The Le Mans challenge

Posted: 24/10/2012 in Races
Tags: , , ,

Here is the summarized story of this legendary 24 hours of Le Mans. Initially, I wasn’t really interested in this race. Only after I  realized the sheer effort needed to keep the cars going for 24 hours, at 320 km/h on the main straight, did I understood why this is one of the oldest races in the world.

The race was first held in May 1923, in the small French town of Le Mans. The rules were simple – whoever managed to cover the greatest distance in 24 hours is the winner. Given that at the time some cars still had wooden wheels and the petrol was most probably filled with twigs, it was quite an insane idea. The winner of this first race was the Chenard-Walcker team with drivers André Lagache and René Léonard, who managed to cover a distance of a shade over 2,200 km (a little over 1,300 miles), averaging 90 km/h (55 mph).

Manufacturers saw an opportunity to showcase their engineering excellence. Car makers like Bentley and Bugatti made their names popular on the Le Mans circuit, which was becoming an institution for motorsports. It was more popular than even F1.

In the beginning of the 1960s, the “le mans start” was introduced. The cars were lined up on one part of the start/finish straight and the drivers on the other. When the flag was dropped, the drivers ran to their cars, started the engines and set off. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the safest way to start a race, so it was dropped eight years after its introduction.

The track itself  runs on both closed circuit and public roads (restricted during race weeks). Originally, it passed through the center of Le Mans, but this version of the circuit was short-lived.  The track length has been changed many times, mostly in order to ensure spectators’ safety.

Le Mans is one of the most demanding races that a professional driver can take on a close circuit, as it requires full concentration for periods longer than three hours at a time. The drivers have to deal with the deafening noise of cars, the high temperature in the cockpit, and the G-forces in the corners. Add the stress of the competition and the constant fear of mechanical malfunction, and you might imagine what it’s like racing there.

Lately, the race has focused on technical innovation (sometimes even showoff), and fuel efficiency. This might sound boring but take into consideration that we benefit from this – the window wipers, headlights, and tires we use today are Le Mans technologies.

The race is usually held every year in June. It is broadcasted all over the world both on major sports channels and online. I recommend, although the different manifacturers and teams often have their own online broadcasts. 


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