It's 1970. It's the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Experience it as live – updated in real time
With the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours online only, we take you back 50 years to tell the story of Porsche's incredible first victory "live", as it happened
Storm clouds are gathering over Circuit de La Sarthe. Humidity is high for the time of year and heavy rain is forecast for later this afternoon. After positive performances in practise and qualifying, the various Porsche teams are currently going through their final checks of the Group 6 917s, fielded for the second consecutive year at Le Mans and this time with an enlarged, 5.0-litre engine and extensively revised body work.
As anticipated, the main challenge looks to be coming from the newly homologated Ferrari 512, with no fewer than 11 works and privateer examples entered for 1970. The Italians have shown impressive pace, qualifying ahead of the John Wyer 917 Kurzheck of Joseph Siffert and Brian Redman, but nevertheless behind the new works Langheck of Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens, with its low drag tail providing a significant top speed advantage on the Mulsanne Straight.
Records tumbled throughout the final session, but it was Elford who claimed the fastest lap of the 13.6km circuit with a stunning benchmark time of 3minutes 19.8 seconds.
Apparently struggling for pace and suffering braking issues, the slowest of the Group 6 Porsche entries was the No.23 Salzburg car being driven by popular German veteran Hans Herrmann and his British teammate Richard Attwood. This car is running the older 4.5-litre engine, which although proven over distance is said to be costing the crew up to 10 seconds a lap, all but eliminating their chances of a podium finish.
With just four hours to go until the 16:00 start (local time), which will be waved off by our very own Dr Ferry Porsche, the circuit is already teaming with spectators from all over Europe and beyond. Initial estimates suggest as many as 300,000 people have travelled to Le Mans this weekend for what is already being tipped as a vintage year in the history of the ultimate endurance race.
Porsche has dominated the World Sportscar Championship to date, but Ferrari’s recent resurgence promises to make this a spectacular battle for the most coveted trophy of the season. Stay tuned as the 38th Grand Prix of Endurance unfolds – we'll be posting live, as all the action happens, below.
14:30: We're here at the legendary Le Mans race track, two hours south-west of Paris, surrounded by 300,000 fellow fans hoping for yet another spectacular 24 hour race on this epic street circuit.
15:00: And there's an exciting start to practice at Le Mans, where 'Quick Vic' Elford has lived up to his name, setting a new best laptime of 3:19.8 minutes in his 917 Long Tail. What an achievement!
15:30: Porsche has already won the world championship title, but they've never won here at Le Mans. Does Porsche even need the victory? We're here with race director Rico Steinemann: "Porsche accepts the challenge of racing against the strongest competition because winning the world championship without participating in the world's most popular endurance race would be unthinkable for the Zuffenhauseners."
15:45: Do you remember last year? In 1969, all the drivers ran to their cars for the classic Le Mans start, except Jacky Ickx, who felt it was too dangerous. It worked – this year the drivers start the race in their cars, seat belts fastened.
15:50: Did you know that Porsche ignition locks are on the left so that drivers could save time at the classic Le Mans start? Click on the article from Porsche's Christophorus Magazine below to learn more about what may just be the most famous ignition key in history.
15:55: The list of participating race cars is impressive: Porsche 908, 911, 914 as well as seven Porsche 917 and 11 Ferrari 512S in the top class.
15:58: The start is imminent. 51 cars are lined up on the grid for the Le Mans 24 Hours. The tension is palpable. Ferry Porsche takes his place with the starting flag. Will this bring luck for the Porsche team?
16:15: The guests of honour at this year's 24-hour race are Ferry Porsche and his wife Dorothea. Will this year see Porsche's first overall victory?
16:30: It's like a science fiction comic: in 50 years time, it'll be possible to race at Le Mans virtually. Cue scary movie music and narrator with ridiculously deep voice: "Which of you dares to take the jump in time?"
16:45: For two of the teams, Le Mans has ended within the first hour. Hezemans and Gregory from Team Alfa Romeo #37 have piston damage while Ferrari drivers Vaccarella and Giunti #6 have to finish the race early with a broken conrod.
17:30: An hour and a half into the race and the weather forecast has arrived: rain, rain and more rain. #LeMans70
18:00: Breaking news and a disaster for Ferrari! There's been a huge crash on track and four of Maranello’s finest are out. That means the end for Reine Wisell, Clay Regazzoni, Mike Parks and a promising young driver called Derek Bell.
18:15: Vic Elford, leading from the #20 car of Jo Siffert, dives into the pits and hands over the #25 Porsche 917 to Kurt Ahrens. Meanwhile Hans Herrmann has fought his way up to ninth place in the #23 Salzburg 917.
18:30: The race is over for two more teams: Deprez and Vemaeve complain about a defective ignition system in their Chevron Mazda Wankel while in the 917 of Rodriguez and Kinnunen #21, the engine's cooling fan has failed.
19:00: The rain’s getting heavier! On the oily track, it’s mixing with the dust from all the hot weather we’ve had, as well as the rubber 'marbles' off the tyres, which are frantically changed in the pits. Le Mans is becoming even more slippery. With characteristic British understatement, Richard Attwood describes the conditions as 'rather unpleasant …"
19:30: 300,000 spectators are getting absolutely soaked. As the saying goes, it's raining cats and dogs out there.
20:00: The attrition rate is incredible! Three more teams are out. Zeccoli/Facetti in Alfa Romeo #38 and Hobbs/Hailwoood in Porsche 917 #22 have crashed on the start/finish straight. Bourdon/Aubriet in the #1 Chevrolet-Corvette are out too.
20:30: Porsche and Ferrari have entered the 24-hour race with equal chances but maybe the big crash has turned the tide. Dare we dream? Can Porsche really achieve the longed-for first Le Mans victory?
21:30: Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" is playing through the speakers in the Porsche box, competing with the drumming rain and howling race engines outside. If it’s not too much to ask, please could said spirit improve the weather a bit?
22:00: It's amazing what racing cars can do. Who knows, maybe Le Mans will also be a virtual event in 50 years.
23:00: We're into the seventh hour of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Hans Herrmann has now fought his way up to fifth place in the Number 23 Porsche 917. Last year, he was just pipped to the win by his great rival Jacky Ickx.
00:00: No! Siffert has tried to overtake the two 917 longtail cars of Elford and Kauhsen under the Dunlop Bridge and has over-revved his flat-12 in the attempt. Its crankcase is totally destroyed.
00:15 Breaking news! Porsche Salzburg has taken the lead for the first time as Englishman Richard Attwood has battled his way up to first place in the red and white 917.
01:00 A special feature of today's race is the camera car of Steve McQueen. The actor is shooting scenes for his new Le Mans movie. The Porsche 908 is equipped with two cameras with three lenses and is driven by Porsche driver Herbert Linge.
02:00 The chances of a first Swiss success at Le Mans are gone. The engine of the #20 Porsche 917 has just exploded. Siffert and Redmann are out. Somewhere on the track Jacky Ickx has also dropped out.
02:30 In the pitch black of a sodden night, the number 23 is lit up at the top of the huge Le Mans leaderboard. The Porsche 917 driven by Herrmann remains in the lead. He’s been denied a victory at Le Mans 13 times. Giving up is not an option.
03:00 The crowd is chilled to the marrow. This lousy weather really is a challenge for everybody here.
04:00 We're half way through now and the Salzburg 917 #23 is in the lead. It's completed 176 laps, and has a three lap lead over Larrousse and Kauhsen.
04:30 The Porsche 914 is a quick car – capable of over 200 km/h – but we’ve just been out to the Mulsanne Straight and when you see a 917 appearing out of the rain and darkness to lap it, it just looks like it’s standing still.
05:00 Yet another retirement at Le Mans: Manfrecini and Moretti are out with a broken driveshaft on their Ferrari 512S.
05:30: As dawn arrives, so does even more torrential rain. The Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512S are suddenly more boats than cars, and it's the turn of the normally much slower GT cars to be doing the overtaking.
"It's so easy to lose concentration, especially when you back off a bit. Then you make a mistake, crash the car and everyone says "what a prat"," comments Richard Attwood.
06:00: If, in the future, you could have some sort of virtual race, it'd be nice if no-one had to get wet ...
06:30: Worrying news is reaching us from the team supporting the psychedelic-liveried "langheck" 917 of Larrouse and Kauhsen – it's so wet out there that it's struggling with moisture ingress in its ignition system.
07:00: Hans Hermann: "Towards the morning, the tide is rising to a cloudburst. Fountains of spray make it almost impossible to see the other cars, and aquaplaning makes the cars almost rudderless. We’ve trouble even describing what's going on."
07:30: Herrmann/Attwood and Elford/Ahrens are engaged in an exciting duel on the 13 kilometre or so Le Mans circuit. Whoever wants to win here is not going to be able to rely on luck alone.
08:00: The driver pairing of Galli and Stommelen in the red Number 35 Alfa Romeo T33/3 has been disqualified.
08:30: We hate to break this to you but the #25 Elford/Ahrens Porsche 917 is out with a broken valve spring. We’ve caught up with Vic and he’s told us: "I have never driven in such conditions". Kurt added that he felt like he was driving a boat.
09:00: Driver change for the leader and this from Hans Herrmann: "I myself no longer dare to put the car into third gear on the straight. I must not brake, not take my foot off the gas and feel how the car no longer reacts to steering movements."
10:00: 18 hours have passed. 20 cars left in the race. The leaderboard is as follows: 1. Herrmann/Attwood, 2. Lins/Marko, 3. Larrousse/Kauhsen, 4. Posey/Bucknum, 5. de Fierland/Walker, 6. Adamowicz/Parsons
The race pace is finally picking up. As the rain dies down, the lap times start to fall. Herrmann/Attwood in the #23 917 are five laps ahead of Marko/Lins in the #27 908. Attwood: "We’re still in a race. We can't ease off too much because we know the bloke behind is pushing."
11:00: The field is getting smaller and smaller and we've just heard of yet another retirement. This time, an engine failure on the Chevron-B-16 has meant the end of Baker and Martland's race.
12:00: We reckon that this race is going to go down in history. We could be wrong, but we think that June 14th, 1970 is going to still be talked about 50 years from now. Attwood: "If you wrote a script with the story of this race, no-one would believe it."
We're quite liking the idea of these so-called virtual races in the future. Do you think that Porsche might also lead the field in this type of racing?
14:00 Herrmann and Attwood are still in the lead. So far, they've only had to pit for routine stops and, while we don't want to jinx them with only a couple of hours to go, it looks like that reliability will continue. Attwood: "Defending a lead is more stressful than chasing."
15:00 Oh bad luck … With just an hour to go, the British pairing of Skailes and Hine have had an accident in their Chevron B16 #49.
15:30 The 24 hours are almost up and an utterly nerve-wracking night lies behind us. Surely, the Porsche team Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood can't be denied victory now. Quick, find some wood to touch ...
16:03: Larrousse and Kauhsen come in second place. The drivers win the Index of Thermal Efficiency with their 917 longtail.
It's a sensational third overall for Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko in the 908. We bet that Marko guy would go really well in a 917. Actually, we reckon he could really go places ...
16:30: Can you taste the champagne? The Porsche team is in a celebratory mood. Race director Steinemann has just said: "The season is not over yet, but we can already say that we never expected such a result even in our wildest dreams."
17:00: Porsche has won the four out of five classes that actually had cars still competing in them at the end. 12 of the 16 cars running at the chequered flag are Porsches.
17:30 The winner Hans Herrmann has just announced his retirement from motorsport at the press conference. Now that's a very smart way to end your career …
We'll bet you anything that, in 50 years' time, someone's going to write a book about this spectacular race.