Introduction & History
The famous 24 Hours of Le Mans 24 Hours event (24 Heures du Mans, or Grand Prix of Endurance) is an endurance car race held each year in June. Unlike most car races the Le Mans 24 Hours was envisaged to promote not only speed but reliability, and many technical innovations have made their way into production automobiles and in particular performance sports cars. The first Le Mans was in 1923 and it has run each year except for 1936 (the Great Depression) and 1940 - 1948 (World War 2).
The circuit used by the Le Mans 24 Hour race is known as the Curcuit de la Sarthe, after the local 'department' or region that Le Mans is located in. It is currently 13.63 km (8.47 miles) in length and consists of both race track and public roads. The track has changed over the years, and perhaps the most significant alteration was the addition of two chicanes in the 5 km long Mulsanne, which was introduced for safety reasons to slow down competitors, who were reaching almost 390 km/h.
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Sunday Times ~ March 2007
The 24 Hour Race
The race usually comprises approximately 50 cars, and although all race at the same time there are separate classes of competitor, with prizes for each class in addition to an overall prize. There are currently four classes: two for custom-built models and two for production-type grand tourers, and while the custom cars usually win, because reliability is such a major factor at Le Mans production models do occasionally win. Originally only two drivers were allowed, but at the end of the 1980s a rule dictating a minimum of three drivers was introduced to reduce the strain and risks from fatigue.
The Le Mans race normally occurs over the second weekend in June and traditionally starts at 4 p.m. on the Saturday (though they may change to a regular 3 p.m. start), with the cars being checked over by officials on the preceeding Monday and Tuesday, followed by practice and qualifying occuring on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a 'rest day' which includes a parade through Le Mans by the drivers.
The Le Mans 24 Hours race originally began with the drivers sprinting to their cars before starting them up and driving away, but safety concers (to save time many drivers did not engage their seat belts!) did away with this convention and since 1971 a rolling start has been used.
The Le Mans Legend is a 24 hour race for vintage cars which have either taken part in previous Le Mans or are the same type as ones that have, and each year the cars must be from a particular era. The drivers are mostly amateur but some famous drivers have taken part such as Stirling Moss. The race usually takes place about a month after the main 24 Hour race, and the event also includes a concours and auction.