In the northern part of France, far of Monaco, lies a town called Le Mans in Sarthe, in the Pays de la Loire region. In 1923, the quiet countryside roads in Le Mans would become a host for what is the greatest endurance race in motor racing; 24 Heures du Mans, or The 24 Hours of Le Mans. Back then, it was called an Endurance Grand Prix, with the conventional grand prix layout, but rather be a laps race like Monaco, it was a race that lasted over time. One full day, in fact. Because a person can’t race 24 hours straight, in an endurance race, a team will enter a minimum of one car and 2 drivers. Each driver has a specific period or duration of time in the car called a stint. Usually a driver gets 2 or 3 stints during the race, depending on how many drivers share the car. Weirdly, the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) intended to award the winner following three straight years of competition, like a championship. But the idea would be abandoned in 1925 when they didn’t have anybody who had competed since its start in 1923. The field of drivers were primarily French, Belgian, and Swiss, with a few British drivers challenging them. Bugatti, Chenard-Walcker, Bentley, modified Fords, and other French manufacturers participated, sending in works and non-works cars. The 1923 24 Hours of Le Mans would be won by André Lagache and René Léonard in a 3-liter inline-4 Chenard-Walcker Sport, finishing with 128 laps.The fastest lap was by the #8 Bentley of Captain J.F. Duff, a Canadian driver and team who would finish 4th, 112 laps.
The late 1920s and early 1930s would be dominated by Bentley and other British marques, such as Lagonda and Aston Martin. Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz also entered during the 30s, bringing in a more variety of drivers and mechanics in the field. 1939 would be the last race for 10 years, due to the invasion of France and WWII.
In 1949, Ferrari took the victory with Luigi Chinetti behind the wheel, along side Lord Selsdon.
The late 50s brought on an all-star grid of drivers from the world of F1 and other pinnacle motorsports, such as Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Olivier Gendebien, Wolfgang von Trips, Jo Bonnier, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Innes Ireland, Masten Gregory, Bruce McLaren, Stirling Moss, Pedro Rodriguez, Lucien Bianchi, and Carroll Shelby, to name a few. Aston Martin and Jaguar were the teams to beat, and Britain was slowly conquering the motorsport disciplines, one by one.
Today, Le Mans has kept it rich heritage and celebrates it by constantly innovating technology to improve performance and practicality. Audi dominates this era currently, with only Peugeot to take a win against them in 2009.
"At a time when Grand Prix racing was the dominant form of motorsport throughout Europe, Le Mans was designed to present a different test. Instead of focusing on the ability of a car company to build the fastest machines, the 24 Hours of Le Mans would instead concentrate on the ability of manufacturers to build sporty yet reliable cars. This encouraged innovation in producing reliable and fuel-efficient vehicles, because the nature of endurance racing requires cars that last the distance and spend as little time in the pits as possible.
At the same time, due to the layout of the Le Mans track, a need was created for cars to have better aerodynamics and stability at high speeds. While this was shared with Grand Prix racing, few tracks in Europe had straights of a length comparable to the Mulsanne. The fact that the road is public and therefore not maintained to the same quality as some permanent racing circuits also put more of a strain on parts, putting greater emphasis on reliability.
The demand for fuel economy created by the oil crisis in the early 1970s led the race organisers to adopt a fuel economy formula known as Group C, in which the amount of fuel each car was allowed to use during the race was limited. Although Group C was abandoned when teams were able to master the fuel formulae, fuel economy was still important to some teams as alternative fuel sources appeared in the early 21st century, attempting to overcome time spent during pit stops.
These technological innovations have had a trickle-down effect, with technology used at Le Mans finding its way into production cars several years later. This has also led to faster and more exotic supercars due to manufacturers wishing to develop faster road cars for the purposes of developing them into even faster GT cars.”