Tom Brady interviewed by Jenson Button at Le Mans 2024

Tom Brady at Le Mans 2024: 'To feel the provenance of this race is tremendous'

The NFL goat talks to David Green about backing Hertz Team Jota, why he loves endurance racing and the cars in his private collection

It’s safe to say Tom Brady has presence. Over the race weekend at Le Mans, arguably motorsport’s most legendary race, on a pre-race grid walk packed with past and present world-class racers and celebrities, this retired NFL player still has megawatt celebrity allure. Up and down the grid, everyone wants a selfie with the dashing seven-times Super Bowl champion (or “Lord of the Rings”, as he is often labelled on account of the number of Super Bowl winner rings he has accrued).

He’s here because he’s a big fan of Le Mans: “This race is crazy. Anything can happen,” and because he’s involved with one of the teams on the grid.

The Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963s feature Brady’s name on the rear wing endplates (Photo by Bruno Vandevelde/ Eurasia Sport Images/ Getty Images)

Aptly, it’s one of the best-looking outfits in the pitlane. The Hertz Team Jota is a privateer Porsche team with a car livery designed by Rob Dickinson, founder of the deluxe 911 enhancer, Singer. The car rental company was done proud with Dickinson’s usual flair and attention to detail. Brady’s name graces the car’s rear wing as his eponymous sportswear brand develops apparel for the team.

The team also has some stardust behind the wheel, with former F1 world champion Jenson Button on driving duties. He’s accompanied by fellow Brits Will Stevens, Phil Hanson and Callum Ilott, as well as France’s Norman Nato and Dane Oliver Rasmussen.

Tom Brady poses with the Hertz Team Jota drivers on the grid at Le Mans 2024
Brady with the Hertz Team Jota drivers on the grid of the Le Mans 24 Hours 2024 (Photo by Nick Dungan / Drew Gibson Photography)

Brady, adding to the glamour, brings his trademark positive energy and good nature to proceedings and is excited about the race: “To come all the way over here, feel the provenance of this race and to see that our team is out here competing on the biggest stage is a tremendous experience.”

The NFL star is here with long-time friend and collaborator, American financier Tom Wagner. They became friends as their sons went through school together, and they have since partnered on sports business ventures that include motorsport, NFL and even a pickleball team. On these shores, they have taken a stake in Birmingham City FC, but the recently relegated football team is probably not the best subject to bring up when looking for a positive message for the motorsport outfit at Le Mans.

Tom Brady with Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate Rob Gronkowski celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, February 2021 (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

He may have stopped throwing a ball for money, but it’s clear that his passion for sport burns brightly, and Brady sees parallels between racing and his time in the NFL. In his playing days, he was the point person on the team as the quarterback, much like the driver in the car who takes all the limelight in a racing team. Yet both sports rely heavily on a combined team effort where everyone pulls their weight.

“Everyone brings their expertise and knowledge to what they’ve been focused on their entire life, and when you bring it together, and you put the right pieces of the puzzle together, you create something that’s incredible”, he enthuses.

Brady will have been a highly motivating presence on the grid at Le Mans (Photo by Nick Dungan/ Drew Gibson Photography)

“In sport, not everyone can do everything, you know; we all can play our part. We do our job, we play it really well. You trust the person next to you to do their job. It could be American football or UK soccer or this great sport. It’s about great people coming together with a common goal.”

In the lead-up to the race, they needed that team spirit by the bucketload when Callum Ilot crashed heavily in practice, destroying his car. The team faced “the fastest rebuild in history”, salvaging as much of the chassis as possible and repairing the Porsche 963 with new parts in under 36 hours. It was an incredible display of grit when the process usually takes three weeks. The team was allowed a quick shakedown on a nearby airfield the night before the race, and the car made it to the grid in time for the start of the ‘24 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Porsche 963 of Will Stevens, Callum Ilott and Norman Nato was rebuilt in record time after a crash in practice and made it to the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (Photo by Bruno Vandevelde/ Eurasia Sport Images/ Getty Images)

For Wagner, it’s not just about sporting and engineering excellence; there are financial reasons for getting involved.

“It was the commercial opportunity that we felt Le Mans and the WEC (World Endurance Championship, of which Le Mans is one round) represented,” he tells me. “At one time, it was the most popular race series in the world. When we looked at the rise of motorsport globally over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, WEC had been left behind as it relates to that significant increase in viewership, particularly in the US. That, to us, represented a really interesting opportunity.

Conditions were treacherous for much of the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours (Photo by James Moy Photography/ Getty Images)

“And to be able to do something with a team as accomplished as Jota, which enjoyed enormous success in its class over the last decade, we felt that that was representative of an organisation that was operating at the very highest level. That is something I know is important to us as investors; it’s important to Tom, as he thinks about the businesses and organisations with which he’ll be connected in his post-playing career.”

Brady jumps in: “There are definitely sports that we love and want to be a part of for the rest of our lives, and I feel like sports have impacted me in such a positive way. Look at the way it brings so many different communities together, and I think just trying for us to continue to make an impact and stay competitive. I think sport brings out the best in people, and I think this particular team is so impressive. It’s a great underdog story.”

The underdog label may be self-effacing. Hertz Team Jota became the first privateer team in the new “Hypercar” era (which replaced the top-flight LMP1 class from 2021) to win a race outright at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps event last time out. This victory brought the team to Le Mans with its tail up, eyeing an outright win rather than simply making up the numbers.

Brits Will Stevens and Callum Ilott won the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the WEC round before Le Mans, in their Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963 (Photo by Laurent Cartalade/ Eurasia Sport Images/ Getty Images)

Brady is happy to play his part, even though he is not the main cog in this team. “I love it. I pay attention to everything that we’re doing, and yeah, it’s exciting. You wish you could always be in the driver’s seat; I wish I could play quarterback my whole life, but the reality is it’s time for other people to do those things, too. But to still be involved with it and affiliated with a great team is a great place to be.”

At 6ft 4in (193cm) tall and 16 stone (102kg), Tom Brady is not exactly built for racing cars, and although he has enjoyed karting in the past, the man some people think of as the NFL Goat (greatest of all time) does not see himself competing on track as a second career, as some other professional sportsmen have attempted. And his road car collection emphasises comfort over performance.

“There’s not many vintage cars [in my collection],” he says, referring to classic cars generally rather than the UK definition of a vehicle built between 1919 and 1930. “I’ve got a Tesla Cybertruck, which I love. I have a Rolls-Royce Ghost that I love. And I’ve got a Ford Raptor.”

The latest edition to his garage will bring a little more performance to the stable as he is, unsurprisingly, busy configuring a Singer restoration Porsche Turbo, although speccing the car is an ongoing process, he admits. “We’ve been talking about the colour for the last… well, for a little bit now. So many decisions to make.”

A Singer DLS Turbo at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2023 (Photo by Martyn Lucy/Getty Images)

Brady’s pep talk before the drivers take on the Everest of endurance racing will surely hit all the right notes. He might also prove handy in the pits, it emerges, as he’s apparently an ace at removing wheels. In a series of escalating pranks with his teammate, Matt Cassel, Brady armed himself with a wheel spanner:

“He went a little too far, so I decided to put his car up on blocks and I took all the tyres off. I put them in front of his locker and stole one of the tyres, and he couldn’t find it. He had to get car rides to and from the stadium for three days.”

His competitive spirit shines through when asked if this meant he won the battle. “Of course it did. It ended at that point.”

The #38 Hertz Team Jota of Oliver Rasmussen, Philip Hanson and Jenson Button pits during the 92nd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours (Photo by Bruno Vandevelde/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

In reality, Brady will stay well away from the wheel gun during the race and readily admits, “I’m going to be eating the good food up in the hospitality and enjoying the race.”

Alas, Le Mans 2024 was not the year for Hertz Team Jota. In a race of attrition, during which there were multiple wet and dry periods, it placed a solid yet disappointing (given its victory in the previous round) 8th and 9th.

The Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963s battled on through tricky conditions over the 24 hours to finish 8th and 9th (Photo by Eric Le Galliot/ Eurasia Sport Images/ Getty Images)

But don’t bet against a team with the Brady name on the car and the man himself cheering the team on from the pit wall. They – and he – will be back.

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