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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Downs finishes Le Mans

  • Matt Downs, a 1991 Butterfield-Odin High School graduate and currently an optometrist in Mankato finished racing in the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race on June 23.
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  • Matt Downs, a 1991 Butterfield-Odin High School graduate and currently an optometrist in Mankato finished racing in the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race on June 23.
    Downs drove as part of the Boutsen Ginion Racing team.
    Including Downs, the team consisted of three rookie drivers and finished the race 33 out of 56 teams.
    Downs and his rookie racing teammates took an average of two hour stints behind the wheel. Matt said he got behind the wheel five times covering all hours of the day and night. That included the middle of the night when he got into the car at 3:30 am.
    It was difficult to get some sleep with the adrenalin flowing, but it was something he had to try to do. "It was tough to sleep, but I got an hour or two. A problem was that I was sleeping 100 yards away from the track," Matt said.
    This year's endurance race suffered its first driving fatality since 1997. Danish driver Allan Simonsen, 34, crashed just 10 minutes after the start of the race, spinning out and skidding into the barrier at a place where cars typically reach speeds of up to 105 mph. Simonsen died at the hospital soon after he arrived there according to race officials.
    Matt saw the crash on the monitor, "I knew it was bad, but I didn't know he had died for some time."
    Matt said that family and friends tried to keep the news of Simonsen's death away from him. When he found out he thought, "There was a moment when I had to sit down and think is this worth continuing with?"
    The weather conditions were difficult as high winds and heavy rains plagued the race. "The course is so big - more than eight miles - that it would be raining in one section and sunny in other sections. I've never had to race in conditions like that."
    Matt said he hit speeds of 175 mph on the track, but then would have to aggressively down shift to make the next turn.
    "I'm back at work, but my mind still drifts back to Le Mans. When our car crossed the finish line the passion I felt was overwhelming," Matt said.
    The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world's oldest active sports car race in endurance racing. It was first held in 1923 and is run near the town of Le Mans, France.
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