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

In 1969, Jackie Ickx pulled on his leather driving gloves and walked across the track to his race car, while the other drivers did the traditional “run and jump” start. He did this in protest, encouraging the other drivers to race with seatbelts fastened. Jackie Ickx would go on to win the 24 hrs of Le Mans in a Ford GT 40. He won this event six times. The traditional start where drivers ran across the track to their cars, was last used in 1969.

24 hrs of Le Mans is steeped in history and prestige. It is the most widely known race in the world. If you are “anybody”, you race at Le Mans… if you win, you are “everybody”.

At Le Mans, race cars are 85% at full throttle for most of the long straights and top speeds of 200 mph are reached until knuckles become white beneath leather driving gloves as the grip on the steering wheel resembles the grip of rubber on the road, as the braking system is tested, bringing the car down to 50 mph, from the Mulsanne straight to the fearsome 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 in June 17 1966:- “This racetrack 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 on the straight and all of them over the 130 mph class – will get off at 10am (Detroit time) and it will be a miracle if nobody gets killed. Nobody is fearless. Some of these drivers are scared stiff”.

Back in the days when driving gloves pulled on leather helmets and goggles, an endurance race had a totally different meaning. When Duncan Hamilton won Le Mans in 1953 in a Jaguar C-Type, he was so drunk that when the team offered him coffee during pit-stops, he refused, saying it made his arms twitch, accepting only brandy!

These days Le Mans is a 24 hr sprint through thousands of gear shifts, millions of crankshaft revolutions and constant forces on every component, you drive every lap as a qualifier. This makes the 24 hr of Le Mans the purist all round challenge in motor racing.

Corvette Racing stood atop 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 storybook comeback that ended with the team winning the GTE Pro category in their No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. The trio in their No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R completed 337 laps for 2,864.50 miles in a frantic battle that eventually saw the Corvette win in class by five laps. Sunday’s victory goes along with Corvette Racing’s wins 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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