The 24 Hours of Le Mans

A light, 10 minute read

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a legendary endurance race held annually near the town of Le Mans, France. The race was first held in 1923, making it one of the oldest and most prestigious motorsport events in the world. Over the years, the race has evolved into a test of both speed and endurance, with teams of drivers competing in a grueling 24-hour race on a 13.6-kilometer circuit that combines both public roads and a dedicated racetrack.

The race has seen many memorable moments and historic victories, including the dominance of the Bentley team in the 1920s, the Ferrari-Ford rivalry of the 1960s, and the Audi team's remarkable run of success in the early 2000s. The event has also been marked by tragedy, including the deadly accident in 1955 that killed more than 80 spectators.

Despite the challenges and risks involved, the 24 Hours of Le Mans remains one of the most beloved and respected events in the world of motorsports, attracting top drivers and teams from around the globe. The race continues to evolve and adapt to the changing world of motorsport, while remaining true to its roots as a grueling test of endurance, skill, and determination.

Sidenote: The Bentley Boys
The Bentley Boys were a group of wealthy British socialites and racing enthusiasts who dominated the motorsport scene in the 1920s. The group included such notable figures as Woolf Barnato, Tim Birkin, and Glen Kidston, who all shared a love of speed and a passion for driving. They were known for their dapper style and fearless approach to racing, and they quickly became the face of the Bentley brand, which was renowned for its powerful and reliable racing cars. The Bentley Boys achieved great success on the track, winning multiple victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other prestigious events. Their legacy continues to be celebrated today, as they are remembered as pioneers of the early days of motorsport and symbols of the glamour and excitement of the roaring twenties.

The Circuit

The Circuit de la Sarthe is the legendary 13.6-kilometer track that hosts the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The track is a combination of dedicated racetrack and public roads, with sections of the course running through the towns of Mulsanne and Arnage. The layout of the circuit is challenging and complex, featuring a mix of fast straights, sweeping curves, and tight hairpins that test the skill and courage of even the most experienced drivers.

One of the most challenging sections of the track is the Porsche Curves, a series of fast and sweeping corners that require precise steering and a delicate touch on the throttle. The Mulsanne Straight is also a highlight of the track, a long, flat-out section where cars can reach speeds of over 300 km/h (186 mph). The drivers must navigate the high-speed kink known as the Mulsanne Corner at the end of the straight, where the cars are pushed to their limits.

Approximately 85% of the Circuit de la Sarthe is made up of public roads, which are closed to regular traffic during the race. However, the section of the track that runs through the town of Arnage is a permanent racetrack that is used year-round for testing and other events.

Over the years, there have been several significant adjustments to the Circuit de la Sarthe to improve safety and accommodate changes in technology. For example, in 1990, a new chicane was added to the Mulsanne Straight to slow the cars down and prevent them from reaching dangerously high speeds. In 2007, the pit lane was extended and improved to allow for faster and safer pit stops, and in 2018, new safety barriers were installed along several sections of the track to enhance driver protection in the event of an accident. Despite these changes, the Circuit de la Sarthe remains one of the most challenging and exciting tracks in motorsport, and it continues to push drivers and teams to their limits every year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The horror of 1955
The biggest accident in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans occurred on June 11, 1955, when a horrific crash claimed the lives of 83 spectators and injured over 100 more. The accident happened when British driver Mike Hawthorn made a sudden move to avoid a slower car, causing French driver Pierre Levegh to collide with him at high speed. Levegh's car was launched into the air, striking a barrier and disintegrating into a shower of debris that rained down onto the crowd. The tragedy led to major safety reforms in motorsport, including the installation of safety barriers and the introduction of new regulations aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future. The accident remains one of the darkest moments in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, serving as a reminder of the risks and sacrifices involved in the pursuit of speed and glory.

The drivers

There have been many legendary drivers who have competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans over the years, but a few stand out as the most successful. Danish driver Tom Kristensen is the most successful driver in the history of the race, having won it a record nine times between 1997 and 2013. Other notable drivers include Jacky Ickx, who won the race six times, and Derek Bell, who won it five times. Other drivers with multiple victories at Le Mans include Henri Pescarolo, Frank Biela, and Emanuele Pirro.

While some drivers have enjoyed great success at Le Mans, others have been less fortunate. One of the most unlucky drivers in the history of the race is Jean-Louis Lafosse, who competed 17 times but never managed to win. Another notable example is Martin Brundle, who competed 13 times without ever achieving victory. Other drivers who have come close to winning multiple times but have never quite made it to the top step of the podium include Pedro Rodriguez, Hans Stuck, and Johnny Herbert.

Tragically, there have been several famous drivers who have lost their lives while competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Perhaps the most well-known example is French driver Pierre Levegh, who was killed in the horrific accident in 1955 that claimed the lives of 83 spectators. Other drivers who have died during the race include Jo Bonnier, Jean-Pierre Wimille, and Luigi Chinetti Jr. These tragedies serve as a sobering reminder of the dangers of motorsport and the risks that drivers take every time they take to the track.

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