The Le Mans 24 Hour Race
Spiritual Home of Endurance Racing
Possibly the most famous race in the world and undoubtedly one of the top 3 motor racing events (alongside the Monaco GP and Indianapolis), the Le Mans 24 Hour race has run since 1923 with the odd occasional breaks, mainly for wars!
It has always been at the forefront of Sportscar racing, being the race which every manufacturer wants to win and the leader in terms of defining the regulations. The ACO, who run the event, don't always get the regs 100% right, but have an uncanny knack of knowing what the Sportscar racing spectating public want to see (unlike the FIA!).
The first race, in 1923 was, like cycling's Tour de France, a publicity stunt to sell newspapers. It was won by Andre Lagache/Rene Leonard in a Chenard & Walcker at speed of 57mph (92 kmh) over 1372 miles (2209 km) of a 10.7 mile(17.2 km) circuit.
Duff & Clement in a Bentley won in 1924, starting a successful run for the make. Bentley were winners in 1927 (3 litre), 1928(4.5), 1929 & 1930 (speed 6). 'Bentley Boy' Woolf Barnato was the winner on the last 3 occasionss, with Birkin in 1930, who won again with an Alfa 8C in 1931.
The Bentley Boys - Pictured at Brooklands
Stutz (2nd in 1927) & Chrysler (3rd & 4th in 1927) were front runners in the late 1920s, when American cars were common on this side of the Atlantic.
The French La Lorraine marque were winners in 1925 & 1926.
The circuit length has changed much over the years, being down to 10.1 miles for 1929, 1930 & 1931. It was further reduced to 8.5 miles from 1931 until 1955.
Alfa Romeo were winners in 1931, 1932 ,1933 & 1934(When Nuvolari won) By then, the average speed was up to 75 mph over c 1800 miles .
Alfa Romeo 8C
British marque Lagonda took victory in 1935, but the first race cancellation came in 1936 due to widespread strikes throughout France.
Rileys had a good year in 1934 when they finished 2nd, 3rd ,5th & 6th and Mercedes were 2nd in 1931 when just 6 cars finished. MG & Aston Martin often appeared in the top 6 places at this time.
Bugatti's 57C was the winner with JP Wimille in 1937 and 1939 split by a Delahaye win in 38. BMWs took 5th ,7th & 9th in 1939, proving that not only Mercedes and Auto Union were the Nazis' favourites in motorsport.
The 1937 Le Mans winning Bugatti
The Second World War prevented racing until 1949 when a Ferrari 166MM was the first Ferrari winner for Chinetti & Lord Selsdon, ahead of 2 Delages, a Frazer Nash and an Aston DB. The winner covered 1975 miles at an average of 82 mph.
Jaguar's 1st win came in 1951 with the C-Type, followed by a Mercedes win in 1952 with 300SL against aerodyamically altered C types which overheated. The C-Type shape was changed back for 1953 and finished 1st ,2nd & 4th, in Mercedes absence. 1953 saw the first racing Porsche at Le Mans.
Nicholas Watts' painting of the C-Type at Le Mans
1954 saw Ferrari win against Jaguar's new D-Type.
The 1955 race was marred by the infamous accident when a Mercedes 300SLR went into the crowd on the pit straight, killing driver Levegh and 80 spectators. Hawthorn's D-Type took a hollow victory as Mercedes withdrew all their other cars.
Jaguar's D-Types continued to dominate in 1956 & 1957 which also saw good class results for Lotus 11s and the Aston DBR1.
In 1958, a 3 litre capacity limit was introduced. The V12 TR (Testarossa) from Ferrari won from Maserati and Aston competition. A small field in 1959 saw victory for Aston Martin , taking first and second. The competition from Ferrari retired.
In 1960, a prototype E-type Jaguar was seen, but Ferrari took 6 of the top 7 places. 1961 was another win for the Ferrari TR, but rear engined cars from Ferrari & Maserati were seen for first time. Sunbeam Alpines & Triumph Spitfires won class and tean prizes in 1961.
1962 saw the introduction of a prototype class, leading to a Ferrari 4 litre winning for Phil Hill & Oliver Gendebien. Lotus were controversially excluded and never returned until after Colin Chapman's death.
Ferrari Testarossa 4 Litre
1963 saw the revolutionarly Rover gas-turbine car cover enough distance to be placed 8th, but it was running as a guest car and was not officially classified.
Rover Gas Turbine Car
1964 saw the first Ford USA entries. These, Lola-built, cars were the forerunners to the legendary GT40. Despite this, Ferrari won for a fifth year in succession.
In 1965, the Rover Gas Turbine of Graham Hill & Jackie Stewart was officially classified 10th. As the 7 litre Fords retired, Ferrari won their 6th race on the trot.
1966 saw Ford finally win after a massive operation. By this time the race average had crept up to over 125mph.
1967 was another Ford year as they won from Ferrari, covering 3,250 miles and seeing over 200mph on the straights.
The works Fords withdrew in 1968, but a privateer Ford won in Gulf colours. This year also marked the oddity of a September race after political riots in France.
Gulf's Ford GT40
1969 saw the closest ever finish with Ickx's GT40 beating Larousse's Porsche 908 by yards . Porsche 917s qualified fastest and lead for hours but broke.
1970 saw the first non Le Mans start as the drivers started strapped into their cars, although still starting from the side of the pit wall. The race saw the Porsche 917 take Porsche's first win for Attwood andHermann. Lap speeds of over 150 mph were seen in practice. The race also saw a camera car running for Steve McQueen's Le Mans film of 1971.
1971 saw the introduction of the now familiar rolling start, but the 917s still dominated. The Martini sponsored car won. Only 13 cars finished. 3 were Ferraris (which finished 3rd ,4th and 5th), all the others were Porsches.
In 1972 the circuit underwent major changes leading to a revision to 8.475 miles. Group 2 cars (essentially touring cars) were allowed and 4 Capris were entered, the best finishing 10th. Matra won with Graham Hill & Henri Pescarolo. This made Hill the only man to win the Indinanapolis 500, Le Mans and the F1 World Championship. Sadly Jo Bonnier was killed during the race, which covered 2915.1 miles at an average of 121.45 mph.
in 1973 & 1974 Matra again won, Pescarolo & Larrousse taking victory on both ocassions.
Matra 670 - Photo courtesy of Matrasport website.
1975 saw the first Ickx/Bell victory, in a Gulf Mirage.
1976 and 1977 saw Porsche 936 victories for Jacky Ickx. The 936 was the dominant force at Le Mans until the start of Group C in 1982, when Porsche's 956 took over the mantle.
Porsche 936 - Pictured at a recent sportscar meeting
1978 saw a Renault Alpine victory, which lead to Renault's withdrawl from sportscar racing and entry into F1 with turbo engines, which led to the runaway power race of the 1980s.
Renault's Alpine built turbo prototype.
1979 saw the 936s fail and an IMSA Porsche 935 took victory against expectations. A second 935, co-driven by actor Paul Newman finished second and Derek Bell tried in vain to get his Mirage to stagger round a final lap to be classified. No doubt the 935s were helped by wet weather, for much of the race, which reduced the performance advantage of the open top prototypes.
Porsche 935 at Le Mans
1980 was wet again and Le Mans team Rondeau took an emotional victory. Jean Rondeau was the first driver to win in his own make of car, but was sadly killed in road accident a couple of years later.
Rondeau's late model car at Le Mans
1981 saw an Ickx/Bell 936 walkover.
1982 & 1983 saw the beginning of Group C and the Works 956s took victories against Lancias and privateer 956s.
Joest Porsche 956 at Le Mans
1984 &1985 saw memorable Joest victories. In 1984 the works boycotted Le Mans in a dispute over fuel tank sizes, but they were beaten fair-and-square byJoest's canny use of fuel in 1985. These races marked a double victory for Klaus Ludwig.
1986 saw Bell/Stuck/Holbert dominate in a works Porsche 96 and they won again in 1987 after a good fight with Tom Walkinshaw's Jaguars.
1988 marked the first Jaguar Gp C victory after an intense Jaguar vs Porsche battle. Mercedes withdrew after frightening problems with their tyres led to a massive accident on the Mulsanne Straight for Jonathon Palmer. Johnny Dumfries, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace were the winners.
Jaguar at Le Mans, 1988
1989 saw a somewhat suprising victory for Mercedes (despite their dominant form in the 480km races) at their second attempt The race was notable for the stunning speed of Mercedes Junior team member Michael Schumacher.
1990 saw the second Group C win for Jaguar. Brundle, Nielsen and Cobb taking the honours.
1991 saw Mazda take a historic win to become the first and (so far) only Japanese winners. Jaguars finished 2nd & 3rd behind the F1 dream team of Herbert, Gachot & Weidler.
Mazda, Le Mans winners 1991
1992 & 1993 saw Peugeot's 905s 3.5 litre Group C cars win against limited competition, but there was a good battle with Toyota in 1993. Warwick, Dalmas and Blundell won in 1992, whilst Brabham, Helary and Bouchut sprayed the champagne in 1993.
In 1994. a rule-bending 'GT' Porsche 962 narrowly defeated Toyota's Group C car in Group C's last run at Le Mans. Eddie Irvine was inspired in his Toyota, which could have won, but for a delay late in race.
Porsche's "GT" Dauer 962 at Le Mans 1994
1995 saw a historic victory, at the first attempt, for a McLaren F1 in hands of Dalmas, Llheto and Sekiya. As in 1979, wet weather played into the hands of the GT cars allowing them to defeat the lighter prototypes.
McLaren F1 wins 1995 Le Mans
1996 saw a museum piece Joest Porsche (which had previously qualified as a Jaguar and raced as Mazda) beat Porsche's 911 GT1s and McLarens in the hands of Reuter, Jones and Wurz. Remarkably the went on to repeat the feat in 1997 as the favourite GT1s failed in the final hours of the race handing the win to GP veterans Alboreto and Johansson and F3000 man Tom Kristensen.
Porsche's 911 GT1 at Le Mans
1998 saw the Porche factory GT1 car take victory as the more fancied prototypes fell by the wayside in poor conditions.
1999 was a victory for BMW, whose Williams F1 built prototype took a sole win. They didn't bother returning in 2000, so it was Audi who took up the mantle and began an amazing run of success.
With the aid of the ever-successful Joest Racing team, they won every year from 2000 until 2008 except 2003 when VAG siblings Bentley took the win with their handsome GTP coupe which ran the Audi engine.
Privateer Goh Audi won in 2004
After their success, Bentley withdrew and Audi's dominance continued, with the German team switching to Diesel power as much as a challenge for themselves as anything else, one suspects.
R10 feature diesel power
Peugeot followed this route with a LMP Coupe, but it took until 2009 for the French team to deliver the home win that the locals so craved, despite them having the faster car in 2008.
Peugeot beat Audi far and square in 2009
Variety rules at Le Mans
Year Car Drivers Distance Speed (miles) (mph) Circuit - 10.726 miles 1923 Chenard & Walcker A.Lagache, R.Leonard (F) 1372.9 57.21 1924 Bentley 3 litre J.Duff, F.Clement (GB) 1290.8 53.78 1925 La Lorraine G.de Courcelles, A.Rossignol (F) 1388.1 57.84 1926 La Lorraine R.Bloch, A.Rossignol (F) 1586.0 66.08 1927 Bentley 3 litre D.Benjafield, S.Davis (GB) 1472.5 61.34 1928 Bentley 4.5 W.Barnato, B.Rubin (GB) 1658.6 69.11 Circuit - 10.153 miles 1929 Bentley 6 speed W.Barnato, Sir H.Birkin (GB) 1767.1 73.63 1930 Bentley 6 speed W.Barnato, G.Kidston (GB) 1821.0 75.88 1931 Alfa Romeo 8C2300 E.Howe, Sir H.Birkin (GB) 1875.1 78.13 Circuit - 8.475 miles 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C2300 R.Sommer, L.Chinetti (F,I) 1835.6 76.58 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C2300 R.Sommer, T.Nuvolari (F,I) 1953.6 81.40 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C2300 L.Chinetti, P.Etancelin (I,F) 1793.9 74.74 1935 Lagonda M45R JS Hindmarsh, L.Fontes (GB,RA) 1868.3 77.85 1936 Race cancelled 1937 Bugatti 57G JP Wimille, R.Benoist (F) 2043.0 85.13 1938 Delahaye 135M E.Chaboud, J.Tremoulet (F) 1976.5 82.36 1939 Bugatti 57G JP Wimille, P.Veyron (F) 2084.5 86.69 1940-48 Race cancelled 1949 Ferrari 166MM L.Chinetti, Lord Selsdon (USA,GB) 1974.9 82.28 1950 Talbot-Lago L.Rosier, JL Rosier (F) 2153.1 89.71 1951 Jaguar C-Type P.Walker, P.Whitehead (GB) 2243.9 93.50 1952 Mercedes-B.300SL H.Lang, F.Riess (D) 2320.1 96.67 1953 Jaguar C-Type T.Rolt, D.Hamilton (GB) 2540.2 105.84 1954 Ferrari 375 F.Gonzalez, M.Trintignant (RA,F) 2523.5 105.15 1955 Jaguar D-Type M.Hawthorn, I.Bueb (GB) 2569.6 107.07 Circuit - 8.364 miles 1956 Jaguar D-Type R.Flockhart, N.Sanderson (GB) 2507.2 104.47 1957 Jaguar D-Type R.Flockhart, I.Bueb (GB) 2732.2 113.85 1958 Ferrari 250TR58 O.Gendebien, P.Hill (B,USA) 2548.8 106.20 1959 Aston Martin DBR1 C.Shelby, R.Salvadori (USA,GB) 2701.7 112.57 1960 Ferrari 250TR59/60 O.Gendebien, P.Frere (B) 2620.6 109.19 1961 Ferrari 250TR61 O.Gendebien, P.Hill (B,USA) 2781.6 115.90 1962 Ferrari 250P O.Gendebien, P.Hill (B,USA) 2765.9 115.24 1963 Ferrari 250P L.Scarfiotti, L.Bandini (I) 2834.5 118.10 1964 Ferrari 275P J.Guichet, N.Vaccarella (F,I) 2917.5 121.56 1965 Ferrari 250LM J.Rindt, M.Gregory (A,USA) 2906.2 121.09 1966 Ford GT40 Mk2 C.Amon, B.McLaren (NZ) 3009.4 125.39 1967 Ford GT Mk4 D.Gurney, AJ Foyt (USA) 3251.5 135.48 Circuit - 8.369 miles 1968 Ford GT40 P.Rodriguez, L.Bianchi (Mex,B) 2766.9 115.29 1969 Ford GT40 J.Ickx, J.Oliver (B,GB) 3105.6 129.40 1970 Porsche 917 H.Herrmann, R.Attwood (D,GB) 2863.2 119.30 1971 Porsche 917 H.Marko, G.van Lennep (A,NL) 3315.2 138.13 Circuit - 8.475 miles 1972 Matra-Simca MS670 H.Pescarolo, G.Hill (F,GB) 2915.1 121.45 1973 Matra-Simca MS670B H.Pescarolo, G.Larrousse (F) 3016.1 125.67 1974 Matra-Simca MS670B H.Pescarolo, G.Larrousse (F) 2862.4 119.27 1975 Mirage-Ford M8 J.Ickx, D.Bell (B,GB) 2855.6 118.98 1976 Porsche 936 J.Ickx, G.van Lennep (B,NL) 2963.9 123.49 1977 Porsche 936 J.Ickx,J.Barth,H.Haywood(B,D,USA) 2902.8 120.95 1978 Renault Alpine JP Jaussaud, D.Pironi (F) 3134.5 130.60 Circuit - 8.467 miles 1979 Porsche 935 K.Ludwig,B & D.Whittington(D,USA) 2590.9 108.10 1980 Rondeau Ford M379B JP Jaussaud, J.Rondeau (F) 2861.4 119.23 1981 Porsche 936-81 J.Ickx, D.Bell (B,GB) 2998.3 124.93 1982 Porsche 956-82 J.Ickx, D.Bell (B,GB) 3044.2 126.84 1983 Porsche 956-83 V.Schuppan, H.Haywood, A.Holbert (AUS,USA,USA) 3136.5 130.70 1984 Porsche 956B K.Ludwig, H.Pescarolo (D,F) 3045.0 126.88 1985 Porsche 956B K.Ludwig, P.Barilla, J.Winter (D,I,D) 3157.9 131.76 Circuit - 8.51 miles 1986 Porsche 962C D.Bell, H.Stuck, A.Holbert (GB,D,USA) 3088.1 128.66 Circuit - 8.45 miles 1987 Porsche 962C D.Bell, H.Stuck, A.Holbert (GB,D,USA) 2977.0 124.06 1988 Jaguar XJR-9LM J.Dumfries, J.Lammers, A.Wallace (GB,NL,GB) 3313.2 137.72 1989 Sauber Mercedes C9 J.Mass, S.Dickens, M.Reuter (D,S,D) 3269.6 136.23 Circuit - 8.45 miles (with Mulsanne Chicanes) 1990 Jaguar XJR-12 M.Brundle, J.Nielsen, P.Cobb (GB,DK,USA) 3040.7 126.69 1991 Mazda 787B J.Herbert, B.Gachot, V.Weidler (GB,B,D) 3058.9 127.45 1992 Peugeot 905 D.Warwick, Y.Dalmas, M.Blundell (GB,F,GB) 2992.0 124.66 1993 Peugeot 905B G.Brabham, E.Helary, C.Bouchut (AUS,F,F) 3168.8 133.34 1994 Dauer Porsche962LM Y.Dalmas, H.Haywood, M.Baldi (F,USA,I) 2912.2 121.33 1995 McLaren F1 GTR Y.Dalmas, JJ Lehto, M.Sekiya (F,SF,J) 2518.1 105.01 1996 TWR Porsche WSC M Reuter D Jones A Wurz (D,USA,A) 2991.3 124.64 1997 TWR Porsche WSC M.Alboreto S.Johansson T.Kristensen (I,S,DK) 3167.5 131.60 1998 Porsche 911 GT1-98 A.McNish, S.Ortelli, L.Aiello (GB,F,F) 3086.3 128.60 1999 BMW V12 LMR P.Martini, Y.Dalmas, J.Winkelhock (I,F,D) 3025.2 133.54 2000 Audi R8 F.Biela, T.Kristensen, E.Pirro (D,DK,I) 3276.1 136.50 2001 Audi R8 F.Biela, T.Kristensen, E.Pirro (D,DK,I) 2817.6 117.40 CIRCUIT - 8.48 miles 2002 Audi R8 F.Biela, T.Kristensen, E.Pirro (D,DK,I) 3302.4 137.60 2003 Bentley EXP Speed 8 T.Kristensen, R.Capello, G.Smith (D,I,GB) 3320.0 138.33 2004 Audi R8 S.Ara, T.Kristensen, R.Capello (J,DK,I) 3335.5 138.98 2005 Audi R8 T.Kristensen, J.J.Lehto, M. Werner (DK,SF,D) 3258.4 135.77 (5050.5) (210.22) KM Distance Speed (km) (kmh) 2006 Audi R10 TDi F. Biela, E. Pirro, M.Werner (D,I,D) 5187.0 216.12 2007 Audi R10 TDi F. Biela, E. Pirro, M.Werner (D,I,D) 5029.1 209.15 2008 Audi R10 TDi T.Kristensen, A.McNish, R.Capello (DK,GB,I) 5192.6 216.30 2009 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP D.Brabham, M.Gene, A. Wurz (AUS,ES,AU) 5206.3 216.66
Partial results table courtesy of The Club Arnage Web Site.
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