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24 Hours Of Le Mans: The Oldest Car Race

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is an amazing sports car race that was started way back in 1923 near a town named Le Mans in France. This is the world’s oldest car race that is packed with all the elements of the sport’s drama. Both the performance and endurance of man and machines are tested in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Purpose:

Before the 24 Hours of Le Mans got popular in France, Grand Pix racing was the most popular form of racing. The 24 Hours of Le Mans was mainly introduced to bring a different type of racing to the motorsport’s world. Manufacturers concentrated on building race cars that are not only speedy, but also sporty, reliable, and fuel efficient. 

Reliability was important because the public road is not made for the racing. Race cars had to be built to withstand the increased strain. The oil crisis in 1970 forced racing teams to follow a fuel economy formula. A fuel efficient car is essential in an endurance race. The more endurance a car has the less time the racing car needs to spend in the pits. Technology developed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans is used in consumer cars.

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Image credit: “Le Mans 2008 Rolling start” by Wonker

The Race:

The 24 Hours of Le Mans generally takes place in June when rain is very common. The race is started at mid-afternoon. During that long 24 hours the competitors travel as far as possible. Modern racers travel approximately 5000 km. The record is 5410 km that was set in 2010. The drivers are required to avoid mechanical problems while striving for speed. Primary car consumables such as fuel, tires, and brakes most be closely managed.

Cars:

There are 50 competitors in the race. Each race car has two seats.  The car should not have more than two doors, but open cockpit cars do not require any doors. In 2014, all the cars of LMP1 category were required to have roofs to maintain safety.

There are different classes in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The number of classes varies each year.

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History:

In 1923, May 26 and 27 were the days the 24 Hours of Le Mans was first ran on the public road of Le Mans. Initially the race was planned for every three years and the winner was awarded the Rude-Whitworth Triennial Cup. The first races were dominated by French, Italian, and British drivers. The top brands  of cars were Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, and Bentley. The race was cancelled in 1936 due to a strike in France and was not continued until 1946 due to the Second World War.

As of 2015, Porsche is the most successful car manufacturer having won 17 victories.

Major Accidents:

The 24 Hours of Le Mans has endured various, fatal accidents, but the worst crash was is the 1955. This accident that took the lives of 80 spectators and the driver Pierre Levegh.

In 1972, Joakim Bonnier was thrown from his car into a forest and died immediately.

Two major accidents took place in 2011, when a car driven by Allan McNish collided with another car and they smashed into a tire wall. In the eleventh hour another accident took place when the car driven by Mike Rockenfeller collided with another racer and Rockenfeller’s car was thrown outside the race barrier at 170 mph.

In 2012, Anthony Davidson’s car collided with another car, became airborne and crashed into the tire barrier of Mulsanne corner.

In 2013, driver Allan Simonsen was killed when his car crashed into the barrier of Tartre Rouge.

Top Drivers:

Tom Kristensen: 9 victories. 

Jacky Ickx: 6 victories.

Derek Bell, Frank Biela, and Emanuele Pirro: 5 victories.

Olivier Gendebien, Henri Pescarolo, and Yannick Dalmas: 4 victories.

Conclusion

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a very popular race that combines endurance and speed. The race is one of the longest running races and has been running smoothly since 1923. Every year new technology is incorporated into the cars that keeps the race fresh and vibrant.

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Header image credit: “Audi R10 1” by Fabrice Pluchet.

Background image credit: “Andy Prialux Dirk Muller Joey Hand BMW Motorsport LMGTE Pro BMW M3 Le Mans 2011” by David Merrett

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