Longtime sports car racing team owner and automotive dealer Dave Maraj has passed away suddenly.
Maraj, the founder of Champion Motors and the 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning Champion Racing operation, died late Saturday in a boating accident in Florida.
While known in automotive circles for his Porsche and Audi dealerships, Maraj had built one of the most successful teams in North America, which delivered five American Le Mans Series championships as well as overall victory at Le Mans in 2005.
The Pompano Beach, Fla.-based team, which ceased operations at the end of 2008, had long been associated with racing Porsches and Audis in IMSA and World Challenge competition.
It culminated with the operations of Audi’s factory ALMS LMP1 program from 2006-08, after being one of the initial Audi R8 customer teams, which dated back to 2001.
Champion still stands as the most recent American team to have won Le Mans outright.
Maraj, who shifted focus to his passion of sailing in recent years, made a significant impact in the careers of many of his former racing staff, including Brad Kettler, who started his motorsports career at Champion in 1998.
While having been absent from the racing scene for the last decade, Maraj had continued the successful operation of Champion Porsche, which is regarded as the No. 1 Porsche dealer in the U.S.
“All of us at IMSA are shocked and saddened by the news of Dave Maraj’s passing,” IMSA President Scott Atherton said.
“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.”