With this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans nearly upon us, we thought it might be a good idea to remind you why it’s the biggest race of them all, and why you should definitely be watching come June 16th.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest active endurance race in the world. The race has been held every year since it started in 1923, except for a 10-year break after 1939 while a little kerfuffle sorted itself out. It’s been going on for almost as long as people have been driving cars, and pretty soon it will celebrate it’s centenary. While Formula One may represent the pinnacle of speed, Le Mans represents the pinnacle of endurance and efficiency, arguably far more relevant to the every-day driver. What’s more, it’s one of the races that comprise the ultimate challenge in motorsport; the Triple Crown.
Almost as Iconic as the race itself is the track. The Circuit de la Sarthe is 8.467 miles of punishment, consisting of both permanent track and rough public roads, and has seen extensive modifications since it’s inception as a route through the streets around Le Mans. One such change occurred after the FIA decreed that races with straights longer than 2km would not be sanctioned, resulting in the introduction of two chicanes to break up the 6km Mulsanne straight, a feature so iconic Bentley named a car after it. However, not before French Driver and absolute lunatic, Roger Dorchy, achieved a periphery-blurring all-time race record of 405 km/h (252 mph) in his Peugeot powered WM-P88 in 1988. The best thing about that fact is he wasn’t even trying to win, all he wanted was that record.
During almost 100 years of racing, Le Mans has seen plenty of rivalries, but perhaps the most notorious of them all is that between Ferrari and Ford. Ford wanted to go endurance racing, so they decided the best way to go about it would be to purchase the team that was best at it. After months of negotiation, a deal to acquire Ferrari fell through when Old-Man Enzo just walked straight out of a meeting, and so a grudge was born. At the time, Ferrari was a little more than a racing team that occasionally made road cars to finance the racing that Enzo Ferrari so loved, while Ford Motor Company was a massive corporation. However, even with all their financial might, it took Ford three years of development and millions of dollars to end Ferrari’s 6-year winning streak, with their GT40 Mk.II earning them a historic 1-2-3 finish.
Possibly the best aspect of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the ability to watch GT-class racers that closely resemble what you might see on the streets go head-to-head with the LMP-class rocket ships that look like they’ve been plucked straight out of F-Zero. What’s even more exciting is that you never know which class is going to win, while for the most part, the faster LMP cars have indeed gone home with gold, the endurance nature of the race has occasionally favoured the more reliable GT cars. What’s more, with the regulations for the LMP class being so relaxed, there’s plenty of room for innovation, resulting in a wildly diverse roster of cars when compared with the spot-the-difference nature of those found in F1, a highlight in recent years being the radical Nissan DeltaWing.
Over the course of 24 hours, competitors often cover over 5000 km (3,110 mi), with the record being 5,410km in 2010. That’s six times longer than the Indianapolis 500 and approximately 18 times longer than a Formula One Grand Prix. Taking place in June, conditions are often extremely steamy for the drivers in their poorly ventilated cockpits, while at the same time rain is often a heavy factor, leading to treacherous driving conditions. Current regulation states that three drivers must share a car, meaning that each driver has to drive for a gruelling 8 hours, with drivers often racing for over 2 hours before they swap out to eat and rest. The balance between speed and avoiding mechanical damage is often too much for race teams to handle, with even the biggest manufacturers’ cars frequently not reaching the light of day, which only adds to the tension and excitement.
We hope that little refresher on the 24 Hours of Le Mans has gotten you as excited as we are for race day, and we’re very pleased to announce that soon The Mechanists and Le Mans will be releasing an exclusive partnership.