SM: When you’re dominant, you’re not racing anyone else, you’re racing the track, and that’s what’s happening with Toyota this year. Every so often in racing it happens that one team is really dominant and nobody can touch them, and this year, that’s Toyota. Back in 1994, we were really dominant and in a similar position. We’d won the 24 Hours of Daytona by 20 laps, and then followed that up with winning Sebring by 7 laps. We were ahead of the field, and that’s where Toyota is going into the 24. Toyota isn’t really facing any competition that can match its speed – so they won’t be racing the competition, but rather, Toyota is racing against LeMans, the track itself.
Editor: That’s very true, in an endurance race, just finishing the race is an accomplishment. As the saying goes, ‘To finish First, first, you must finish.”, right?
SM: Right. I’ve always said of endurance races, “The Car Is the Star”, with more than one person driving, it isn’t about the driver anymore, it comes down to how good the car is. In some ways, it’s more challenging- you’re racing yourself. Toyota will be pushing the car to its limits here, and so dominant as they’ve been, it’s their race to lose.
Editor: Had the team been planning to go to LeMans that year from the getgo, or was that a spur of the moment thing?
SM: No, actually, going to LeMans was a bit of a surprise – We’d been so successful that season, we reckoned we had a shot at LeMans, and so we figured, why not go for it! So Nissan got the budget together to send us to LeMans.
Editor: As you said, Nissan’s decision to go to LeMans in 1994 was a bit last minute, do you feel like that presented the Nissan team with any challenges other teams might not have faced? Would you have changed anything on the car if you’d had more time?
SM: Certainly – if we’d had more time, we’d have done a different aero treatment for the bodywork. The car was set up for racing in the USA, on road courses where you need a lot of downforce. That meant we had more drag than some of the other teams, but we still didn’t have a problem hitting 200 at 4 different places on the track… in a car setup for grip.
Editor: The rules were also slightly different than you were expecting, too, weren’t they?
SM: When we arrived in France, were expecting to race under American LeMans rules, and when we arrived, we found we’d be racing under the French LeMans rules, and the GTP class was added and ran at the same time – that added more traffic to maneuver around, and more people to drop oil on the track, go off, all that.
SM: Exactly, we’d have probably done something similar to the McLaren Longtails. Considering that we were running a high-grip car on one of the fastest tracks in racing, we did really well under the circumstances. The car performed well the majority of the race, until Sunday morning, when we broke a camshaft. Swapping it out took only 20 minutes before we went back out, but that still cost us time. If the camshaft hadn’t broken, we might’ve taken 3rd, or at least 4th overall.
Editor: It’s not winning, but either way making the podium would’ve been a great result.
SM: We finished 5th overall, and just finishing the 24 is an accomplishment, but we did win our class.
Editor: As a 24-hour race, this also means the car ran at night. Is it harder running in the dark?
SM: Actually, you’d be surprised that it’s only dark a few hours during the race. At that time of year, the sun doesn’t set til 10-11pm, and rises around 5-6am, so you really aren’t in darkness for long.
SM: It’s more fun than Monaco – there’s so much more opportunity for overtaking, it’s one of the longest tracks in all of racing at over 8 miles, and one of the few courses that’s gorgeous scenery for the entirety. LeMans officials provided me with a caravan (or camper, as we say in the US), but the trick was that both times I ran LeMans, 1990 and 1994, someone broke into my caravan and swiped my racing suits and helmet.
While his professional racing career is over, Steve never really stopped driving fast, continuing to do stunt driving appearances, test performance cars for magazines like Road & Track and still occasionally takes the 75 out to select race events. This August, Steve Millen will be behind the wheel of the #75 300ZX Twin Turbo (Chassis #7) at Weathertech Laguna Seca Raceway the 2018 Monterey Historics, highlighting Nissan as this year’s featured marque.
We’ll be posting updates as we revive our LeMans veteran racecar from its slumber and get our 600-1100hp monster ready to race once again.
Wanna drive the #75?
Get behind the wheel Saturday, 6/16/2018 at The Petersen Automotive Museum, for the Michelin 24 Hours Forza Challenge. Set a laptime in the #75 or any other LeMans racecar for a shot at winning an Xbox One X and some other sweet prizes, and thank you to our friends at The Petersen Automotive Museum for playing host.
Whether you want to make your classic 300ZX faster, add more power to your modern 370Z, get more torque from your VR30DDTT Infiniti Q60 or add a 3in lift to your truck, the performance experts at STILLEN can help you do it. Call us today at (866) 250-5542, chat Live at STILLEN.com or stop by the showroom during regular business hours.
Thanks for reading, See you next time!