The very sad news reached DSC overnight that 2005 Le Mans 24 Hours, and multiple North American Championship-winning team owner Dave Maraj, drowned in a boating accident early yesterday morning.
Maraj, 65 hailed from Trinidad and Tobago and became a hugely successful businessman in roadgoing sportscar sales, in particular through the Champion Motors dealerships.
The company opened a motorsport arm in the mid 1990s and after fairly modest beginnings went on to huge success first with Porsche, and later with Audi.
Champion Racing allianced with Audi from 2000, developing the Audi S4 Competition that would later dominate World Challenge, taking the title in 2001 and 2002, Champion Racing also winning the following year with the later S6.
From there on in the team switched their attentions to the American Le Mans Series with huge success as the de facto Audi factory team in North America, taking Overall and/ or LMP1 class team and drivers Championship titles every year from 2004 through 2008 with first the Audi R8 and then later the Audi R10 TDI. The picture above shows Dave with just a few of the galaxy of stars that competed with the team through their glory years.
There’s little doubt though that the headline achievement was an overall win at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2005 for Tom Kristensen, Marco Werner and JJ Lehto.
In all the team contested 170 races and took 51 overall wins, 53 class wins and a further 82 podium finishes.
That includes the Le Mans 24 Hours overall win, 6 consecutive wins at Petit Le Mans, a win at Sebring and no fewer than 19 Manufacturer, Team and/ or Drivers Championships.
IMSA president Scott Atherton: “All of us at IMSA are shocked and saddened by the news of Dave Maraj’s passing.
“As a team owner in the American Le Mans Series, Dave and his Champion Racing organization were the epitome of professionalism and excellence, as their five series championships and 24 Hours of Le Mans victory will attest.
“Dave was a tremendous competitor and a great friend to all in the paddock throughout his time in our sport. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dave’s family and friends and to all of his associates at Champion Motors.”
Our friend Marshall Pruett managed to speak to long-time Champion technical stalwart Brad Kettler who said of his old boss: “We had 200 people recently come to the Champion Racing reunion and was so beloved by everybody.”
“He loved the idea of racing with Roger Penske and being in the paddock with him. And he’s been working in sailing to put together a race team just the same way. He took a heck of a shot on me, a hill boy from Indiana, and let me flourish. I’m going to miss him.”
Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, also paid tribute:
“Dave Maraj was a key figure in the endurance world, and one of our points of reference. He triumphed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the now legendary Audi R8 and the magnificent trio formed by JJ Lehto, Tom Kristensen and Marco Werner. He also conveyed our values on the American continent. On behalf of the ACO and everyone associated with the organisation, may I address my warmest thoughts and sincere condolences to his family and loved ones at this very sad time.”
The final words here though go to Dave Maraj himself, interviewed by the DSC Editor in 2014 at the launch of David Tremayne’s epic tome chronicling the Champion Racing story:
“I was, and still am, fascinated by the technology, and I love the element of really high-end competition, the push to win was a major driving factor.
“Beyond all of that though the whole effort saw so many people bonded together, it became something really special.
“Of course the business sold cars but it was about so much more than that and the direction it took, with the people we had involved, and yes some of the success too, I really couldn’t be more happy with where it took us all.”
We loved sharing that journey with you Dave, Rest in Peace.