Since its inception in 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans have risen to become one of the world’s most prominent annual racing events.
Nicknamed the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency,” Le Mans sits on a pedestal above all other races in endurance racing.
The most prestigious race event globally, which is considered the most important leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsports, Le Mans has continued to wow motorsports enthusiasts.
The race has also tested the limits of racers, the mechanical durability of racing vehicles, and the racing teams’ preparation.
The success of the prestigious endurance racing events inspired the rise of other 24-hour racing tournaments such as the 24 Hours of Daytona and 24 Hours Nürburgring.
This article briefly covers the 24 Hours of Le Mans history, the humble beginnings of the prestigious racing event, and other exciting facts and information.
24 Hours of Le Mans History
The first-ever held edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was held on the 26th and 27th of May 1923 on a public street in Le Mans, France.
It was initially planned that the event would be a triennial event, with the winner awarded the Rudge-Whitworth Triennial Cup.
The winner was to be determined by who traveled the farthest distance in three successive 24-hour races.
However, in 1928, those plans were abandoned.
The event was thus held annually, with the winner decided by who traveled the farthest in the course of a 24-hour race.
Major automobile brands from Britain, Italy, and France dominated the race during its early years.
Specifically, Alfa Romeo, Buggati, and Bentley dominated Le Mans.
Alfa Romeo and Buggati were the frontrunners who spearheaded innovations that saw their cars run faster in the Mulsanne Straight section of the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In 1936, Le Mans was dealt its first blow due to the General Strikes in France, which led to the race not being held.
For the next two years, the race continued, but with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the 24 Hours of Le Mans went on a ten years hiatus.
Post World War II Years
Following the reconstruction of the circuit facilities in 1949, Le Mans returned.
The return of the Le Mans was pushed by major automobile manufacturers.
The return of the Le Mans marked the first time Ferrari won the race.
Le Mans re-established itself as a prominent racing event, particularly in 1953, after it became part of the World Sportscar Championship, which led to the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Aston Martin sending their cars to compete in the race.
The 1950s through the 1960s marked the formation of rigid safety measures in the race, which has since been evolved and adapted.
It also saw Ford and Ferrari lock horns, as the former ended the latter’s dominance in the race.
The 1970s saw the introduction of extreme speed in the Le Mans, with impressive car designs.
Purpose-built sports cars thus entered the picture, slowly replacing production cars.
The 1980s belonged to Porsche, who dominated the Le Mans, until Jaguar returned to the race to halt Porsche’s victory, with wins in the 1988 and 1990 editions.
Le Mans had one of its significant changes in 1990 when the 5km long Mulsanne straight was modified to include two chicanes that will stop speed of more than 400 km/h.
Le Mans began the 21st century with the exit of major automobile manufacturers from sports racing, but Audi, which remained, dominated the race.
The late 2000s to the early 2010s saw the use of alternative fuel sources and the stakes being raised in the Le Mans.
Particularly in the 2008 edition, where the Audi R10 TDI defeated the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP by less than 10 minutes.
The late part of the 2010s saw new regulations being made.
In 2017 it was stipulated that all cars should be closed-cockpit.
Porsche became the race’s most successful manufacturer after winning successive editions in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
In 2018, Toyota clinched its first win in the Le Mans and triumphed in the 2019 and 2020 editions.
24 Hours of Le Mans Facts & Information
Drivers count in their heads: While driving at a speed of 300 mph, drivers sometimes struggle with visibility due to bad weather.
Drivers resort to counting in their heads along the straight to know when to break as they approach a corner.
The Le Mans Champagne Shower began by accident: In 1966, during the winner’s celebration, the champagne cork popped out and sprayed the crowd.
The following year, Dan Gurney, who won the Le Mans, recreated the scene, and since then, the tradition has stuck.
The Le Mans start where drivers ran to their cars was last used in the 1969 Le Mans.
In the 1970 edition, drivers were strapped in their cars, which was right to the track.
The following year, the forward-facing method was implemented.
Mazda is the first Japanese manufacturer to clinch victory at the Le Mans.
They made history in 1991 with the 787B, which is the only car with a rotary engine to win the Le Mans.
Since then, Toyota has followed with wins in 2018, 2019, and 2020 editions.
The last time a two-person crew won the Le Mans was in 1984, where Klaus Ludwig and Henri Pescarolo won for Porsche.
It is now compulsory for every car to have as many as three drivers, who will do no more than 14 hours of driving.
About 25 manufacturers have won the Le Mans; they are Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Bugatti, Chenard & Walcker, Delahaye, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Lagonda, La Lorraine, Matra, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes, Mirage, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault, Rondeau, Sauber-Mercedes, Talbot, and Toyota.
Porsche ranks as the most successful manufacturer in the Le Mans with 19 titles.
The last win by Porsche was in 2017.
Audi comes second with 13 wins.
The longest distance ever covered in the Le Mans was accomplished in 2010 by Audi’s Timo Bernhard, Mike Rokenfeller, Roman Irsay.
They covered 3,362 Miles with the Audi R-15 plus, which boasts of a 5.5 V10 turbodiesel engine.
Jean Rondeau is the only driver to have won the Le Mans in a vehicle bearing his name.
He won the 1980 Le Mans, with Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in his Rondeau M379B.
No driver has competed in the Le Mans more than French racer Henri Pescarolo.
From 1966 to 2009, he competed in the Le Mans 33 times.
He won the 1973 and 1974 editions for Mantra and the 1984 edition for Porsche.
Dane Tom Kristensen holds the record for individual victories in the Le Mans, having won the race nine times between 1997 and 2013.
Anne-Charlotte Verney is the woman with the most cap in the Le Mans.
She completed ten times from 1974 to 1983.
Her best result was in 1981, where she drove with Bob Garretson and Ralph Kent-Cooke in a Porsche 935.
They placed sixth.
Accidents in the Le Mans
Like every other motorsports event, Le Mans has had its full share of accidents, several of which have claimed the lives of drivers and, in some cases, spectators.
The deadliest accident in the history of the Le Mans happens to be the deadliest in Motorsports’ history.
The accident was so ghastly that Mercedes-Benz decided to opt-out of motorsports racing.
The accident killed a french driver, Pierre Bouillon, and 83 spectators, with about 180 individuals left injured.
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