Michael Fassbender: Road to Le Mans

Things will get serious in the summer of 2022: Together with a team from Porsche Motorsport, Hollywood star Michael Fassbender is busy getting fit for Le Mans – where, as an amateur driver, he plans to measure himself against the pros in the ultimate racing event. You can follow the actor’s road to Le Mans in a special Porsche YouTube series. Definitely worth a watch.
Text Patricia Jell
Photo Tom Ziora

The big moment happens in the final race of the season. At the Autódromo Interna­cional do Algarve in Portimão, the number 93 Porsche 911 RSR finishes in second place. For the team, it’s the first podium finish in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). But more importantly, it’s the moment when a dream becomes a real possibility.

Because that’s what it all started with: a dream – a motorsport-crazed amateur’s dream to be ready for the race of all races, for Le Mans, in the shortest possible time. Most people probably know the driver, but not from the racing circuit. It’s Michael Fassbender, Hollywood star, possibly one of the best actors of his generation – and a car and racing enthusiast to boot. At his side: a team of drivers, engineers, mechanics and racing professionals. Together with Porsche, Fassbender is ­currently training to be able to hold his own at Le Mans. “I can’t think of any other sport where you can compete with top professionals as an amateur. It’s as if you could play at Wimbledon. Or run against Usain Bolt at the World Championships,” Fassbender says. But the road to Le Mans is a rough one. The forty-four-year-old and his Porsche team worked hard for their moment in Portugal – ­committed, disciplined and undiscouraged by setbacks.

That moment when a dream becomes a possibility.

Porsche is documenting this journey on film. The result is the YouTube series Road to Le Mans, which has proven to be a minor sensation – and not just in the motorsport scene. If you want to understand where team spirit comes from, why motorsport is so fascinating and what people can achieve through sheer will, it’s all there to see on YouTube. Because Road to Le Mans is not so much the story of a racing-obsessed Hollywood star as it is  the story of a team of enthusiasts who grow together and come ever closer to their goal in the process. Fassbender and his teammates, Porsche works driver Richard Lietz and driving instructor Felipe Fernandez Laser, work closely together, kilometer by kilometer, practice by practice, race by race, through ­accidents, defeats and moments of despair, to achieve a dream that has long since become a shared desire.

In Belgien ist das Podium endlich zum Greifen nah, geht aber doch noch verloren – in der letzten Runde, wegen eines defekten Funkgeräts.

Where the story of this dream begins? Hard to say. Perhaps decades ago in Heidelberg, when Michael Fassbender, then three years old, leaves Germany with his family to move to Ireland – in a large, green truck that still fascinates him when he thinks about it. “I always wanted to sit on my dad’s lap in the car and steer,” he recalls. Or maybe it begins when ­Fassbender, already famous at the time, has a chance encounter with fellow actor Patrick Dempsey, who races Porsche cars and helps establish contact with the sports car manufacturer. By the time Porsche invites Fassbender to drive the record-­breaking 919 Hybrid Evo at MotorLand Aragón in the summer of 2018, the story is already in motion. As a next step, he completes a training course at the Porsche Track Experience, the entry-level program for motorsport enthusiasts, with practice sessions in a 911 GT3 Cup. He then moves up to the Porsche Racing Experience, where he is coached through three successive levels and competes in the Porsche Sports Cup Germany.

This isn’t some Hollywood hero trying to be cool, but a real person working hard on realizing his dream.

In the 2020 season comes the big step up into the European Le Mans Series. The team completes six four-hour races in the ELMS in their first season together  – and is immediately ­confronted with a jarring experience. Fassbender, in his 500-plus-hp Porsche 911 RSR, has to swerve to avoid an LMP3 prototype at the end of the start-finish straight on the Formula 1 circuit at Le Castellet and hits the tire piles. Still, this does not dissuade him from his dream. In a later race, he is involved in another accident when, through no fault of his own, he loses control in the qualifying, spins, hits the track barrier without braking and has to drop out.

But he always keeps on going, keeps on training, keeps on practicing, practicing, practicing. With a work ethic that probably also distinguishes him as an actor: “I hate it when something goes wrong at work because I’m not prepared.” So he keeps going, on and on. Until he succeeds. All of this, the struggles, the defeats, the well-deserved victories, can be seen in Road to Le Mans, and perhaps that’s why the series is so gripping. You’re not watching some pampered, self-indulgent Hollywood hero trying to be cool, but a real person working hard on himself to achieve something that means so much to him.

The work ethic:

keep on going,
keep on training,
never give up.

And so Fassbender is back on the grid for the 2021 ELMS season, driving a ­Porsche 911 RSR for the Proton ­Competition ­customer team in the LM GTE class, the GT category of the endurance series. He completes several four-hour races in Barcelona, Spielberg, Monza, Spa-­Francorchamps and Portimão – and again experiences highs and lows. The start of the season in Spain was overshadowed by initial difficulties, in Austria the team struggled with bad weather, and the race in Italy was a complete disappointment. In Belgium, on the other hand, the podium is finally within reach – but is lost on the last lap due to a faulty radio. It takes a lot not to lose hope in moments like that. But then comes the win in Portimão.

A podium place. All that hard work has finally paid off. And it’s not just Fassbender who has made progress over all these months and in all these races. “We’ve all grown tremendously as a team,” says Sebastian Borowski, who oversees the project from Porsche’s side. And how do you do that as a team, how do you help someone become a Le Mans-level race car driver? The most important thing, Borowski says, is to trust in each other. “And Porsche has an extreme amount of  experience in endurance racing, so we know: In a race like Le Mans, you’re always confronted with situations that you can’t predict. That makes it important to train the driver step by step so he can gain as much experience as possible.” For the driver, that means: “Be patient. One day you’ll be ready.”

That day will probably come in the 2022 season. The team has got Le Mans in its sights. Then the dream could finally come true. One thing is certain already: We’ll be watching.

The first three seasons of the YouTube series Road to Le Mans show the entire story from the first Porsche Sport Cup race at the Hockenheimring to the European Le Mans Series race at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. You can watch the current season here.

→ See more footage from Fassbender's racing career and numerous other stories in the ramp #56.

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