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A Brief Guide to the History of the 24 Hrs of Le Mans Race

In 1969, Jackie Ickx put on his leather driving gloves and raced across the track to his race car, while the other drivers did the traditional “run and jump” start. He did so in protest, encouraging other drivers to race with seatbelts fastened. Jackie Ickx will then win the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a Ford GT 40. He will win this event six times. The traditional start where drivers crossed the track to join their cars was last used in 1969.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans are steeped in history and prestige. It is the most famous breed in the world. If you are “anyone”, you race at Le Mans… if you win, you are “everyone”.

At Le Mans the race cars are at 85% full throttle for most long straights and top speeds of 200mph are reached until knuckles turn white under leather driving gloves as the grip on the steering wheel looks like the rubber grip on the road, while the braking system is tested, bringing the car back to 80 km/h, from the Mulsanne straight to the dreaded Porsche curves.

The outcome of each curve determined the fate of the next.

“The Flying Scot” Jim Clark, refused to race at Le Mans. He considered it too dangerous.

The Detroit News said on June 17, 1966, “This race track is a cornfield airstrip in the jet age. It was built 50 years ago for cars that went 65 mph. Tomorrow, 55 race cars – some of them capable of 225 mph in a straight line and all above the 210 km/h class – will descend at 10 a.m. Detroit time and it will be a miracle if no one gets killed. No one is fearless. Some of these drivers are scared to death.”

Back when riding gloves were slipped over leather helmets and goggles, an endurance race had an entirely different meaning. When Duncan Hamilton won Le Mans in 1953 in a Jaguar Type C, he was so drunk that when the team offered him coffee during pit stops, he refused, saying it made his arms shake, only accepting cognac!

Nowadays, Le Mans is a 24-hour sprint through thousands of gear changes, millions of crankshaft revolutions and constant forces on every component, you drive every lap as a qualifier. This makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans the complete challenge par excellence of motor racing.

Corvette Racing took the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday June 13-14, 2015 as Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor wrote the final chapter of a comeback tale that ended with victory for the team in the GTE Pro class in their No 64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. The trio in their #64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R completed 337 laps for 2,864.50 miles in a frantic battle that ultimately saw the Corvette win the class by five laps. Sunday’s win comes on par with Corvette Racing’s victories earlier this year in the 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

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