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Le Mans 24-hour race 2010 : a brief history

By Gareth Evans

Motor Shows

09 June 2010 18:13

Over the years Le Mans has played host to inspirational success stories, terrible disasters, technological developments, primeval competitiveness and everything in between. Join CAR as we explore the potted history of the fearsome 24 Heures du Mans endurance race.
  
In the beginning
The Tricolor dropped for the first time on 27 May 1923 as one third of the Rudge Whitworth Triennial Cup, a trio of events whereby the team covering the most distance over three 24-hour races was declared the winner. However, in 1928 the idea was scrapped and the Le Mans we know and love was officially created.
 
Technical firsts
The first ever use of a disc brake system in competition occurred at Le Mans in 1953. The new technology was hidden behind the wire wheels of a C-type Jaguar, and eventually lead the racing cat to outright victory.
 

Disaster at Le Mans
In 1955 French driver Pierre Levegh crashed his Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, which rolled into a grandstand killing Pierre and between 80 and 120 spectators. This event is widely recognised as the worst single motorsport accident of all time.
 
Illumination
Porsche and Ford experimented with new halogen headlamps for the first time at Le Mans in 1974. Speeding down the Mulsanne straight at over three miles per minute requires strong illumination.

Speeding onto the silver screen
Steve McQueen immortalised the event in his 1971 film, playing Gulf Porsche driver Michael Delaney. Recording for the film took place during the race, with movie-makers using a Porsche 908 as a camera car to capture the action as it happened. A must-see for any petrolhead. 
 
Faster and faster?
The 1980s and early 1990s were known by many as the hey-day of endurance racing. ‘Group C’ cars flew around the circuit at simply unbelievable speed, with one Peugeot car clocking 253mph on the Mulsanne straight. At the end of the decade organisers decided enough was enough, and installed chicanes on the 5km section to prevent speeds of ‘over 400km/h’ from being reached.
 
Rotary Club
1991 saw the first rotary-engined car take victory at Le Mans. Mazda's 727b is the car in question – a Group C monster with around 700bhp of rotary whirring propulsion. We dread to think of the fuel consumption...
 
The diesel love affair
A major landmark was reached in 2006, as the first diesel-powered car won at Le Mans. Audi's venerable R10 TDI won on its maiden outing, and every year thereafter until the R15 TDI was introduced in 2009. Last year Peugeot stole the crown with its diesel sports car. And the future? Few would argue that hybrids are likely to take to the track. Le Mans of tomorrow could have a very different soundtrack.