but Lietz feels the combination of Fassbender’s additional experience, Proton’s professionalism as an outfit and the 911 RSR 19 platform puts the trio in with a chance of turning some heads.
More Le Mans/WEC!
Hypercar privateer JOTA drinking from the firehose ahead of Le Mans
LeBron James to be official starter for Le Mans
IMSA's stars – and cars – prepare to take the stage at Le Mans
Since Lietz was originally paired with Fassbender in 2020, Lietz has taken a lot of pride in helping him develop as a driver. Fassbender, he says, is a fast learner, who takes feedback and advice very seriously.
“The main reason that I am doing this is because he is a good guy,” Lietz told RACER. “He loves racing so much, and even if this project ends, he will continue. He is addicted. From the beginning, I have told him everything I know. Spending time with him at circuits is a pleasure, it’s like a good weekend with friends. Like racing when I started.
“And this year, with the factory program in GTE over, this has become my main program and I am looking for big results.”
For evidence of his improvement, look no further than his performances at the ELMS pre-season test and race weekend at Barcelona in April.
In the European Le Mans Series Prologue, he set a time 0.8s off Proton owner/driver Christian Ried in the team’s sister No. 77 RSR. It was an impressive feat considering the enormous gap in experience. Then in the race weekend proper, he qualified sixth in the 12-car GTE class, with a lap just 0.4s off the pole time, before putting in a strong performance during the race.
“Barcelona (the opening round of the ELMS season) was a good start,” Lietz continued. “He did everything he had to do, I was like, “f*** we can fight for a poduim!” Then we were unlucky with an LMP3 (Rump was hit with an hour to go, costing the car multiple laps). I hope we can get at least one this year, he deserves it.”
Last year, the difference in attention and pressure for Fassbender between the ELMS race weekends and Le Mans was stratospheric. Clearly, ELMS weekends will never attract the number of eyes that Le Mans does, but at his Le Mans debut, there was a huge spotlight on him individually. “He couldn’t walk five paces without being bothered,” Lietz said.
While Fassbender’s Proton Porsche did make it to the finish, the race didn’t go to plan. Along with Matt Campbell and Zach Robichon, the finished 51st overall and 16th in class after an incident-filled race.
In 2023, Lietz hopes it will be different. With the major headlines all centered on the centenary celebrations and the new-look Hypercar class, Fassbender is sure to see a drop off in the level of attention. This will allow him to focus on the race in a way that he couldn’t last year.
“Last year the pressure got to him,” Lietz admitted. “He wasn’t himself during the week. My goal is to ensure he knows that it doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s Le Mans, it’s the 100th anniversary, there are so many superlatives, but it’s just a race. There’s no need to get more nervous. The problem is Le Mans is such a long event, it’s easy to get tired and nervous before the race starts.
“Everything that keeps the attention off us helps us. Last year he couldn’t even put his glasses on without five cameras filming him. He couldn’t use the toilet without people wanting a picture. At some point, you have to realize he’s just a normal person.
“He’s a racer that wants to perform. He’s very competitive.”