autos
  • Since 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has provided fertile ground for countless innovations – breakthroughs born of the race’s extreme pressures on man and machine alike. Confronted with some of the strictest rules in all motorsport, engineers must be clever to outwit the competition. Many technologies have made their way from the track to the production automobile – turbocharging and LED headlamps among them.
  • Le Mans 24 Hours, the first-ever 24-hour race. It’s about endurance as much as it is about speed and agility. It will inspire many imitators.
  • Odette Siko and Marguerite Mareuse comprise the first all-female team to compete and finish the race.
  • Multiple changes to the circuit. The track is slightly shortened to avoid entering the suburbs of Le Mans. Two footbridges are introduced.
  • France is in the throes of an economic depression. Race is cancelled due to shortage of workers to adapt the streets as well as officials to run the event.
  • Wartime brings about a nine-year hiatus. In 2006, a 500lb Allied bomb was found next to the track during routine maintenance work.
  • First diesel car to compete, driven by the Delettrez brothers. It runs out of fuel on lap 123 and even though the drivers complete the lap solely on torque from the starter motor, the battery dies and the car is unable to complete the race.
  • The race starts with the waving of the tricolour French flag, followed by a flyover of jets trailing red, white and blue smoke.
  • Racer Pierre Levegh is the first (and last) driver to attempt to drive the entire 24 hours solo. He almost pulls it off, but succumbs to exhaustion in the final hour, misses a downshift and over-revs the engine, breaking a piston connector rod.
  • First time experimental and prototype cars are permitted to race.
  • The closest 24-hour race in history, an estimated eight-metre (26.2467ft) difference between first- and second-place finishers, both Ford GT40s.
  • After his surprise victory, American racer Dan Gurney spontaneously shakes and sprays his bottle of champagne from the winner’s stand. The act becomes a podium tradition and continues to this day in all forms of motorsport.
  • To slow things down a bit along the open pit area, a chicane is introduced to the circuit. It adds 10 seconds to a lap. More chicanes will be introduced over the years, including two on the famed 3.7 mile (6km) Mulsanne Straight.
  • At the start of the race, Belgian Jacky Ickx calmly walks to his car while the other drivers sprint. He does so in protest to what he deems an unsafe, outdated tradition—the “standing start”—in which drivers rush to start their cars, often failing to properly attach their safety harnesses until after the first full laps.
  • The car that completes the greatest number of laps in 24 hours wins.
  • The “standing start” from the previous year is replaced with a “rolling start.” Jackie Oliver, in his Porsche 917 (long tail), sets a lap speed record of 156mph (244.387kph) that stood for 37 years. Another record set by the winning 917 this year is for the highest mileage covered in 24 hours – 3,362 miles (5410.713km).
  • First victory by a turbocharged car, a Porsche 936.
  • Actor Paul Newman, driving a Porsche 935, participates in the race and finishes second overall.
  • Jean Rondeau, a French race car driver and constructor, wins in a car bearing his own name. This remains a singular achievement in the history of the race.
  • Fuel efficiency and aerodynamics become major considerations, which are reflected in new rules that limit fuel tank capacity to 100 litres and the number of refuelling stops to 24.
  • Cars must be shut off during refuelling, partly for safety, but also to tests the cars’ ability to restart many times under race conditions.
  • For safety reasons, two chicanes are installed on the famous Mulsanne Straight, slowing cars approaching (and in one case, exceeding) 250mph (403kph).
  • First and only victory for a Japanese make—Mazda—and for a car with a rotary engine.
  • Six factories enter cars in the race—Porsche, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, BMW and Chrysler­—with Porsche winning for the 16th time, a record that still stands.
  • Direct Fuel Injection debuts, increasing power as well as fuel efficiency.
  • Full LED headlights debut, providing unique illumination of the racetrack at night.
  • Audi becomes the first manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a hybrid car.
  • New rules favour lighter cars, encourage hybrid drivetrains, and regulate fuel flow for different types of fuel used: diesel-powered cars can burn up to 1.05 gallons (3.99 litres) per lap, gasoline-powered cars get 1.30 gallons (4.95 litres) per lap from tanks that are about 12% smaller than the year before.