Few sporting events can boast a century of existence. This is the case of the Sarthe two-hour tower, which quickly became the biggest endurance race on the planet thanks to a history as unusual as it was rich.
When they found themselves under the glass roof of the Grand Palais in 1922, the secretary general of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest Georges Durand, the polytechnician journalist Charles Faroux and the businessman Emile Coquille. did they think that, a hundred years later, their little meeting in Paris would still be making headlines? around the world? Did they think that what was called in 1923 24 Hour Endurance Grand Prix – Rudge-Whitworth Cup would it be the world’s greatest endurance race?
The graduates used are strong, but they live up to the legend that this event has been over the years. 17 km round which has changed but which is still unusually long, night terrors, sometimes bad weather… test the durability of their machineusing racing as a marketing vehicle that could increase their popularity, break speed or distance records and, even more, demonstrate their technological prowess in the eyes of the general public.
A country of exploitation For Bentley in the 20s, Alfa Romeo in the 1930s, the old Le Mans even survived the Second World War despite the extensive damage caused to the site. Proof that it already had a special place in French heritage at that time. Following a fatal accident in 1955, major works were carried out to make the circuit safer. Security is a topic that has always been at the heart of ACO’s concerns.
Jaguar and Ferrari shone brightly in the 1950s, before the giant Ford chose Le Mans to come to the track to take revenge against it and the Italian brand, which had militarily rejected a takeover offer from the blue oval company. A period grown in film Le Mans 66 by James Mangold, released in 2019, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale as Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. Actors to be precise, there were a lot of them in the circuit. Steve McQueen he came to score one of his best careers there, when Paul Newman narrowly failed to win the event in 1979. The decade of the 1970s saw the ogre begin to make this circuit his garden: Porsche, which today holds the record for victories with 19 victories on the counter.
But Le Mans too human stories. The performance of Louis Rosier, who would spend 11:30 pm at the wheel of his Talbot to win in 1950, or that of Henri Pescarolo, who climbed to second place at night and rain, in 1968, in Matra. and a broken windshield wiper. An incomplete list that also appears Sarthois Jean Rondeau, the only driver to win at the wheel of a car of his own design in 1980. And this against official Porsches, including one entrusted to a certain Jacky Ickx. The Belgian – aka M. Le Mans – has long held the winning record. We even wondered if it would be possible to uproot him. With nine wins in just 18 matches, including seven with Audi in the 2000s, Tom Kristensen confirmed that records were made to be brokenand his may also, one day, be written off the shelf.
Finally, Le Mans is a city, or even an area, that lives together with a race, of his color, which allows him to shine throughout the world. Locals, businessmen who come to terms with their favorite event, which they all participate in from near or far. It is very rare for the old Le Mans families that do not include in their ranks a grandfather who participated in the high mass in mid-June, behind the wheel, in the organization, as a mechanic or even as a commissioner or a volunteer. Commissioners, who were still around 1,600 in June 2022, during the 90th edition, and without whom it would not have been possible to allow these 62 cars out on the track.
Safety and technology have been the two priorities of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest since its creation in 1901. Today, the future is written by hydrogen, and this organization which was only a small regional car club 100 years ago is still the pioneer of this new type of movement. To go further, faster, longer and for the story to continue to be written, again and again, as the three instigators of this amazing event dreamed.
The official centennial race
The first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans took place on May 26 and 27, 1923. The entry list presented 33 cars and brands such as Lorraine-Dietrich, Bentley, Chenard & Walcker, Delage, Bugatti… The start was given simultaneously to all competitors . On the starting grid, cars were arranged in descending order of engine capacity, in two rows, odd numbers on the right and even numbers on the left.
In that race, despite the speed of Bignans and Bentleys, it was Chenard & Walcker who kept their pace and led the race from start to finish. If, at the time, there was no real classification, the Chenard & Walcker Sport #9 of André Lagache and René Léonard opened the prize list for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
For a century now, the rigor of the rules and their strict application have been the hallmark of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Le Mans is a laboratory, a test bench in the service of cars and drivers. This has been the case since 1923 and all technological innovations resulting from this test demonstrate the validity of the method. Seven manufacturers (Toyota, Porsche, Ferrari, Vanwall, Cadillac, Peugeot and Glickenhaus) announced at the beginning to compete for victory in the Centenary edition to confirm, through this unique commitment in memory, the interest of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the development of cars at a time when the revolution of mobility is more convenient than ever.