A beginner’s guide to the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Seven things you need to know about the world’s greatest endurance race
Porsche 963 on racetrack at 24 Hours of Le Mans
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the biggest dates in the motorsport calendar. Ahead of its 101st edition, discover its history and what makes it so special for Porsche
When it comes to endurance racing, there’s a weekend each year that’s ringed in the calendar of all motorsport fans. Along with the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most famous of all motor racing events. Held every June at Le Mans in north-west France, the event celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Ahead of the 2024 – and 101st – running of the race, we look at why the 24 Hours of Le Mans is so revered, about its history, its format, the gruelling nature of 24-hour racing and why it holds a special place in the hearts of Porsche and its teams.1. What is the 24 Hours of Le Mans?The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest-surviving and most prestigious endurance racing event. Held annually since 1923 on the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, it’s a race that tests the limits of drivers and machines over a gruelling 24 hours, starting at 4pm on the Saturday and running non-stop, through the night, until the following afternoon. The objective is simple yet challenging – complete as many laps as possible in the allotted time. With the world’s greatest manufacturers, teams and drivers competing, it’s a spectacle unlike any other in endurance motorsport and one that attracts hundreds of thousands of fans who camp out and make the weekend one big motorsport party.Different types of racecars compete in the event – the current categories are Hypercar, LMP2 and LMGT3 – with each class ending up with its own winner. The big one, however, is the battle to decide the overall race champion, which is generally won by the powerful Hypercar class.
Porsche 963 racecar at 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is more than just a race against the clock. Teams must juggle speed with fuel efficiency and tyre management, through day, night and day again, whatever the weather conditions Photo: Porsche
To avoid fatigue – and the accidents this can cause – each team typically fields three drivers who rotate driving duties, swapping places in the car every few hours. According to Le Mans race regulations, the maximum time a driver can be at the wheel in a single stint is 240 minutes.2. Which Porsche cars are running at Le Mans in 2024?The inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1923 saw 33 entrants line up on the grid. In 2024, the field consists of 62 cars from 14 manufacturers. When it comes to Porsche, there will be six Porsche 963 cars competing in the Hypercar class and two Porsche 911 GT3 R cars running in the LMGT3 category.Three of the 963 racecars will be raced by Porsche Penske Motorsport, the Porsche works team, with three more being competed by customer teams Hertz Team Jota and Proton Competition. Porsche 911 GT3 R cars, meanwhile, will be entered by Manthey EMA and Manthey Pure Rxcing.Well-known drivers for the Porsche Penske Motorsport team include works drivers Kévin Estre, Michael Christensen and André Lotterer, while one of the 963 racecars run by Hertz Team Jota will see ex-Formula 1 world champion, Britain’s Jenson Button, as one of its pilots.
Porsche 963 during pitstop at 24 Hours of Le Mans
Strategy is key to winning Le Mans. Pit crews make lightning-fast tyre changes and refuelling stops, while drivers swap duties in order to rest and recharge before their next stint Photo: Porsche
3. When does Le Mans 2024 take place?Le Mans is held in June at the Circuit de la Sarthe, a semi-permanent racetrack near Le Mans, France, which also includes sections that at other times of the year are used as public roads. Testing for the 24h of Le Mans takes place on the Sunday two weeks before the big race.The dates for your diary for 2024 are 15-16 June.
4. What is the Le Mans circuit? The 13.626km-long track on which the 24h of Le Mans is held every year is called the Circuit de la Sarthe. Sarthe is the name of the French department in which Le Mans is situated, which is in turn named after the river that runs through it.The circuit itself is a mixture of public roads and dedicated racing sections, including four long straights in which drivers can reach speeds of 340km/h-plus (over 210mph). The most famous straight on the circuit is the 6km-long Mulsanne Straight, which is a regular road – the RD 338 – when it’s not used for the race.Known locally as the Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, it hasn’t been completely straight since 1990, thanks to the addition of two chicanes. It means that the top speed of 405km/h (252mph) achieved along it in 1988 is likely never to be topped, but it has made the Mulsanne safer. These changes haven’t diminished its importance, however, as it still offers drivers a brief respite before they enter the trickiest parts of the circuit.Put simply, the Circuit de la Sarthe is an utterly unique and challenging circuit, one that tests the grit and endurance of even the most seasoned of competitors.
Porsche 963 racing at night at Le Mans
As darkness falls, the Circuit de la Sarthe becomes a mesmerising blur of headlights and roaring engines. The challenge of competing in the 24h of Le Mans intensifies, but so does the excitement Photo: Porsche
Other iconic sections of the circuit include the Porsche Curves – a favourite among drivers for their demanding nature – and the Dunlop Curve and Dunlop Chicane at the start of the lap. These areas not only challenge the drivers but also boast stunning views, as well as giving drivers the opportunity to pass under the famous Dunlop Bridge.As the 24 Hours of Le Mans is about completing as many laps as possible in 24 hours, there’s no set number of laps to complete. It all depends on the speed of the cars and the team’s pit stop and refuelling strategies. The current record to beat is 397 laps, first set in 1971 but matched at the 2010 race. If everything goes perfectly, teams can cover over 5,000km during the race. The current distance record is 5,410km, which was set in 2010.5. Legendary Porsche drivers at the 24 Hours of Le MansThroughout its first 100 years, some of the greatest-ever race drivers have left their mark at Le Mans, with many of them behind the wheel of a Porsche racecar. These include Belgium’s Jacky Ickx, who won Le Mans six times, four of them with Porsche. Germany’s Hans Herrmann – who hails from the Porsche hometown of Stuttgart – and his British driver, Richard Attwood, played a key role in the Porsche Le Mans legacy in 1970. This was the year that Porsche secured its first overall victory, when Herrmann and Attwood took the chequered flag first in a Porsche 917K. This historic win marked the start of the company’s dominance in the endurance race.Another name that will be forever associated with Porsche and the 24h of Le Mans is Attwood’s fellow Briton, Derek Bell, who boasts five Le Mans victories – four of them with Porsche. His triumphs driving a Porsche – in 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987 – underlined not only the ex-Formula 1 star’s talent but also the enduring reliability of generations of Porsche racecars.
Porsche racecars on track at 24 Hours of Le Mans
A Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 roars past the 17 metre-high Michelin Tower at the 2023 24h of Le Mans Photo: Porsche
6. How fast do cars drive at the 24h of Le Mans?Speed, of course, is a critical element at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Over the years, advances in technology and aerodynamics have pushed the limits of what’s possible on the historic track.One of the most phenomenal laps of all-time was by Hans-Joachim Stuck. In 1985, the legendary German driver averaged 251km/h (156mph) during qualifying while driving a Porsche 962C. That converted to the fastest-ever lap time – up until that point – of 3 mins 14.8 seconds. “I made virtually no mistakes, and the braking points were spot-on,” Stuck told Porsche customer magazine, Christophorus, in 2023. Such was the brilliance of Stuck’s performance, it would remain a record for 32 years.Looking at today’s LMDh (it stands for Le Mans Daytona h) racecars, the Porsche 963 cars competing at the 2023 24h of Le Mans can hit top speeds of a dizzying 345km/h (214mph) in places. They will be looking to go even better in 2024.7. Who has the most 24h of Le Mans wins?As a manufacturer, Porsche holds the record for most overall victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with 19 wins. The manufacturer’s triumphs range from that first win in 1970 in the Porsche 917K by Herrmann and Attwood, to its most recent triumph in 2017. Here, a 919 Hybrid was piloted to victory by Germany’s Timo Bernhard and New Zealanders Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley.The record for the most race victories by a driver is nine, held by Denmark’s Tom Kristensen. His debut victory, in 1997, was in a TWR Porsche WSC-95 Le Mans Prototype racecar. Next, on six, is Jacky Ickx – five with Porsche – with Derek Bell one of three drivers on five race wins (four for Porsche).The 2024 24h of Le Mans takes place from 15-16 June 2024. You can keep up to date with the latest Porsche news from the race on the dedicated Porsche Motorsport Le Mans website and follow the race live on its Instagram channel
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