The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been established as one of the oldest in the active sports race car industry. Read on to find out how it all began and how it is doing now.
The first race took place in May 26-27, 1923. Public roads around the town of Le Mans were used for this. This was first supposed to be an event every three years where the winner would be awarded the Rudge-Whitworth Triennal Cup but then, they dismissed the idea. Instead, in 1928, winners were declared yearly. The usual winners during these times were drivers of Italian, British, or French descent. The prominent cars then were the Alfa Romeo, Bentley, and Bugatti. However, with the advent of the World War II in the latter part of 1939, the race went on a hiatus for 10 years.
The circuit facilities where the races took place were reconstructed and the races resumed. This was when Ferrari’s first victory took place through Luigi Chinetti and Lord Selsdon’s 166MM. The hype of the race enticed different car manufacturers to join the race such as Aston Martin, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and many others. As the competition got famous, the manufacturers got more and more competitive as well and quite unfortunately, some of the races resulted in tragedy. In a race in 1955, Pierre Levegh had a collision with a crowd of spectators which killed 80 people more or less. This event led to the enforcement of strict safety measures not only in race car driving but for motorcycle racing as well. After this incident, the circuit was reconstructed again to ensure the safety of the competitors and the spectators.
In the early days of this race, the main purpose was to promote cars being sold publicly. But later on, the cars joining the race proved to be faster and with complex designs. Most of the competitors were now with cars purposely made for racing. The Porsche, Matra-Simca, and Renault were prominent during these times. Jacky Ickx has won 3 titles during this period.
Porsche was still in the picture and more improved than ever. But at this time period, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz returned in the scene. As a matter of fact, Jaguar broke Porsche’s streak when it won races in 1988 and 1990. It was Mercedes-Benz who won in 1989. Nissan and Toyota joined the club as well as W.M. Peugeot. Even Mazda entered the picture and was the only Japanese manufacturer to be successful as it won in 1991. In 1990, the circuit was once again reconstructed. Lanes were modified in such a way that the cars would automatically slow down at some points.
This signaled the advent of supercars as most manufacturers took advantage of the loopholes in the rules of Le Mans. Porsche reclaimed its throne when they used the Porsche 962. Panoz, Lotus, and Audi were also able to join because of the loophole.
A lot of manufacturers withdrew from the race due to the high costs entailed by sudden skirting of the rules by other manufacturers in 1999. Cadillac and Audi remained, and Audi easily dominated the races.
2006 up to the present
From 2006 until 2010, Audi has become a pioneer in Le Mans. Peugeot attempted to compete with this and became successful but only in 2009. In 2011 and 2012, a series of accidents took place in the races. In 2011, Audis crashed at different times and locations. No people were hurt, not even the drivers. In 2012, a Toyota flipped causing the driver to have two broken vertebrae.
With the history of Le Mans, one can really say that this race is a prestigious one and is already a part of history. These races allow car manufacturers to showcase the supremecy of their products and at the same time, car enthusiasts are greatly satisfied and entertained.