The 24 Hours of Le Mans: My Favourite Race of the Year
Being the die hard Formula 1 fan that I am, it may come as a surprise that if you ask me what race I look forward to the most every year, I will not respond with some variation of Grand Prix. I will respond by saying it is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. What’s even funnier is that I never actually bothered to watch the race until I was drawn by Nico Hulkenberg’s news that he could compete with Porsche in their LMP1 car for 2015. Hulkenberg, a Force India driver in F1 at the time, made the news after becoming the first full time F1 driver to compete in Le Mans in recent times, which he subsequently won alongside teammates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.
Like I said it was the first proper year that I watched Le Mans, and I absolutely fell in love with the whole concept of the race. Sure I knew of the race, its history and its significance but I never actually sat down and experienced it live. The race itself left a lasting impact on me, one that in the years since I have looked forward to the next year’s race the minute the chequered flag would fall. The cars, the drivers, the track, the whole lot is just phenomenal. Here is a few reasons as to why I love the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
1. The Track
The circuit of Le Mans has become one of the most well known and loved circuits in motorsport history. The circuit is known as The Circuit de la Sarthe, a semi-permanent circuit situated just outside the town of Le Mans in the middle of France. Made up of half public roads, half permanent circuit of the Bugatti Circuit, the circuit is known for its unique challenges, such as the ultra-long Mulsanne straight, and the sweeping Porsche curves. The circuit has a total length of 8.467 miles (13.626 kilometres.) and is known of being full throttle for over 85% of a lap. Two chicanes were added to the Mulsanne straight in 1990 in order to slow the cars down after a series of bad accidents, but cars still reach in access of 200 mph as they come down the straight. The Circuit de la Sarthe also still holds a notorious reputation with drivers and teams as being one of the fastest, challenging, unique and dangerous circuits to race on.
2. The Cars
The 24 Hours of Le Mans also brings out some of the fastest teams and cars that’s competing to race in Le Mans. Teams from the World Endurance Championship, Asian and European Le Mans Series and the American WeatherTech SportsCar Championship all come together to compete for the 24 Hours. Cars are designated into four categories, LMP1 and LMP2 for teams with Prototype cars, purpose built machines, such as Toyota, Rebellion and Dragonspeed and GTE Pro and GTE Am for teams with grand tourer racing machines such as Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Ford. One of the unique characteristics that I love about Le Mans is that literally anything can happen within those 24 hours of racing, and the fastest car is no good whatsoever if it isn’t bulletproof either. Endurance and durability is just as important as speed and there has been numerous examples over the years where a team who wasn’t the fastest won thanks to reliability and endurance, and thanks for the four classes each being awarded class victories, you’ve essentially four races going on at the same time as well as the race for overall victory.
3. The Drivers
Le Mans, thanks to the significance of the race, annually boasts a brilliantly strong line up of drivers. For example this year’s race a total of 61 cars will take the start, each car having a three driver team, bringing a total of 183 drivers taking to the track on Saturday. Drivers such as Fernando Alonso, Jean-Eric Vergne, Giancarlo Fisichella, Bruno Senna, Sam Bird, Andre Lotterer and Scott Dixon are to name but a few of the well known names on this year’s grid, marking drivers coming from championships such as F1, Indycar, Formula E and other disciplines all coming together to compete and race against each other for the title of 24 Hours of Le Mans winners.
4. The Race Itself
Okay, so we all know the bizarre and unique stories to come from Le Mans in its almost 100 years existence, but the race itself is always a memorable and amazing event and I just love the whole thing about it. The idea of endurance, the dependence on your teammates and pit crew, how the race descends into the loneliness and scary darkness of night and how the cars drive towards the sunrise, how the cars disappear past Tetre Rouge in the night and appear four minutes later into the brightness of the circuit at the Porsche Curves, and the mental and physical effects it puts on the team members and drivers. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a challenge like no other and it is no surprise that it is on every professional and amateur’s bucket list, and I have no doubt that when the cars go racing at 3pm (2pm UK time.) on Saturday, that we will be in for yet another classic 24 Hour of Le Mans.