May 26, 1923: A new endurance race hits the streets of France. The 24 Hours of Le Mans began on this date and after a 24 hour race was run, it would take another two years of racing to come up with a declared winner based on the greatest number of miles traveled during the entire three year run. The Rudge-Whitworth Cup would go to the team with the most miles, but not until 1925. Very few teams had selected names and drivers worked in pairs. Most of the teams came from France, but a few other countries were represented – Switzerland, Germany, and Great Britain. There were 33 teams at the start of the race, three of them unable to finish. André Lagache and France René Léonard, driving a Chenard Et Walker Sport with a 3.0 L I4 engine made 128 laps.
The first race was run through public roads. The idea of not awarding a winner each years was soon abandoned and a winner was declared each year as racers showed up to test themselves and their cars. It has become one of the most prestigious races and is sometimes called the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency. Teams balance speed and the cars’ ability to last 24 hours of punishing racing. Drivers now race in teams of three and may switch out after two hours while the car is making a pit stop. Consumables must be wisely managed and fuel, tires, and brakes need to be carefully maintained. Drivers eat and rest while teammates take the wheel.
The race was organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and today runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe which is made up of some public roads and a specialized racing circuit. With its current configuration, it covers 8.47 miles and is one of the longest racing circuits in the world. The race stadium has a capacity to seat 100,000. With long straightaways, up to 85% of the race is run at full throttle causing wear and tear on the engine and drive train as well as on the drivers themselves. When coming into a curve or turn, cars much slow from over 200 mph to around 65 mph which also places wear and tear on the brakes. The highest speed on the course was reached in 1988 with roger Dorchy driving a Peugeot 2.8L V6 turbo charged car. He reached a goal of over 400 km/h when he hit 405 km/h or 251.1 mph. Unfortunately, the car lasted only a few more laps before an overheated engine caused it to quit.
Today, the race is held in June, beginning at mid-afternoon and finishing the next day. It is often hot and cars are not built for ride or comfort, but for speed and handling. Weather conditions are immaterial and the race is often run in the rain. In the 2010s, the drivers have made distances over 5,000 km (3,110 mi) and the longest drive was 5,410 km or 3,360 miles (over six times the Indianapolis 500 and 18 times longer that a Formula One Grand Prix). Tom Kristensen has been the driver to win the most times (9) and Joest Racing is the team with the most wins (13). Porsche has had the most wins with 16. Tom is a Danish driver who won with the Joest team while driving a Porsche. The German Audi Sport Team Joest team won in 2014 with 379 laps. The race for 2015 will be held on June 13-14 and will be the 83rd running of Le Mans.
There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games. – Ernest Hemingway
In racing, the fastest person wins. It is very simple. – Paul Newman
Racing takes everything you’ve got — intellectually, emotionally, physically — and then you have to find about ten percent more and use that too. – Janet Guthrie
Auto racing is boring except when a car is going at least 172 miles per hour upside down. – Dave Barry
Also on this day: Who Was That? – In 1828, a strange teenager was found on the streets.
Complex Napoleon – In 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.
Alse Young – In 1647, Alse was hung as a witch.
From Property to Human – In 1857, Dred Scott was freed.