NEW ULM It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and North Mankato resident Matt Downs is definitely not one to say no to something like this.
Downs and two others will compete in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race next weekend in Le Mans, France. He will share the wheel with Thomas Dagoneau and Rodin Younessi, driving car No. 40. The team will be driving for Boutsen Ginion Racing out of Belgium.
Downs, who's an Optometrist at Carlson-Tillisch Eye Clinics in Mankato and New Ulm, is the son of Dick Downs of North Redington Beach, Florida and Jane Downs of New Ulm.
Downs has been racing since the mid 90s and recently got involved with endurance racing. Next Saturday's event is by far the highlight of his racing career.
"There's no doubt, this is the crown jewel of any endurance racer, the Le Mans," Downs said. "I said what the heck, lets do it and we got hooked up with a team out of Belgium. They're experienced with this type of thing and we're going to utilize their expertise to see if we can compete. They ran the race last year and they finished in the Top 10 so they know what they're doing."
The race begins next Saturday in Le Mans and it is regarded as the premier endurance racing event in the world. The 24-hour race will be televised on the Speed Channel, June 22 and 23. He, Dagoneau and Younessi will all race in stints (basically shifts of about two hours) throughout the full 24 hours. After their stint is done, the drive gets to take about 3-4 hours off, depending on how fast the other drivers complete their tanks of gas.
The car that completes the most number of laps in that 24 hours wins and there are several different classes of cars. Downs and his crew are in the LMP2 Class, a class with 22 entrants.
Downs is a complete stranger to the other two. In fact, none of them have ever raced in the LeMans event, so none of them know exactly what to expect just yet.
Downs did say that he's been training since the middle of winter for this.
"You try to get in shape, because it can be strenuous for long periods of time," Downs said. "You need upper body strength, something to keep the neck and shoulders from hurting. All of the breaking and turning can put a lot of strain on you. That's the part you don't think about working out is your neck."
He also had to learn the track and the car itself. He learned the track by watching YouTube videos and by playing video games on the Xbox. The crew of racers also went over there a couple of days ago to look at the track and study it.
Despite the practice he's had, he's still a work in progress. He knows the odds are against him, but he's not too concerned about that.
"I'm still learning, some of these drivers have done this race 10 times already," Downs said. "I'm still learning, that's for sure. It's a once in a lifetime deal and we're going to see if we can have fun with it."