► Le Mans 2015 photo gallery
► A fan's eye view of the 24-hour race
► On and off track at La Sarthe
The 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours was a classic race culminating in a stunning 1-2 by Porsche's 919 hybrids, as car number 19 in 'future' livery driven by Nico Huelkenberg, Earl Bamber and Brit Nick Tandy (his first year in LMP1) swept to victory. The photo above captures the moment the winning Porsche passes the Dunlop bridge as inky morning light approaches. On only their second year back in the LMP1 prototype class, Porsche showed huge speed and reliability, that devilish combination that works wonders at Le Mans.
CJ Hubbard and James Taylor of the CAR team were at La Sarthe to soak up the atmosphere at #LM24. Here they pick over their memories of the French endurance race, with fan-side photos from the track and the odd special access afforded by a press pass (and a passing helicopter). It's not designed to be a race report; rather we hope this captures some of the fun of Le Mans, the colour backstage and a few of the highlights on track - and off. Were you at the 24-hour race? If so, tell us your favourite bits in the comments below!
Before the fans arrive: a tranquil Le Mans
Calm before the storm: inside the Dunlop bridge on Thursday, before tens of thousands of pairs of feet tramp inside and racing engines scream underneath. There's an eerie quality to parts of Le Mans if you arrive early and dodge the crowds. It's one helluva an infrastructure, as a small city decamp to this small corner of north-western France.
The festival build-up: Friday's parade
It's a real festival atmosphere at the Friday parade. And in true festival style, that means music, costumes and general weirdness. We spot ex-F1 pilot and now Ferrari GT racer Giancarlo Fisichella among the crowds as well as these clown/oompah band hybrids...
And there's Mark Webber!
... plus we spy Mark Webber, ex-F1 racer turned Porsche enduro pilot. He's riding al fresco during Friday's parade through Le Mans town centre, where the drivers perch in open-top cars and sign autographs. Webber is mobbed more than most. He's a hit with the crowds here.
The Le Mans party 2015
Of course, Le Mans ain't just about the racing. A few more than 10 green bottles on this wall...
Old meets new at Le Mans: the classics warm-up races
And we're off! First racing at the Le Mans 24hr 2015 is the classics. GT40s streak off into the lead but it's an eclectic mix. And the oversteer-happy dicing is awesome. People are talking about the Ford announcement on Friday about re-entering Le Mans 2016 with a race-spec version of the new GT. Things have come full circle and talk is of the impending Ferrari vs Ford clash in the GTE class next year. We approve.
More Le Mans Legends
On Saturday morning the scent of Castrol R hangs in the air around La Sarthe as a mouthwatering selection of historic racing cars take to the track for the Le Mans Legend support race. GT40s, E-types and Daytona Coupes, most of them sideways, make a great noise and a neat counterpoint up the sci-fi jet fighter LMP1 prototypes to come.
Sleepless in La Sarthe: pity the pit crews
How hard is it being a mechanic at Le Mans 24 Hours? This hard. Most of the Nissan crew didn't sleep on Friday night as each of the three GT-R Le Mans Nismos was given a fresh engine. So the actual race was even more gruelling - as we witnessed when we snuck into the Nissan pit for a quick look around. Being front-wheel drive means the Nissans struggle to put their power down exiting corners. Which means the LMP2 cars in the class below can harry them in the slower sections - until they hit the straights, where the Nissan's Le Mans-centric aero sends them into the distance. So long as their front wheels are pointing straight, that is...
Hard on the brakes: the Nissan GT-R Le Mans
You can tell how hard the Nissans were working their brakes because the discs were glowing way hotter than anyone else's. They'd already changed discs on one car before six hours were up - and they came off so hot they melted the floor - and the cars have been back in for repeat refreshes since. That's the problem with a design intended for hybrid regen, and then not having any. Nissan has been forced to fit bigger than intended discs on the front axle (the rears are still tiny, another problem) and improve the brake cooling while not ruining the aero. It's not been entirely successful...
Alpine world debut at Le Mans
New Alpine Celebration concept popular with the crowds. This one is a pure styling buck, with no engineering details confirmed. Word is, Renault has put back the launch of the Alpine brand. Don't expect any further news until 2016 at the earliest. Click here to read more about the Alpine car.
What Le Mans is all about: the night-time sessions
Thursday evening draws in, and with it night qualifying. Brakes glow, exhausts spit fire and some cars trail sparks for good measure. Porsche dominates the overall qualifying time sheets, with Neel Jani setting a new lap record. Here's the #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Porsche Team Manthey, driven by Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Joerg Bergmeister. It's great to see such an old design evolving over the years; validates the 911's sporting credentials, to these eyes.
Le Mans from the air: a record attendance
Ever wondered what the race looks like from above? We managed to blag a quick helicopter ride - a great way to get a sense of the scale of Le Mans, from the length of the Mulsanne Straight to the size of the campsites. No wonder the Automobile Club de l'Ouest has just confirmed there were 263,500 attendees this year. That's a new record - a useful 200 above 2014's previous high. No wonder it's so easy to lose all your mates and sense of direction.
The race start: the sun shines at 3.00pm
Le Mans, like London, can have variable weather at this time of year. Racegoers can be sunburned or drenched, and you never quite know what to expect at #LM24. But the gods were smiling on this corner of France at 3.00pm on Saturday, as the clouds parted, the sun shone and the race got underway. Here you see the Aston Martins at the start; they were leading both GTE classes at the halfway point, but the #64 Corvette stole the GTE Pro category win, while the GTE Am cup was lifted by the #72 Ferrari 458 Italia. And boy do those GT cars sound good.
Rubbin' and racin': the panel bashing at #LM24
This was before the race even started. Plenty more broken bodywork would ensue before Sunday afternoon.
Inside the Porsche pitstop: the masters at work
Pitstops at Le Mans are not as crucial as in F1, maybe, with a much longer 24-hour timeframe, but the engineers and race-stop strategists work 20 times harder. Here the #19 Porsche hybrid comes in to pit overnight. Energy levels are sagging, but adrenalin is pumping high and Porsche just keep on bashing it out. Their pace and durability ultimately win the race for them.
LMP2: the mighty Orecas
The tightly contested LMP2 category was won by the #47 Nissan-powered Oreca, posting 358 laps over the full 24 hours of the race.
Nissan GT-R LM Nismo finishes the race!
One of the three front-wheel drive Nissans - car #22 - completed the race, after the other two cars dropped out. Driven by Brits Harry Tincknell and Alex Buncombe and German driver Michael Krumm, the oddball Nissan had to survive a few scrapes, including being hit by flying debris while negotiating Indianapolis corner at 211mph just nine hours into the race. Nissan, we salute your courage and desire to be different!
Lego Porsche 991 RSR
This half-Lego, half-car (does that make it a hybrid?) Porsche 991 RSR drew some of the biggest crowds in the outer paddock. Constructed from 380,000 Lego blocks weighing 450kg, it took four people a mere 633 hours to complete. They must've been bricking it...
The old Audi R8 from 2000: where the Germans' dominance began
This Audi R8 on display won Le Mans in 2000 - Audi's first victory in the modern prototype era. You'd think they'd have given it a wash since...
Is Audi's hegemony over?
Audi has won more times than any other manufacturer in recent years, but the stranglehold was broken in 2015, albeit by sister brand Porsche. But c'mon. Let's give the Audi team some respect, ok? They came third, fourth and seventh in the LMP1 category with the mighty R18 e-trons. The other front-running LMP1 contenders, the Toyota TS 040, came in sixth and eight, beating one until-now-all-conquering Audi.
The Le Mans 'pitch invasion' as Porsche wins
No Le Mans 24hrs is complete without a track invasion. As Porsche scoops victory (and Nick Tandy becomes the first Brit in 12 years to triumph at La Sarthe), the crowd breaks banks.
Another blast from the past: Ferrari transporter
They don't make race transporters like this anymore. This is Ferrari's race truck and mobile workshop used by Maranello's Le Mans team from 1967. It's here as part of a display to celebrate the iconic Ferrari vs Ford duels of the '60s. Bellissimo!
Ginetta: the Yorkshire minnows return to Le Mans with LMP3 car
Ginetta showed off its new LMP3 racer, currently racing in the European Le Mans series. The most straightforward way for Ginetta to get its LMP3 car from the transporter to the display stand was simply to drive it. With an unfettered V8 doing a better job than a horn ever could, it cut an easy swathe through paddock traffic and double-taking spectators. The British firm will make a racing return at Le Mans 2016, competing in the LMP2 class.
Audi sets new lap record
We sneaked close up to scrutineering at the end of the race. Here's the number 7 Audi at the finish. Didn't win, but in the hands of André Lotterer it did set the fastest ever race lap around any configuration of Le Mans: 3min 17.475sec. Impressive!