Mark Bonner reveals how his love for motor racing sparked a new hobby
I read somewhere that when asked what he likes to do most, David Hockney replied: ‘I’d like to paint a door, with a big brush. One flat, shiny colour. Red, that’s my favourite.’
Having been a designer for 30 years now, I still find that what gets me fired up is making things. In my day job, we make stuff all day long, but I’m more of a conductor than a soloist these days. I love nothing more than rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty, and I’m on a quest to get this simple, tactile pleasure back through my passion for motor racing.
In 2002, I went to the 24 Heures du Mans race in France. I fell in love with it and have been back for every race since. It’s an epic test of engineering and human endurance, and an incredible assault on the senses. I could write a whole magazine about how visceral it is, how beautiful the cars have always been, and the incredible courage required to drive for 24 hours without stopping at speeds approaching 400km/h on a ‘green’ circuit carved out of Route Nationale in rural France. How the smell of trackside BBQs and Grand Marnier crêpes becomes irresistible at twilight, what it’s like to watch from atop the famous Ferris wheel as the cars snake through the Ford chicane leaving trails of streaking headlights, or sunrise at Mulsanne corner watching the brake discs glowing red hot as they scrub off speed into this famous corner from a nearly three-mile-long straight. There’s also so much history: Steve McQueen’s film, the crash that killed 48 fans in 1955, the Gulf Porsche 917, the classic posters, and of course, the drivers themselves.
My love affair with this place and its race led me to buy a house nearby. In fact, I drew a 30-minute radius around the track on a map and settled on a place situated right in the heart of Le Mans folklore, between a tiny town called Teloché (where the Porsche 917s were race prepared in 1971) and La Chartre sur le Loir (home of the iconic Hotel de France, which among a slew of famous names, hosted John Wyer’s victorious GT40 teams). Back in the day, the participating teams used to drive their cars to the race on public roads. In fact, they drove right past our house.
One June evening in 2008, while I was watching the mechanics in the pit lane at Le Mans working on more modern cars through my binoculars, it hit me. The commentator was referencing my favourite race car, winner of Le Mans from 1966 to 1969: Ford’s incredible GT40. I decided that I was going to build my own.
While working as President of D&AD in 2015, I promised myself I was going to learn to be a car mechanic in the evenings, just for fun. I looked for night school classes until someone told me that I might stick out just a bit at the local college, given my age and my day job.
Last year, I learned a lot restoring an old Honda motorbike and one day soon, a replica 1967 Ford GT40 will be delivered to my garage in France in around 2,500 individual parts. They say it’ll take 800 hours to assemble, give or take. My wife thinks I’m mad, and you might think the same, but some day, I’ll drive it along that road from my house to the track, just like Chris Amon did before he won the race in 1966. How hard can it be? I might even do a David Hockney and paint it red.
This vintage racing print from Bonner’s collection shows the number 6 Ford GT40 MKI in the pits at the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Co-creative director of GBH London and 2015’s D&AD President, Mark Bonner, reveals how his love for motor racing sparked a new hobby