In 2020 and 2021, Dominique Bastien, a former 24H SERIES class champion, wrote himself into the record books at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was just the latest of a surprisingly rich ‘second career’ for the French-born American…
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba, Eric Teeken, Porsche and Boost Media
What should have been a memorable 24-hour race at the Sebring International Raceway for Dominique Bastien – the closest the Florida resident has come yet to a ‘home race’ in the 24H SERIES – unfortunately already seems to be over. A high-speed shunt during Free Practice has caused a huge amount of damage to the Audi RS 3 the French-born American was set to drive, a suspected bent chassis and a heavily dented 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder all but assuring Red Camel-Jordans.nl’s TCR entry won’t take the start.
If furious efforts by the Dutch team to prepare a borrowed Porsche Cayman don’t come to pass, it’s possible Dominique’s home race will be over before he’s even turned a wheel in anger.
Though his cheery smile in the Sebring paddock suggests otherwise, and though the two-hour drive home is less strenuous than the nine-plus hour Trans-Atlantic crossings he’s used to for these events, Dominique is clearly gutted he may miss his 24th career start in the 24H SERIES (how apropos). Even at a stately 76 years old, he loves his racing.
Born in Dunkirk, Dominique Bastien has been Stateside since he was 17 years old, thereafter building, and successfully expanding, the ‘Specialty Brands of America’ since 1992. So fruitful was the packaged food business, Dominique retired in 2014.
Ironically, and though he wasn’t aware of it at the time, the entrepreneur’s next ‘career’ had gestated more than a decade earlier at the Skip Barber Racing School at Riverside. Dominique had promised to foot the bill for a three-day driving course for his son, Marc. But so tantalizing was the prospect, dad actually took the seat for himself! Don’t worry, Dominique and Marc have since enjoyed countless races together in the Lucas Oil Winter Race Series..
After a few introductory seasons in the Formula Dodge National Championship – a former junior series for IndyCar – in 2004, Dominique, then in his early 60s, took his next step up the motorsport ladder when he entered the Skip Barber National Championship in 2007. Successfully too: Dominique took a maiden win at the season finale at Sebring en-route to 3rd in the ‘Masters’ division; one year later, he’d sealed the Masters’ division crown. Just FYI, that year future IndyCar podium finisher Conor Daly bested future two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden to claim the National Championship.
The Star Mazda Championship beckoned in 2010 and 2011, but by 2013, Dominique was ready to leave the physically battering world of single seaters behind in favour of the no-less competitive arena of endurance racing. Top of the bucket list? The Nürburgring.
“The motivation was to race at the Nürburgring, and as a result I got into GT cars,” Dominique explains. “I spent one full year in 2012 learning the Nürburgring systematically: first track days, then RCN, then VLN. I went to Germany seven times, arriving on the Thursday morning and returning to the United States on Sunday morning. That’s how I got the seat in the Audi Race Experience program. They were impressed with my determination and persistence, if not my speed!”
Unsurprisingly, the habitually modest Dominique does himself a disservice there. An ability to learn and develop meant the French-American went on to compete at the Nürburgring 24 Hours alongside Rahel Frey, ex-Minardi Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong, and three-time Le Mans winner Marco Werner in 2013, and Frey (again), Christian Bollrath and Christiaan Frankenhout in 2014, both times aboard an R8 LMS Ultra. Though the races themselves proved tough for the GT newcomer, Germany’s most famous racetrack did not disappoint…
“As a track, the Nürburgring is in a class of its own,” Dominque continues. “There is nothing like the Nordschleife: nine minutes of non-stop fun and terror!
“As an event, I think of the Nürburgring 24-hours as beautiful chaos that somehow works. Four-car garages, where the mechanics jump over one another and dive under one another; a pit lane that always looks like rush hour; crazy fans who start the big beer celebration four days before the start of the race; and, on the track, the factory GT car that blows by the taxi car with the balloon hanging from the roof.”
With the endurance motorsport bug truly bitten, Dominique was already looking for another new challenge in 2016, away this time – temporarily at least – from his beloved Nürburgring. And so, in January that year, he was on the grid at the Dubai Autodrome for his first-ever experience of the Hankook 24H DUBAI, an event unlike any other he’d experienced…
“You really need to think of the [Hankook] 24H DUBAI in a different way. As an innovation. As a pioneering enterprise. CREVENTIC introduced the Code 60 system to racing in Dubai, and so opened a whole new part of the world to high level racing. And it offers the only big race in January. So, in the scope of racing history, it’s still a work in progress, but it was a big step in the future and a big achievement.”
Dominique’s first part-campaign in the 24H SERIES was, as one might reasonably expect, a subdued one in 2016, with 6th in-class at the Hankook 12H ZANDVOORT his best result aboard a Cor Euser-entered Lotus Evora GT4. This narrowly pipped the 7th he’d achieved one round earlier at Silverstone, on that occasion aboard the team’s BMW M3, a car Dominique already knew all-too well: “the BMW M3 is a great car. Lots of fun. Very predictable. Lots of sliding. I did all my Nürburgring training in 2021 in an M3.”
Two further outings in Dominique’s 24H ‘internship’ would follow in 2017, now with Speedlover aboard a Porsche 911-I Cup (Imola) and a Porsche Cayman GT4 (Barcelona). Ironically, while there aren’t too many memories of the Evora that brought Dominique his best result during that first season – “I forgot about the Lotus!” – he is full of praise for the Porsche 911, the racing weapon now synonymous with his endurance racing career.
"The Porsche Cup 991 is an acquired taste. To be honest, I gave the 911 a go just to get a chance to pass people more often! But I love it. At Le Mans, in a Porsche Carrera Cup support race, I deluded myself into thinking I had finally mastered it. The Porsche 911 RSR is something else: a phenomenal car whose capabilities I am still a very long way from exploiting!”
Indeed, of the 17 24H SERIES rounds Dominique has raced since 2018, only two have been without Stuttgart’s coat of arms on the steering wheel (the sole outliers were the Speedlover Audi R8 LMS Ultra at Mugello in 2019, and the QSR Racingschool Mercedes-AMG GT4 at Spa-Francorchamps later that year). With good reason too. Just two rounds into his association with Porsche, Dominique was a category winner in the 24H SERIES alongside compatriot Phillippe Denes at the Hankook 12H SILVERSTONE. Impressively, four further class podium finishes meant Dominique ended the season as the SPX-class Drivers’ champion in his first full(ish) motor racing campaign since 2008.
2019 though is where, Dominique admits, he really came into his stride as a driver. Alongside seven different co-drivers, and with two different teams, Dominique took three class wins. And while DNFs at Mugello, Spa and Portimão – most of them down to mechanical wear and tear – meant the reigning SPX-class Drivers’ champion dropped to 2nd in the ‘Continents’ standings and 6th in the ‘European’ standings, a significant corner had been turned…
“In 2019, with Andre van Hoof and the Speedlover team, I had a flawless, consistently well-prepared car, excellent teammates and I did my bit. That’s clearly the recipe!”
One year later at the Hankook 12H MONZA, Dominique picked up his fifth win in the 24H SERIES alongside Speedlover teammate – and former LMP2 runner – Gavin Pickering. Impressively, Dominique’s fastest lap during the race had been only three-tenths slower than that of the more experienced Pickering. Not an easy accomplishment at a circuit as fearsomely quick as Monza…
Dominique pinpoints this race as a turning point for his next motor racing challenge: Le Mans.
“My manager Stuart Radnofsky knows everyone in endurance racing. For decades, he’s provided Le Mans accommodation for the teams, the whole gamut, from hotel to small homes to castles. So Stuart got me a seat with Dempsey Proton Competition, for which I will be eternally grateful.”
Step one on Dominique’s ‘Road to Le Mans’ in 2020 – five years after tentative plans to compete at the event were shelved – was getting acquainted with Dempsey / Proton’s Porsche 911 RSR, a 508bp brute compared to the nimbler Cup cars with which Dominique has already been so successful. Acclimation began with unofficial private testing for the Hankook 16H HOCKENHEIMRING in September 2020, and while the home of the Formula 1 German Grand Prix could never replace his beloved Nürburgring – “I did not like the Hockenheimring!” – Dominique nevertheless went on to finish 3rd in-class later than weekend with Speedlover. A one-off run in the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany to get acquainted with La Sarthe followed a few months later ahead of the main event itself on 19-20 September.
Sadly, Le Mans in the Covid, ‘behind closed doors’ era was not the enigmatic debut it could have been. Admittedly, he had more important things on his mind…
“My perspective on Le Mans is limited because I have only experienced ‘Covid Le Mans’, not the 250,000 Le Mans 24H ambience. But for sure, Le Mans is the ultimate in organization, with everything thought through to the last detail and perfect marshalling.
“Le Mans, at first glance does not look like much, but it’s a great track: Indianapolis is a fantastic corner and the Esses separate the men from the boys. I am firmly in the boy category, notwithstanding my age!
“Plus at Le Mans, you feel the racing history like nowhere else. You get goosebumps just walking into the place. For me, the only place that comes close to it is Monza. One of my great experiences in 2020 was taking a walk on the banking.”
Time lost in the pits repairing damage caused by a spinning Luzich Racing Ferrari meant Dominique, Adrien de Leener and Thomas Preining – fitting in the #88 Porsche at the 88th edition of the event – could not complete enough laps to be classified finishers in 2020. One year later proved equally as ‘character-building’, but with Dominique – a endurance race winner in his own right, let’s not forget – more than pulling his weight alongside Lance Arnold and Julien Andlauer, the #88 RSR went on to be classified 42nd overall. A hard-earned achievement at an event as legendarily merciless as Le Mans, as Team WRT’s throttle sensor failure on the very last lap in LMP2 so cruelly demonstrated.
“The goal was top ten and getting under four minutes per lap. It was a realistic goal, given that I had great teammates and, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans mandatory simulator test – all Le Mans drivers must take – I was running 3m 54s, vs. the all-time record of 3m 46s.
“Unfortunately, we ended up not classified and I did a 4:06!
“We got closer in 2021, plus my average lap times went down by and I did a few 4m 03s. Simple math will tell you that I’ll be on pole and on the top step of the podium by the time I am 80!”
As well as ticking another item off the bucket list, Dominique’s start in 2020 simultaneously broke Jack Gerber’s record as the most… seasoned driver ever to compete at Le Mans. His finish in 2021 means 75-year old Dominique also became the oldest driver to go the distance.
That may sound like dabbing with faint praise – it really isn’t, just FYI – and while Dominique believes that the often-unwarranted criticism of ‘gentlemen drivers’ doesn’t need his help, he does admit that, perhaps, his accomplishments at some of the toughest 24-hour events across the globe – Le Mans, the Nürburgring, and yes, even two podium finishes at Dubai – may make sceptics think twice about his fellow Bronze-licenced drivers at the heart of the 24H SERIES.
“Well, the reputation of ‘gentlemen drivers’ is fine as it is and does not need my help. For one thing, gentlemen drivers fund a lot of the racing. For another, there are a lot of fast and competitive gentlemen drivers and I have found top professional drivers to be very supportive of us. Personally, I’ll always remember with gratitude and fondness Marco Werner and Rahel Frey at Audi and Julien Andlauer and Marco Seefried at Dempsey-Proton.
“With that said, and I hope that this doesn’t sound pompous, a lot of people have told me that they have been impressed with, and been inspired by, my performance. So, simply put, the word should be, ‘what the hell, if Dom can do it, I’ll give it a go myself!’ ”
Sadly, back at Sebring, it doesn’t look like Dominique will be adding to his 24-hour tally this weekend. Even with Red Camel’s remarkable efforts to get the newly-acquired Porsche ready, it proves too much to do in too little time.
Though disappointed, Dominique is nevertheless chipper as he bids us a cheery goodbye ahead of his drive home. Not the endurance race he wanted on home turf, but it probably won’t be his last. The man does love his racing, after all, and he has the records to prove it.