The Le Mans 24 Hour Race

Spiritual Home of Endurance Racing

Le Mans 1996

Possibly the most famous race in the world and undoubtedly one of the top 3 motor racing events (alongside the Monaco GP and Indianapolis), the Le Mans 24 Hour race has run since 1923 with the odd occasional breaks, mainly for wars!

It has always been at the forefront of Sportscar racing, being the race which every manufacturer wants to win and the leader in terms of defining the regulations. The ACO, who run the event, don't always get the regs 100% right, but have an uncanny knack of knowing what the Sportscar racing spectating public want to see (unlike the FIA!).

The first race, in 1923 was, like cycling's Tour de France, a publicity stunt to sell newspapers. It was won by Andre Lagache/Rene Leonard in a Chenard & Walcker at speed of 57mph (92 kmh) over 1372 miles (2209 km) of a 10.7 mile(17.2 km) circuit.

Duff & Clement in a Bentley won in 1924, starting a successful run for the make. Bentley were winners in 1927 (3 litre), 1928(4.5), 1929 & 1930 (speed 6). 'Bentley Boy' Woolf Barnato was the winner on the last 3 occasionss, with Birkin in 1930, who won again with an Alfa 8C in 1931.

'The Bentley Boys'
The Bentley Boys - Pictured at Brooklands

Stutz (2nd in 1927) & Chrysler (3rd & 4th in 1927) were front runners in the late 1920s, when American cars were common on this side of the Atlantic.

The French La Lorraine marque were winners in 1925 & 1926.

The circuit length has changed much over the years, being down to 10.1 miles for 1929, 1930 & 1931. It was further reduced to 8.5 miles from 1931 until 1955.

Alfa Romeo were winners in 1931, 1932 ,1933 & 1934(When Nuvolari won) By then, the average speed was up to 75 mph over c 1800 miles .

Alfa Romeo 8C
Alfa Romeo 8C

British marque Lagonda took victory in 1935, but the first race cancellation came in 1936 due to widespread strikes throughout France.

Rileys had a good year in 1934 when they finished 2nd, 3rd ,5th & 6th and Mercedes were 2nd in 1931 when just 6 cars finished. MG & Aston Martin often appeared in the top 6 places at this time.

Mercedes SSK
Mercedes SSK

Bugatti's 57C was the winner with JP Wimille in 1937 and 1939 split by a Delahaye win in 38. BMWs took 5th ,7th & 9th in 1939, proving that not only Mercedes and Auto Union were the Nazis' favourites in motorsport.

1937 winning Bugatti
The 1937 Le Mans winning Bugatti

The Second World War prevented racing until 1949 when a Ferrari 166MM was the first Ferrari winner for Chinetti & Lord Selsdon, ahead of 2 Delages, a Frazer Nash and an Aston DB. The winner covered 1975 miles at an average of 82 mph.

Jaguar's 1st win came in 1951 with the C-Type, followed by a Mercedes win in 1952 with 300SL against aerodyamically altered C types which overheated. The C-Type shape was changed back for 1953 and finished 1st ,2nd & 4th, in Mercedes absence. 1953 saw the first racing Porsche at Le Mans.

C-Type Jaguar
Nicholas Watts' painting of the C-Type at Le Mans

1954 saw Ferrari win against Jaguar's new D-Type.

The 1955 race was marred by the infamous accident when a Mercedes 300SLR went into the crowd on the pit straight, killing driver Levegh and 80 spectators. Hawthorn's D-Type took a hollow victory as Mercedes withdrew all their other cars.

Jaguar's D-Types continued to dominate in 1956 & 1957 which also saw good class results for Lotus 11s and the Aston DBR1.

In 1958, a 3 litre capacity limit was introduced. The V12 TR (Testarossa) from Ferrari won from Maserati and Aston competition. A small field in 1959 saw victory for Aston Martin , taking first and second. The competition from Ferrari retired.

In 1960, a prototype E-type Jaguar was seen, but Ferrari took 6 of the top 7 places. 1961 was another win for the Ferrari TR, but rear engined cars from Ferrari & Maserati were seen for first time. Sunbeam Alpines & Triumph Spitfires won class and tean prizes in 1961.

1962 saw the introduction of a prototype class, leading to a Ferrari 4 litre winning for Phil Hill & Oliver Gendebien. Lotus were controversially excluded and never returned until after Colin Chapman's death.

Ferrari Testarossa
Ferrari Testarossa 4 Litre

1963 saw the revolutionarly Rover gas-turbine car cover enough distance to be placed 8th, but it was running as a guest car and was not officially classified.

Rover Gas Turbine
Rover Gas Turbine Car

1964 saw the first Ford USA entries. These, Lola-built, cars were the forerunners to the legendary GT40. Despite this, Ferrari won for a fifth year in succession.

In 1965, the Rover Gas Turbine of Graham Hill & Jackie Stewart was officially classified 10th. As the 7 litre Fords retired, Ferrari won their 6th race on the trot.

1966 saw Ford finally win after a massive operation. By this time the race average had crept up to over 125mph.

1967 was another Ford year as they won from Ferrari, covering 3,250 miles and seeing over 200mph on the straights.

The works Fords withdrew in 1968, but a privateer Ford won in Gulf colours. This year also marked the oddity of a September race after political riots in France.

Gulf Ford GT40
Gulf's Ford GT40

1969 saw the closest ever finish with Ickx's GT40 beating Larousse's Porsche 908 by yards . Porsche 917s qualified fastest and lead for hours but broke.

1970 saw the first non Le Mans start as the drivers started strapped into their cars, although still starting from the side of the pit wall. The race saw the Porsche 917 take Porsche's first win for Attwood andHermann. Lap speeds of over 150 mph were seen in practice. The race also saw a camera car running for Steve McQueen's Le Mans film of 1971.

1971 saw the introduction of the now familiar rolling start, but the 917s still dominated. The Martini sponsored car won. Only 13 cars finished. 3 were Ferraris (which finished 3rd ,4th and 5th), all the others were Porsches.

In 1972 the circuit underwent major changes leading to a revision to 8.475 miles. Group 2 cars (essentially touring cars) were allowed and 4 Capris were entered, the best finishing 10th. Matra won with Graham Hill & Henri Pescarolo. This made Hill the only man to win the Indinanapolis 500, Le Mans and the F1 World Championship. Sadly Jo Bonnier was killed during the race, which covered 2915.1 miles at an average of 121.45 mph.

in 1973 & 1974 Matra again won, Pescarolo & Larrousse taking victory on both ocassions.

Matra 670
Matra 670 - Photo courtesy of Matrasport website.

1975 saw the first Ickx/Bell victory, in a Gulf Mirage.

1976 and 1977 saw Porsche 936 victories for Jacky Ickx. The 936 was the dominant force at Le Mans until the start of Group C in 1982, when Porsche's 956 took over the mantle.

Porsche 936
Porsche 936 - Pictured at a recent sportscar meeting

1978 saw a Renault Alpine victory, which lead to Renault's withdrawl from sportscar racing and entry into F1 with turbo engines, which led to the runaway power race of the 1980s.

Alpine Renault
Renault's Alpine built turbo prototype.

1979 saw the 936s fail and an IMSA Porsche 935 took victory against expectations. A second 935, co-driven by actor Paul Newman finished second and Derek Bell tried in vain to get his Mirage to stagger round a final lap to be classified. No doubt the 935s were helped by wet weather, for much of the race, which reduced the performance advantage of the open top prototypes.

935 at Le Mans
Porsche 935 at Le Mans

1980 was wet again and Le Mans team Rondeau took an emotional victory. Jean Rondeau was the first driver to win in his own make of car, but was sadly killed in road accident a couple of years later.

A late model Rondeau at Le Mans
Rondeau's late model car at Le Mans

1981 saw an Ickx/Bell 936 walkover.

1982 & 1983 saw the beginning of Group C and the Works 956s took victories against Lancias and privateer 956s.

956 at Le Mans
Joest Porsche 956 at Le Mans

1984 &1985 saw memorable Joest victories. In 1984 the works boycotted Le Mans in a dispute over fuel tank sizes, but they were beaten fair-and-square byJoest's canny use of fuel in 1985. These races marked a double victory for Klaus Ludwig.

1986 saw Bell/Stuck/Holbert dominate in a works Porsche 96 and they won again in 1987 after a good fight with Tom Walkinshaw's Jaguars.

1988 marked the first Jaguar Gp C victory after an intense Jaguar vs Porsche battle. Mercedes withdrew after frightening problems with their tyres led to a massive accident on the Mulsanne Straight for Jonathon Palmer. Johnny Dumfries, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace were the winners.

Jaguar at Le Mans
Jaguar at Le Mans, 1988

1989 saw a somewhat suprising victory for Mercedes (despite their dominant form in the 480km races) at their second attempt The race was notable for the stunning speed of Mercedes Junior team member Michael Schumacher.

1990 saw the second Group C win for Jaguar. Brundle, Nielsen and Cobb taking the honours.

1991 saw Mazda take a historic win to become the first and (so far) only Japanese winners. Jaguars finished 2nd & 3rd behind the F1 dream team of Herbert, Gachot & Weidler.

Mazda win Le Mans, 1991
Mazda, Le Mans winners 1991

1992 & 1993 saw Peugeot's 905s 3.5 litre Group C cars win against limited competition, but there was a good battle with Toyota in 1993. Warwick, Dalmas and Blundell won in 1992, whilst Brabham, Helary and Bouchut sprayed the champagne in 1993.

In 1994. a rule-bending 'GT' Porsche 962 narrowly defeated Toyota's Group C car in Group C's last run at Le Mans. Eddie Irvine was inspired in his Toyota, which could have won, but for a delay late in race.

Dauer 962 at Le Mans
Porsche's "GT" Dauer 962 at Le Mans 1994

1995 saw a historic victory, at the first attempt, for a McLaren F1 in hands of Dalmas, Llheto and Sekiya. As in 1979, wet weather played into the hands of the GT cars allowing them to defeat the lighter prototypes.

McLaren F1 at Le Mans
McLaren F1 wins 1995 Le Mans

1996 saw a museum piece Joest Porsche (which had previously qualified as a Jaguar and raced as Mazda) beat Porsche's 911 GT1s and McLarens in the hands of Reuter, Jones and Wurz. Remarkably the went on to repeat the feat in 1997 as the favourite GT1s failed in the final hours of the race handing the win to GP veterans Alboreto and Johansson and F3000 man Tom Kristensen.

911GT1 at Le Mans
Porsche's 911 GT1 at Le Mans

1998 saw the Porche factory GT1 car take victory as the more fancied prototypes fell by the wayside in poor conditions.

1999 was a victory for BMW, whose Williams F1 built prototype took a sole win. They didn't bother returning in 2000, so it was Audi who took up the mantle and began an amazing run of success.

With the aid of the ever-successful Joest Racing team, they won every year from 2000 until 2008 except 2003 when VAG siblings Bentley took the win with their handsome GTP coupe which ran the Audi engine.

Privateer Goh Audi won in 2004
Privateer Goh Audi won in 2004

After their success, Bentley withdrew and Audi's dominance continued, with the German team switching to Diesel power as much as a challenge for themselves as anything else, one suspects.

R10 feature diesel power
R10 feature diesel power

Peugeot followed this route with a LMP Coupe, but it took until 2009 for the French team to deliver the home win that the locals so craved, despite them having the faster car in 2008.

Peugeot won in 2009
Peugeot beat Audi far and square in 2009
What does the future hold for the Le Mans 24 Hours? It continues on as a stand-alone race (although the ACO sanctions the LMS and ALMS series, now the primary Sportscar series) and remains safe as the race manufacturers and drivers want to win.

Nissan & Joest, 1997  Le Mans
Variety rules at Le Mans

Year  Car                Drivers                           Distance  Speed
                                                            (miles)  (mph)
Circuit - 10.726 miles
1923  Chenard & Walcker  A.Lagache, R.Leonard (F)          1372.9    57.21
1924  Bentley 3 litre    J.Duff, F.Clement (GB)            1290.8    53.78
1925  La Lorraine Courcelles, A.Rossignol (F)  1388.1    57.84
1926  La Lorraine        R.Bloch, A.Rossignol (F)          1586.0    66.08
1927  Bentley 3 litre    D.Benjafield, S.Davis (GB)        1472.5    61.34
1928  Bentley 4.5        W.Barnato, B.Rubin (GB)           1658.6    69.11

Circuit - 10.153 miles
1929  Bentley 6 speed    W.Barnato, Sir H.Birkin (GB)      1767.1    73.63
1930  Bentley 6 speed    W.Barnato, G.Kidston (GB)         1821.0    75.88
1931  Alfa Romeo 8C2300  E.Howe, Sir H.Birkin (GB)         1875.1    78.13

Circuit - 8.475 miles
1932  Alfa Romeo 8C2300  R.Sommer, L.Chinetti (F,I)        1835.6    76.58
1933  Alfa Romeo 8C2300  R.Sommer, T.Nuvolari (F,I)        1953.6    81.40
1934  Alfa Romeo 8C2300  L.Chinetti, P.Etancelin (I,F)     1793.9    74.74
1935  Lagonda M45R       JS Hindmarsh, L.Fontes (GB,RA)    1868.3    77.85
1936  Race cancelled
1937  Bugatti 57G        JP Wimille, R.Benoist (F)         2043.0    85.13
1938  Delahaye 135M      E.Chaboud, J.Tremoulet (F)        1976.5    82.36
1939  Bugatti 57G        JP Wimille, P.Veyron (F)          2084.5    86.69
1940-48 Race cancelled
1949  Ferrari 166MM      L.Chinetti, Lord Selsdon (USA,GB) 1974.9    82.28
1950  Talbot-Lago        L.Rosier, JL Rosier (F)           2153.1    89.71
1951  Jaguar C-Type      P.Walker, P.Whitehead (GB)        2243.9    93.50
1952  Mercedes-B.300SL   H.Lang, F.Riess (D)               2320.1    96.67
1953  Jaguar C-Type      T.Rolt, D.Hamilton (GB)           2540.2   105.84
1954  Ferrari 375        F.Gonzalez, M.Trintignant (RA,F)  2523.5   105.15
1955  Jaguar D-Type      M.Hawthorn, I.Bueb (GB)           2569.6   107.07

Circuit - 8.364 miles
1956  Jaguar D-Type      R.Flockhart, N.Sanderson (GB)     2507.2   104.47
1957  Jaguar D-Type      R.Flockhart, I.Bueb (GB)          2732.2   113.85
1958  Ferrari 250TR58    O.Gendebien, P.Hill (B,USA)       2548.8   106.20
1959  Aston Martin DBR1  C.Shelby, R.Salvadori (USA,GB)    2701.7   112.57
1960  Ferrari 250TR59/60 O.Gendebien, P.Frere (B)          2620.6   109.19
1961  Ferrari 250TR61    O.Gendebien, P.Hill (B,USA)       2781.6   115.90
1962  Ferrari 250P       O.Gendebien, P.Hill (B,USA)       2765.9   115.24
1963  Ferrari 250P       L.Scarfiotti, L.Bandini (I)       2834.5   118.10
1964  Ferrari 275P       J.Guichet, N.Vaccarella (F,I)     2917.5   121.56
1965  Ferrari 250LM      J.Rindt, M.Gregory (A,USA)        2906.2   121.09
1966  Ford GT40 Mk2      C.Amon, B.McLaren (NZ)            3009.4   125.39
1967  Ford GT Mk4        D.Gurney, AJ Foyt (USA)           3251.5   135.48

Circuit - 8.369 miles
1968  Ford GT40          P.Rodriguez, L.Bianchi (Mex,B)    2766.9   115.29
1969  Ford GT40          J.Ickx, J.Oliver (B,GB)           3105.6   129.40
1970  Porsche 917        H.Herrmann, R.Attwood (D,GB)      2863.2   119.30
1971  Porsche 917        H.Marko, G.van Lennep (A,NL)      3315.2   138.13

Circuit - 8.475 miles
1972  Matra-Simca MS670  H.Pescarolo, G.Hill (F,GB)        2915.1   121.45
1973  Matra-Simca MS670B H.Pescarolo, G.Larrousse (F)      3016.1   125.67
1974  Matra-Simca MS670B H.Pescarolo, G.Larrousse (F)      2862.4   119.27
1975  Mirage-Ford M8     J.Ickx, D.Bell (B,GB)             2855.6   118.98
1976  Porsche 936        J.Ickx, G.van Lennep (B,NL)       2963.9   123.49
1977  Porsche 936        J.Ickx,J.Barth,H.Haywood(B,D,USA) 2902.8   120.95
1978  Renault Alpine     JP Jaussaud, D.Pironi (F)         3134.5   130.60

Circuit - 8.467 miles
1979  Porsche 935        K.Ludwig,B & D.Whittington(D,USA) 2590.9   108.10
1980  Rondeau Ford M379B JP Jaussaud, J.Rondeau (F)        2861.4   119.23
1981  Porsche 936-81     J.Ickx, D.Bell (B,GB)             2998.3   124.93
1982  Porsche 956-82     J.Ickx, D.Bell (B,GB)             3044.2   126.84
1983  Porsche 956-83     V.Schuppan, H.Haywood, A.Holbert
                                               (AUS,USA,USA) 3136.5   130.70
1984  Porsche 956B       K.Ludwig, H.Pescarolo (D,F)       3045.0   126.88
1985  Porsche 956B       K.Ludwig, P.Barilla, J.Winter
                                               (D,I,D)     3157.9   131.76

Circuit - 8.51 miles
1986  Porsche 962C       D.Bell, H.Stuck, A.Holbert
                                               (GB,D,USA)  3088.1   128.66

Circuit - 8.45 miles
1987  Porsche 962C       D.Bell, H.Stuck, A.Holbert
                                               (GB,D,USA)  2977.0   124.06
1988  Jaguar XJR-9LM     J.Dumfries, J.Lammers, A.Wallace
                                               (GB,NL,GB)  3313.2   137.72
1989  Sauber Mercedes C9 J.Mass, S.Dickens, M.Reuter
                                               (D,S,D)     3269.6   136.23

Circuit - 8.45 miles (with Mulsanne Chicanes)
1990  Jaguar XJR-12      M.Brundle, J.Nielsen, P.Cobb
                                               (GB,DK,USA) 3040.7   126.69
1991  Mazda 787B         J.Herbert, B.Gachot, V.Weidler
                                               (GB,B,D)    3058.9   127.45
1992  Peugeot 905        D.Warwick, Y.Dalmas, M.Blundell
                                               (GB,F,GB)   2992.0   124.66
1993  Peugeot 905B       G.Brabham, E.Helary, C.Bouchut
                                               (AUS,F,F)   3168.8   133.34
1994  Dauer Porsche962LM Y.Dalmas, H.Haywood, M.Baldi
                                               (F,USA,I)   2912.2   121.33
1995  McLaren F1 GTR     Y.Dalmas, JJ Lehto, M.Sekiya
                                               (F,SF,J)    2518.1   105.01
1996  TWR Porsche WSC    M Reuter D Jones A Wurz
                                               (D,USA,A)   2991.3   124.64
1997  TWR Porsche WSC    M.Alboreto S.Johansson T.Kristensen
                                               (I,S,DK)    3167.5   131.60
1998  Porsche 911 GT1-98 A.McNish, S.Ortelli, L.Aiello          
 				               (GB,F,F)    3086.3   128.60
1999  BMW V12 LMR        P.Martini, Y.Dalmas, J.Winkelhock   
                                               (I,F,D)     3025.2   133.54
2000  Audi R8            F.Biela, T.Kristensen, E.Pirro
                                               (D,DK,I)    3276.1   136.50
2001  Audi R8            F.Biela, T.Kristensen, E.Pirro             
                                               (D,DK,I)    2817.6   117.40

CIRCUIT - 8.48 miles

2002  Audi R8             F.Biela, T.Kristensen, E.Pirro	
                                               (D,DK,I)    3302.4   137.60 
2003  Bentley EXP Speed 8 T.Kristensen, R.Capello, G.Smith              
  				               (D,I,GB)    3320.0   138.33 
2004  Audi R8             S.Ara, T.Kristensen, R.Capello	
                                               (J,DK,I)    3335.5   138.98
2005  Audi R8             T.Kristensen, J.J.Lehto, M. Werner	
                                               (DK,SF,D)   3258.4   135.77	
                                                          (5050.5) (210.22) KM  
                                                           Distance  Speed
                                                            (km)     (kmh)											    
2006  Audi R10 TDi        F. Biela, E. Pirro, M.Werner	   							   
                                               (D,I,D)     5187.0   216.12	
2007  Audi R10 TDi        F. Biela, E. Pirro, M.Werner	   										   
                                               (D,I,D)	   5029.1   209.15
2008  Audi R10 TDi        T.Kristensen, A.McNish, R.Capello											   
                                               (DK,GB,I)   5192.6   216.30
2009  Peugeot 908 HDi FAP D.Brabham, M.Gene, A. Wurz											   
                                               (AUS,ES,AU) 5206.3   216.66											      

Partial results table courtesy of The Club Arnage Web Site.

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