Le Mans: The History of the 24 Hours Race

24 Hours of Le Mans, originally named Grand Prix de Vitesse et d’Endurance or Grand Prix of Speed and Endurance, is the oldest endurance car race in the world. Today, Le Mans offers high speeds, world-class cars and outstanding track-side hospitality. But where did it all begin? Here we look at the History of 24 Hours of Le Mans.


When did 24 Hours of Le Mans begin?

The first Le Mans race took place in 1923 with competitors driving through the streets of Le Mans, France. Georges Durand, the secretary of Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) facilitated the first race with 100,00 francs donated by a sponsor.  The race was paused for a few years during World War II and took place behind closed doors  for the first time in 2020.


Where does Le Mans take place?

24 Hours of Le Mans takes place in at The Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans, also known as Circuit de la Sarthe which is located in Le Mans, France. The track itself has grown over the years accommodate neighbouring residential areas and to comply with strict safety measures. Today the 8.5mile temporary circuit combines public roads and purpose-built racetrack.

The famous Mulsanne straight is part of the original track and one of the world’s longest racing straightaways at 3.7 miles long.


How does Le Mans work?

Le Mans is a brutal test of endurance where drivers race fast cars for 24 hours at speeds that can exceed 200 mph. Unlike fixed-distance races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is won by the car that covers the greatest distance in 24 hours, not the fastest time. Drivers must balance speed with maintaining the cars ability to last 24 hours without mechanical failure. The winning teams share a prize pool.  


Did you know, the spraying of champagne after a race win originates from Le Mans. American Dan Gurney sprayed the crowd after winning in 1967.  


What is the famous ‘Le Mans start’?

One of the traditions of Le Mans is the famous ‘Le Mans Start’ in which drivers start outside of their vehicles and run to the cars to begin the race. However, this was deemed too dangerous, and in 1970 the rule changed to drivers starting seated in their cars.


Do the drivers sleep during Le Mans?

All teams must rotate three drivers during the race, with no one driver behind the wheel for more than a total of 14 hours. Driver changes happen in conjunction with pit stops for fuel and fresh tires. This means all three drivers get time to sleep between each changeover.


What cars are driven at 24 Hours of Le Mans?

The cars driven at Le Mans are put in classes. The top two classes contain the Le Mans Prototypes, LMP1 and LMP2, purpose-built race cars managed by large teams of engineers and technicians.  

About two-thirds of the field is composed of the other two classes competing in the race, the GT: GTE-Pros and GTE-Am.


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Le Mans: The History of the 24 Hours Race

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