After the recent Formula 1 Grand Prix and IndyCar Indianapolis 500, the next prestigious motor racing event to look forward to is the 24 hours of Le Mans. Since it’s beginnings in 1923, the race has been an endurance race for cars over the 24 hour period. The modern race focuses on Prototypes and GT’s and is a round of the FIA World Endurance Car Championship.
The race truly is a classic bringing fans from all round the world. The Circuit de la Sarthe is a combination of track features and public roads which combine to make the track. Stretching a very modest 13.6 kilometers, it rolls through the French countryside and connected villages.
Originally meant to be one of three races, of which the victor would be the driver covering the furthest distance over three 24 hour rounds, the race very quickly became stand alone. A decade long break due to the war and union strikes was ended in 1949, with the brands known and loved today entering the sport such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti and Bentley. It later became part of the World Sports Car Championship (set up a few years after the initial formation of the Formula One World Championship), which became the stomping ground of car manufacturers trying to beat each other with cars now specially made and provided from the factories. This brought the glory years of many a famous team, such as Mercedes-Benz’s Silver Arrows, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Jaguar – teams that would feature and at times individually dominate the sport over the decades ahead.
The race was never without controversy and would frequently take the lives of drivers and spectators alike. One particular incident lead to the death of eighty fans, and lead to Mercedes leaving the sport for a time. Safety standards were always raised following these incidents, including the development of the buildings and purpose made pit lane, but also the type of fences around the course.
Today the track itself is a centre of excellence, and the racing to FIA guidelines. There are two main categories, and sub categories within:
Le Mans Prototypes: LMP1 and LMP2
The prototypes feature in the same way as Formula One cars. These are made for racing only, and originally only for this track. They have powerful racing engines and brakes and are aerodynamically shaped to optimise the long straights and flowing corners of the track. The main competitors are Audi, Porsche, Toyota and more recently Nissan in LMP1.
LMP2 includes privateer teams, such as Rebellion, Brabham and Ligier. Companies then sell the basics such as the engines and breaking systems and the teams put together their platforms for the race.
GTE Class: Pro and Am
The GTE’s are modified cars based on road cars, and is more traditional to the original format back in 1923. That said, today – underneath the shell of the car they can really be anything but traditional. The main manufacturers in the sport are Audi, Ferrari, Aston Martin, BMW, Lotus, Panoz, Ford, Chevrolet and Porsche.
The difference between the two categories are simply the level of driver. The Pro class contains professional drivers from the world of motor sport. The Am class has a mix of amateur drivers.
The race attracts all kinds of driver, from the very top level of the sport to those who can drive unpaid. Many drivers cross series to drive here. Most notably this year will have current Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg taking part in the race. Other drivers tend to arrive here after F1, including Mark Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella and Kazuki Nakajima.
Testing has already begun for this years event, with Porsche locking out the first three places so far. 2015 looks like a race not to be missed.