One of the biggest motorsport events in the calendar is on the horizon.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place on June 17 and 18.
Some of the world biggest car manufacturers will battle for the prestigious crown next weekend and here are the reasons we think that it’s a must-see – and what to expect this year.
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A historic, legendary race
Most of us have heard of the 24 Heures du Mans, but there’s a lot more to it than you probably know. For starters, it’s the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, being held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans in France.
Along with the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, it is part of the coveted Triple Crown of Motorsport. It runs at the Circuit de la Sarthe, which is a mix of closed public roads and a racing circuit.
It’s been part of the FIA World Endurance Championship since 2012 and this year’s event, which is the 85th race, will be round three. The race has inspired other 24-hour events around the world, including Daytona, Nurburgring, Spa and Bathurst.
There are also spin-off events like the American Le Mans Series and Europe’s Le Mans Series. There are also classic, kart, truck and motorbike versions too.
Epic manufacturer battles
For manufacturers Le Mans is a title they all want. The most successful of all time is Porsche, which has 18 overall victories, including seven in a row from 1981 to 1987.
Audi is the next most successful, with 13 wins, then Ferrari on nine, including six in a row between 1960 and 1965. The battle between Ferrari and Ford in the 1960s is one of the most famous.
Since 2000 Audi has dominated the event – it’s won 13 times since then. Its main battlers have been Jaguar, with seven wins this century, while Bentley has six and Alfa Romeo and Ford have four.
Also of note is the fact that a Japanese manufacturer has won only once, in 1991 – also the only win by a car with a rotary engine.
Some of the most recognisable cars of all time have made their name at Le Mans. While names like Bentley were famous in the early days, the golden era began in the 1950s with the Jaguar D-Type.
It was the star of the show between 1955 and 1957, winning all three events and taking five of the top six spots in 1957. If the 1950s were about Jaguar, the 1960s were about Ferrari and Ford. Between 1960 and 1965 Ferrari won every race, with the 250 LM (short, predictably, for Le Mans) winning in 1965.
The battle with Ford kicked off in 1963, when a verbal agreement between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari to buy the Italian company fell through. Ford was furious so he poured millions of dollars into beating Ferrari on the track.
And so came the GT40. Ford dominated 1966 to 1969, taking the top three spots in 1966. Nobody has dominated Le Mans quite like Porsche, which took 16 wins between 1970 and 1998. Perhaps its most legendary car was the 917, winning in 1970 and 1971.
As mentioned, a Japanese manufacturer has won just once, in 1991, when Mazda’s 787B became the underdog that won. It started in the middle of the field, but, because its rotary engine used less fuel and was more reliable than others, meaning fewer pit stops, it eventually rose to the top.
The McLaren F1 became a legend as a road car and was never intended to race. But customer pressure meant that the race-focused F1 GTR came along and McLaren took first, third, fourth, fifth and 13th places at that year’s race.
The hero of this century is Audi, but it skipped the 2003 race as it was busy building its R8 road car. So VW Group sibling Bentley took on the responsibility and the Speed 8 marked the firm’s return to racing after 73 years – and it took victory.
Audi has dominated since 2000 – winning 13 races and the R18 is the standout car, winning the races between 2011 and 2014.
It takes a special kind of driver to win at Le Mans – we’re not talking your everyday two-hour F1 race here. And there are three drivers that stand above the rest.
Jacky Ickx, who also had a decent F1 career, first held the record of six, with victories scored between 1969 and 1982. It earned him an honorary citizenship of Le Mans.
Derek Bell was a frequent driving partner of Ickx and himself won five events. But today the top man is Tom Kristensen, with nine wins between 1997 and 2013, including six in a row.
Woolf Barnato and AJ Foyt are the only drivers to win every event they entered – three for Barnato and one for Foyt. The man who has driven the most races – 33 – is Henri Pescarolo, who won it four times.
And remember that Triple Crown that we mentioned? Brit Graham Hill is, to date, the only man to achieve it.
What to expect this year
The 2017 race will see 60 cars enter, the same number as last year, when the event returned to that number for the first time since 1955. There are several classes – LMP1 is the top division, for cars custom-built for the race. LMP2 cars are also custom-built, but they are split by speed, weight and power output.
There will be five LMP1 entries – two from Porsche, two from Toyota and one from independents ByKolles. Audi’s works team has exited, but Toyota will field three cars instead of two.
LMP2 will see 25 entrants, three more than last year. The GTE Pro and GTE AM classes are for production-based cars, much more akin to those seen on the roads. Pro will see 13 cars, including Porches, Aston Martins, Chevrolets and Ferraris. AM will have 16 cars.
Former F1 star and 2015 World Endurance Car champion Mark Webber has been given the prestigious role of Grand Marshal for the race, having retired from racing last year. The Grand Marshal is an honorary role and Webber will start the race with the French flag.