24 hours of Le Mans is an annual race hold at Circuit de la Sarthe, normally the second weekend in June. In short, the goal is to have the car that drives the longest distance within 24 hours (plus finishing their lap at the 24 hour mark).

The 24 hours of Le Mans was first staged as the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency 26–27 May 1923. This happened after the automotive journalist Charles Faroux, the ACO general secretary Georges Durand and the industrialist Emile Coquile agreed to hold the race for car manufacturers to test vehicle durability, equipment and reliability.

Models of the 1923 podium

Since then, it has become the world's oldest active endurance racing event and the most prestigious automobile race. 24 hours of Le Mans has encouraged innovation in producing reliable and fuel-efficient vehicles. The race has been cancelled ten times: in 1936 (a labour strike) and in 1940-1948 (World War II).

What started as a race between 37 cars is now a race between 60 cars.


The program and the start

A normal program for Le Mans starts the last monday before the race. The cars are inspected on Monday and Tuesday, qualifying and practice Wednesday and Thursday, a day of rest and a driver parade in the city of Le Mans on Friday. The race starts on Saturday. The start is normally done with a designated starter who wave the French tricolor followed by a fly-over featuring jets trailing blue, white, and red smoke.

Starting area

The race traditionally began with a so-called "Le Mans start": the cars were lined up along the length of the pits. The starting drivers stood on the opposite side of the track. When the French flag dropped, the drivers ran across the track, entered and started their cars, and finally drove away. This became a safety issue in the late 1960s when some drivers ignored their safety harnesses. Therefore, the Le Mans start is no longer used.


Classes and drivers

The cars used in the race are categorized in different classes with different specifications. Today there are three classes: Hypercar (LMH, the highest class, race cars), Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2, also race cars) and GT3 (GT-cars based on street legal cars). The LMP2 class will not continue at Le Mans after 2023.

Initially, there were no rules on how many drivers each car had to have. There were also no time limits for each driver. The rules have changed. Today, most cars have three drivers.


Classes and drivers

The drivers complete the lap they're on at the 24 hours mark. The winner is the car that has been driven the longest at the end of that lap. If two cars finish the same number of laps, their finishing order is determined by who crosses the finish line first.

Reality of Le Mans: "It's not finished until it's over!"

For each race, there are one winning team for each class and one overall winner. The overall winner is – naturally – also the winner of its class. All three-time consecutive winning manufacturers permanently keep the trophy.


WEC

The 24 Hours of Le Mans has frequently – but not always – been a part of a series, most notably are World Sportscar Championship (1953-1992) and FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC, since 2012).

Ferrari 499, an LMPh car.


Garage 56

Since 2012, there have been a special entry at Le Mans. The sole focus of this entry - often reffered to as "Garage 56" - is to demonstrate experimental features in cars.

2012: DeltaWing by All-American Racers supported by Nissan.
2013: GreenGT H2 was supposted to ener the race, but was pronounced unfit to take part in the race
2014: Nissan ZEOD RC, a hybrid electric car based on the DeltaWing's design.
2015: All applications for this year were deemed unfit by the ACO.
2016: Frederic Sausset, a quadruple amputee, drove a modified Morgan LMP2 in the 2016 race.
2017: Financial problems forced Welter Racing to cancel with the Green4U Panoz Racing GT-EV.
2018 and 2019: ACO deemed none of the applications sufficiently mature.
2020 / 2021: SRT41 had a specially modified Oreca 07 LMP2 car with a lineup of three disabled drivers. The attempt was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but had a successful return in 2021.
2022: No particimants.
2023: A modified NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen by Hendrick Motorsports joined to celebrate NASCARs 75 years jubilee.

If you need a break

If you visit the Le Mans track during the race weekend, there are more to do than just watch the race. Most famous is the ferris wheel that is part of a fun fair.

If ferris wheels and fun fairs ain't your thing, there are food stands, gift shops, and kids area. Even concerts and outdoor cinema can be experienced during the race.

Located by the main entrance to the circuit, a racing museum can be found, the Musée des 24 Heures du Mans.

In case you can't get enough of the cars on the track, you may like the car show arraned during the race.

And remember: Near the track, jumbo screens placed with live feed from the race.

Near Arnage at night


The circuit

Circuit de la Sarthe, is a semi-permanent motorsport race course. That means it consists of both a permanent track – a part of the Bugatti track – and public roads. The public roads are temporarily closed for the race.

Circuit name: Circuit de la Sarthe
Location: Le Mans, Pays de la Loire, France
FIA Grade: 2 (Endurance), 2 (Bugatti)
Owner: Automobile Club de l'Ouest
Operator: Automobile Club de l'Ouest
Opened: 1923 (Endurance), 1965 (Bugatti)
Turns: 38

Length:
1923: 17.262 km / 10.726 mi, 1923–1928
1929: 16.340 km / 10.153 mi, 1929–1931
1932: 13.492 km / 8.384 mi, 1932–1955
1956: 13.461 km / 8.364 mi, 1956–1967
1968: 13.469 km / 8.369 mi, 1968–1971
1972: 13.640 km / 8.476 mi, 1972–1978
1979: 13.626 km / 8.467 mi, 1979–1985
1986: 13.528 km / 8.406 mi, 1986
1987: 13.535 km / 8.410 mi, 1987–1989
1990: 13.600 km / 8.451 mi, 1990–1996
1997: 13.605 km / 8.454 mi, 1997–2001
2002: 13.650 km / 8.482 mi, 2002–2005
2006: 13.650 km / 8.482 mi, 2006
2007: 13.629 km / 8.469 mi, 2007–2017
2018: 13.626 km / 8.467 mi, 2018-Today


Short facts

All-female teams at Le Mans.
Female drivers at Le Mans.
Le Mans events.
Records at Le Mans.
Winners of Le Mans.

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