100 years of Le Mans. Harder, faster and more passionate than ever

  • 04 June 2023
  • 3 min read
  • 6 images
100 years of Le Mans. Harder, faster and more passionate than ever image

Photo credit: 24 Hours Le Mans, Audi, Porsche, Toyota, Wheelsage

In the 100 years of 24 Hours, the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, near the town of Le Mans, has consistently been racing against cars on the track. The circuit is racing? Absolutely: in an attempt to limit the risks posed by ever-faster cars, the track has been modified no fewer than thirteen times. In the first race in 1923, the relatively unknown French drivers Chenard and Valcker recorded an average speed of just 92 km/h over the 24-hour interval. But by 1939, the average speed over the course of the race had increased to 140 km/h - a significant jump for cars of that era.

1 Wimille and Veyron's No. 1 Bugatti at the start of the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans, which they won at a record average of 139.781 km/h, remarkable for the time

However, the situation changed dramatically after World War II. In 1967, the Ford GT40 that many remember as the star of the recent film “Ford V Ferrari”, clocked an average speed of 218 km/h over the entire race thanks to the evolution Mark IV on the same circuit that had remained unchanged since 1956. Since then, modifications to the track and regulations governing engine specifications have constantly tried to reign in the overall speed of the cars but have been unable to stop it from increasing.

2 *The fluidity of the lines of the 1967 winning GT40 Mark IV are the premise of the new average speed record set at 218.038 km/h *

In 1971, the Porsche 917 K set a dizzying average of over 222 km/h over 24 hours. It took nearly 20 years and many changes to both regulations and the track to return to those levels. In 1988, the Jaguar XJR-9 LM won with an average speed of 222 km/h, and in 2010, with the circuit further slowed down, the Audi R15 TDI set the absolute record with an average speed of 225.446 km/h over a distance of 5,411 km in 24 hours.

3 The Porsche 917K in Martini Racing colors that, in 1971, despite track modifications to slow the average speed set a record of 222.305 km/h

Since then, safety measures and the addition of chicanes in 2018 slowed down the track even further. Toyota has dominated the victories since then, and the best distance reached was 5,288 km at an average speed of 220.335 km/h with the TS050 Hybrid.

4 It was an impressive 5288km covered in 24 Hours by the Toyota TS050 Hybrid equivalent to an average of an impressive 200.335 km/h

With further changes to the regulations and the introduction of the balance of performance system, reaching that milestone has become particularly arduous. The approaching race on 11th June will be exciting to watch as Ferrari, Toyota, and Porsche battle it out for the top spot. Ferrari has won 9 times, Toyota 5, and Porsche, with 19 wins, is always one of the fiercest competitors. Cadillac and Peugeot will also be in the game. A race that shouldn't be missed.

5 The crew of the Audi R15 TDI that set a new and unbeaten Le Mans 24 Hours record in 2010 at an average speed of 225.446 km/h. The other record broken in the race was the distance, 5.411 km consistent with the efficiency of its diesel engine