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The 24 Hours of Le Mans – one of our favourite racing events!

24 Hours of Le Mans Bec and Alex

With the Melbourne Grand Prix rounding the corner, we’ve started reminiscing about one of our favourite races and our last visit to the Le Mans track in France (pre-covid of course!)

The ’24 Hours of Le Mans’ is an endurance-focused sportscar race held annually near the town of Le Mans, France.

It is the world’s oldest active endurance car racing event held each June, and this year will mark the 91st instalment of the event. The 24-Hours of Le Mans follows one simple rule: the car that covers the greatest distance in 24 hours is the winner. It is the ultimate endurance test for man and machine. Each year, more than 250,000 enthusiastic spectators flock to 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Circuit

The Circuit is named “Circuit de la Sarthe” and consists of both permanent track and public roads that are temporarily closed for the race. Extensive modifications, mostly for safety reasons, see the track run for 13.6km in total. It initially entered the town of Le Mans, but was cut short for spectator safety which led to the creation of the Dunlop Curve and Tertre Rouge corners (left side of map below). In 1988, a Peugeot WM P88 was timed at 405km/h during the race and two chicanes were also added to the 6-kilometre Mulsanne Straight after the FIA decreed that any circuit could not have a straight longer than 2km in 1990. The changes mean that top speeds today are generally around 330km/h.

Le Mans race track

A historic look at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Now the flagship race of the FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship), the race was first created by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest, with the first race held in May 1923 which ran through public roads. The original plan was for a triennial event with a winner being the car that could go the farthest distance over 3 consecutive races, although this idea was abandoned in 1928. Overall winners were declared for every year depending on who covered the farthest distance by the time 24 hours were up. The early front runners were Bugatti, Bentley, and Alfa Romeo. The race was cancelled in 1936 due to general strikes in France and war in 1939 resulted in a ten-year hiatus.

1949 saw a return to racing following the reconstruction of circuit facilities and renewed interest from major manufacturers. Ferrari gained their first victory with the 166MM which featured an aluminium body and a 2.0 V12 with each cylinder having 166cc. The car had a top speed of 189km/h and could get to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds.

The formation of the World Sportscar Championship in 1953 would see Ferrari, Aston Martin, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar starting to send multiple factory-backed cars to compete for honours, although Ford put their own mark on the race with 4 straight wins in a row from 1966-69 with the GT40. Ford famously only entered the competition after negotiations soured and fell through during a proposed sale of Ferrari to Ford.

Over the years, many manufacturers have managed to take the overall win, while even more have taken class wins. The most successful marque in the history of the race is Porsche, which has taken nineteen overall victories, including seven in a row from 1981-87 and 107 class victories. Audi is next with thirteen wins, and Ferrari follows with nine, also including six in a row from 1960-65.

More recent winners

Since 2000, Audi has dominated the event, winning 13 times in 15 years of participation. Audi and Team Joest have had two hat tricks, the first being in 2000-02. Jaguar has seven wins. In contrast, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, and Ford all won four races in a row, with Bentley recording two additional victories in other years. In 2018, Toyota became only the second Japanese marque to win, following Mazda in 1991. Mazda is also the only company to win with a Rotary engine. After Porsche’s total of 107 class victories, Ferrari has 37, and Aston Martin, Audi, and Chevrolet each have 14.

 

Here’s a few more pics from our last visit, and if you wanted to know more about the race, you can check out their event website here.

24 Hours of Le Mans Bec and Alex race trackLe Mans race cars

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