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.
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).
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.
First rule of racing: "No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there"
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.
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).
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.
Reality of Le Mans: "It's not finished until it's over!"
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.
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.
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).
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.
Events1923: The 24 Hours of Le Mans was first run on 26 and 27 May 1923, through public roads around Le Mans. The original idea for this to be a three-year event was abandoned in 1928.
1925: André Guilbert was the first driver to die in connection to Le Mans. On 19th of June 1925 he colliided with a van on his way to the race and died a few hours later.
Marius Mestivier was the first race fatality, occurring only a few hours after Guilbert's death. Mestivier's car spun on the Mulsanne on his eighteenth lap of the race. The car suddenly swerved off the road and plunged head first into a ditch, killing him instantly. Early reports claimed a blown tire or brake lock caused the crash, but many sources later claimed he was struck by a flying bird, knocking him out.
1949: Ferrari's first victory came in 1949 in a 166MM. Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thomson were the drivers
1953: Disc brakes were first seen in 1953 when the Jaguar C-Type raced at Le Mans.
1955: Near the end of lap 35, Mike Hawthorne and Pierre Levegh were racing hard against each other. Hawthorne had passed Lance Macklin and was heading to pit lane.
The overview at this point shows that Hawthorn were in the front right, Levegh in the back left and Macklin in the middle, almost boxed in by the other two.
To avoid collition with Hawthorne, Macklin steered to the left. This lead to Macklins back left and Levegh front right to bump into each other. Due to the bump, Leveghs car were sent off track into a sand bank that acted like a ramp. The car flew through the air and ended up in a concrete strructure, sending big car parts – including the motor block – into the grand stand. Levegh and 83 spectators were killed.
This is known as the worst disaster in motorsports.
1966: Near the finish line in the 1966 race, two Ford GT40s were leading the race. They slowed down to allow a photo opportunity at the finish line. Ken Miles were slightly ahead of Bruce McLaren, but since McLaren's car had started farther back on the grid, McLaren's car had covered the greatest distance over the 24 hours. Therefore, McLaren, were declared the winner. Miles had already won the other two endurance races at Sebring and Daytona. With a win at Le Mans, he would have become the first man to win all three and the first to win them all in the same year.
1967: The Bugatti Circuit was used for the 1967 French Grand Prix, and it would be the only time the Formula One World Championship would use the circuit. Some drivers had – in private – wished the race was run on the full Circuit de la Sarthe. The 5.7 km (3.5 mi) long Mulsanne Straight was 1.3 km (0.81 mi) longer than the entire Bugatti circuit.
When Dan Gurney stood on the podium after winning the 1967 endurance race with co-driver A. J. Foyt, Gurney was given a magnum of champagne. He shook it and sprayed the nearest audience with champagne. This was the first time champagne spraying on the podium were shown on TV.
1969: In 1969, Jacky Ickx opposed the unsafe Le Mans start by walking across the track while his competitors ran. He was nearly hit by a competitor's car while walking. Ickx took the time to fasten his safety belts before pulling away. Privateer John Woolfe died in an accident on the first lap of that race. Ickx won the race.
1970: The traditional Le Mans start was changed for 1970. The cars were still lined up along the pit wall, but the drivers were already inside and strapped in.
1971: Since 1971, the Le Mans race is started with a rolling start. The cars do one formation lap behind a safety car; when that car returns to pits, the starter waves the French flag to start the race.
1974: The first all-female crew to win their class was the Ecurie Seiko team; Christine Beckers, Yvette Fontaine and Marie Laurent
1975: The second all-female crew to win their class at Le Mans was the Société Esso team: Christine Dacremont, Marianne Hoepfner and Michèle Mouton.
1985: In 1985, John Nielsen flipped his Sauber-Mercedes while going over the Mulsanne hump at more than 350 km/h (220 mph). The car landed on its roof and was destroyed, but Nielsen escaped without injury.
1988: In 1988, Team WM Peugeot were well aware of their slim chance of winning the 24-hour endurance race outright, but they knew their cars had exceptional straight line aerodynamics. They nicknamed their 1988 entry "Project 400" because their were aiming to be the first car to achieve a speed of 400 km/h (250 mph).
One of their cars lasted only 22 laps and the other had engine problems later the same afternoon. After 3.5 hours in the pits, the team had fixed the engine and went for the speed record. Before the pitstop ended, they taped over the engine openings to improve the aerodynamics even more. It worked: Roger Dorchy set the record speed of 407 km/h (253 mph) down the Mulsanne straight. But the car was almost undrivable elsewhere on the circuit. The car retired on lap 59 with an overheating engine after outlasting two other Group C1 entrants.
Since Peugeot had just launched its new model 405, the team agreed to advertise the new record as "405", making the public believe the record were slower than it actually was.
1990: The Mulsanne was modified to include two chicanes in order to stop speeds of more than 400 km/h (250 mph) from being reached.
1991: Mazda 787B, the only Le Mans winner with Wankel engine, won the race in 1991.
1999: The Mercedes-Benz CLRs suffered from aerodynamic instability in 1999. This lead to an airborne car at the Le Mans test day. After claiming to have solved the problem, an airborne occurred again during warmup. It happened for a third time during the race itself: Peter Dumbreck's CLR flew over the safety fence and landed in the woods several metres away. Mercedes-Benz ended their entire sportscar programme.
2012: The first time a hybrid electric vehicle won Le Mans was in 2012. The car was the Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event was held behind closed doors at a later date than normal. A virtual Le Mans race was arranged the weekend Le Mans were originally planned to be.
2021: The Hypercar class with new specifications replaced the LMP1 class. The Hypercar class will also be used in american races arranged by IMSA.
2022: This year, Iron dames impressed with their capability. They started on P6 in their class, GTE Am, but due to a puncture in the first lap, they fell down to last place, P23. Before the race was over, they have battled their way back to P7.
2023: The LMDh division – roughly the same as the Hyperclass in Europe – will begin in the american IMSA SportsCar Championship.
All-female teams at Le Mans.
Female drivers at Le Mans.
Records at Le Mans.
Winners of Le Mans.
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)
Length: 13.626 km (8.467 miles)
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
(also from other motorsports)
BMW: M-series colors
Ferrari / AF Corsa: Race lines making the Italian flag
Ford GT40: Black with No. 2
Honda (F1): Black and white with Lucky strike logo
Iron dames: Pink color
Jaguar: Silk cut logo
Mazda 787B: Orange and green with Renown logo
McLaren: Papaya orange
McLaren (F1): Black and white with West logo
Mercedes: No livery / "Silver arrow"
Plymouth Superbird (NASCAR): Baby blue color
Porsche: Pink pig
Porsche 917: No.23
Subaru Impreza: (Rally): Blue with yellow Subaru logo
Various: Brittish racing green
Various: John Player Special
Ford GT40 (1966)
Jaguar D-type (1955-57)
Jaguar XJR-19 (1988)
Mercedes CLK GTR / LM