What Is The 24 Hours Of Le Mans?
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest endurance sports car race in the world. One of the most-watched motorsports events, drivers and fans around the world look forward to the race each June. Keep reading to learn about the history, format, and qualifying procedure of one of auto racing’s most challenging and exciting events.
- Venue: France Circuit de la Sarthe
- Location: Le Mans, France
- First Race: 1923
- Duration: 24 hours
- Lap Length: 13.6 km (8.5 mi)
- Series: FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC)
- Governing Body: Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO)
- Most Driver Wins: Tom Kristensen (9)
- Most Team Wins: Joest Racing (13)
- Most Manufacturer Wins: Porsche (19)
- First Prize: €40,000 ($43,300 USD)
24 Hours of Le Mans
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a 24-hour-long endurance sports car race held every June in Le Mans, France. First held in 1923, it is the oldest active endurance race. The 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place on the Circuit de Sarthe in Le Mans, France. The 13.6 km (8.5 mi) course is a combination of sections of private, race-specific track and public roads that are closed for the event. Three different classes of prototype and grand touring sports cars compete on the track at the same time.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is part of the Triple Crown of auto racing (the other two are the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500). Unlike the other Triple Crown races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans requires racing excellence and great teamwork, as multiple drivers are needed to reach the end of the race. The race has a relatively small prize pool, considering its prestige, with the winner taking home only €40,000 ($43,300 USD).
24 Hours of Le Mans History
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was first run on May 26-27, 1923. It was organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (AOC), a motoring club that had been founded in 1906. Grand touring was gaining popularity as an activity, and the AOC launched the race to encourage technical innovation in touring cars and to boost the level of innovation in the automobile industry.
The first race was held solely on public roads, and the course was a bit longer at 17.2 km (10.7 mi). The winners of the first 24 Hours of Le Mans were Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard. They traveled 1,300 miles in a Chenard & Walcker powered by a three-liter engine. The race was suspended from 1939 through 1949 because of World War II and its aftermath, but it has been held yearly ever since.
In total, 62 cars qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, split across three classes. The Wednesday prior to the race, a 45-minute initial qualifying is held with all cars on track at once. The top six finishers from each class then participate in a Hyperpole final qualifying session on Thursday (except for Hypercar, in which only five cars advance). This 30-minute session sets the top six starting positions for each class. The remaining starting positions are set based on the times set during initial qualifying.
24 Hours of Le Mans Format
24 Hours of Le Mans is an endurance race, and the winner is the team that covers the longest distance in 24 hours. There are three classes of cars: Hypercar, LMP2, and LMGTE Am. An overall winner is crowned, as are winners in each class.
Teams and Drivers
There are 38 teams competing in the 2023 34 Hours of Le Mans from 12 different countries. There are 13 Hypercar teams, 11 LMP2 teams, and 14 LMGTE Am teams. Top teams include Cadillac Racing, Porsche Penske Motorsports, Peugeot Totalenergies, United Autosports, and Toyota Gazoo Racing. Most drivers compete in other WEC races throughout the season and represent some of the best racing drivers in the world. Notable drivers include former Formula 1 drivers Jacques Villenueve and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Garage 56 is a special program that allows one experimental car to compete in each 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was started in 2012 by the ACO to encourage advancements in race car technology. For 2023, NASCAR is running a modified stock car in the race under the Garage 56 program, in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports and Goodyear tires. The drivers of the NASCAR Garage 56 car will be Mike Rockenfeller, Jimmie Johnson, and Jenson Button.
Le Mans Start
Although no longer used, the race traditionally began with a standing start known as a Le Mans start. Cars were lined up in starting order and drivers stood on the opposite side of the front stretch. At the drop of the starting flag, drivers ran to their cars, got in and started them without assistance, and drove away. This practice was discontinued in 1970 due to safety concerns, and since 1971 a rolling start has been used.
Why is the 24 Hours of Le Mans so important?
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is so important because it is the oldest existing endurance sports car race. It is also part of the Triple Crown of auto racing, alongside the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500.
How does the 24 Hours of Le Mans work?
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is an endurance race, and the team that covers the longest distance in 24 hours is declared the winners. Three different classes compete. An overall winner is declared, as well as winners of each individual class.