The 24 hours of Le Mans is the oldest and most distinguished endurance race for sports cars in the world. The first ever race ran in 1923 near the town of Arnage and apart from war years and a strike in 1936, there has been one every year since.
The 24 hours of Le Mans first ran on the 26th and 27th May. It was held on public roads in Le Mans and the surrounding villages, in the Sarthe region of France. The event was designed to test the driver’s endurance abilities as well as the machines endurance over the course of 24 hours, with the winner having covered the greatest distance in that time.
British, Italian and French drivers dominated the pre-war races, driving the likes of Bugatti, Bentley and Alfa Romeo.
The race resumed in 1949 after a break of 10 years following World War II and the necessary rebuilding of France following the war. In the post war years interest grew in the event with Marques such as Jaguar, Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz and Ferrari regularly competitors at the Circuit de Sarthe.
The history of the event does come with its fair share of tragedy. In 1955 a horrific accident caused the death of more than 80 people, when a car crashed in to the crowd of spectators. Cars at that time were still based on production road cars but these cars were achieving speeds over 200 mph on the Mulsanne, a 5km+ straight.
Ford entered the event in 1966 with the GT40 which dominated the next four years, paving the way for the era of the prototype. Evocative cars like the Porsche 917 and Lola T70 belong to this period too. France were very successful with wins for Matra-Simca and Renault.
Cras had become faster and more powerful. After the fuel crises of the 1970’s Group C was introduced to encourage fuel efficiency and limit power by urging car designers to meet rigid fuel restrictions. This assisted manufacturers in developing more efficient engines and aerodynamics rather than restricting top speed. Porsche dominated with Mercedes Benz, Jaguar and Japanese prototypes from Nissan, Mazda and Toyota all racing during this period.
Two chicanes were introduced to the Mulsanne straight in 1990 following a Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) ruling that no straight should exceed 2km. This eventually addressed the issue of top speed, cars by this stage were regularly exceeding 240mph.
In 1990’s saw the return of the supercar, the rules following production orientated GT cars. Porsche, McLaren, Mercedes Benz and Panoz all developed cars for the GT class at Le Mans. The prototype returned at the end of the decade.
1999 saw Porsche, Audi, Mazda and BMW all competing in the prototype class for top honours. After the event many major manufacturers with drew which increased costs in competing in the event. Remaining was the Audi R8 which they dominated with.
Audi has won the event every year since 2000 except for 2003. The R10 replaced the R8 in 2006 and they continued their success.
There a re 4 classes competing at Le Mans.
LMP1 and LMP2 contain the prototypes and are divided by weight and power.
The GT1 and GT2 class are for the production-based GT cars and are also split by power and weight.
The Audi R10 diesel powered beast demonstrated fuel efficiency which helped sells cars and gave the manufacturer a key advantage in the event.
This year’s event takes place on the 15th & 16th June 2019