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At the launch of Tag Heuer Monaco 80s Special Edition in France we got the chance to chat to former race driver and Hollywood actor Chad McQueen about his dad, his need for speed and how the Le Mans 24-hour race has lost its edge.
What does the Le Mans 24 hour race mean to you?
This is one of, if not the biggest race in the world. It’s a spectacle. I’ve always had a fascination with Le Mans. I was going to take part one year, but I had an accident and never got to do it. It’s a mythical place for me.
You came here as a kid with your dad, Steve McQueen, what lasting memories do you have of those times?
It was so dangerous when I was here as a kid. During the filming of the movie [Steve McQueen’s Le Mans] British driver David Piper lost part of his leg in an accident. He lost control and the car went over the guardrail, but luckily the fuel tank was torn off before it came to a halt. It landed in the middle of a field and I remember my dad took me to see it as he wanted to show me what can happen in this race. Seeing that as a ten year old was pretty brutal.
How has your connection with Le Mans shaped your life?
Well, I made a film about it [Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans] that was at the Cannes film festival. My dad shot ten miles of film out here in Le Mans and a producer found it all. And we found 420 reels of unseen footage that you’d never seen before. Great footage that was racing down stretches of track that just aren’t there anymore.
What do you think about the current track layout?
I miss the Mulsanne straight. Now it has a chicane in there so cars have to slow down. They’ve pretty much defanged the whole place. There used to be a hump at Mulsanne corner that was pretty steep. It’s where Mark Webber took off and landed on his roof in 1999. So yeah, they defanged it. Talk to most of the drivers out here though and they want to drive the full track.
Do you think 'defanging' has taken something away from Le Mans?
I think when you take away the danger of motorsport, it’ll still be a dangerous sport, but now it’s almost too safe. With the improvement of cars and the gravel traps, I don’t think you necessarily need to slow down things like the Mulsanne straight. The grip levels of these vehicles when cornering is already incredible. I’m a big fan of history, and I believe some things – like the track – should be left alone. I’m sure a lot of drivers would argue otherwise though!
So you’re not a fan of F1’s halo then?
I mean, to me it looks like when you wear a sandal.
As a former racing driver are their any tracks that you'd love to tried out?
Well, I’ve done most of them. COTA (Circuit of the Americas) is one I’d like to try as it looks fun. Out in the desert where I live in Southern California, we have something called The Thermal Club. It’s on Billionaire’s Row, but it’s five miles of private track. They have all these houses that are set back and in a high position about 15ft from the track, and you can be out in your garden enjoying a barbecue whilst watching the cars below. I still get out there and play with Porsches when I can, but I tend to watch my son [Chase McQueen] race now.
Have you always had an affinity with Tag Heuer?
While we were filming I was like wow, I didn’t realise at the time that my dad had been studying Jo Siffert (Swiss race driver) and he always wore a Tag Heuer. So dad based the character of Michael Delaney (Le Mans) on Jo. But back then the watches weren’t selling well at all, so Tag Heuer decided to give them to the movie and it took off. I had my first for 18 years, model number 0001 and they were only going to do 5,000 originally, but the movie made it big. My kids and wife wear them. Everywhere I look at this race weekend people are wearing a Tag Heuer Monaco – it’s iconic.
Do you plan to complete the set with the other five Monaco special editions?
I’m not really a watch collector, but I love things that look great and are functional. And this is exactly what the Tag Heuer Monaco is. I do everything with this watch, it’s a part of me. I do like the 80s edition one though, that racing red looks awesome.
END OF INTERVIEW