It was 1923… the first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

It was 1923… the first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Since 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been an endurance race for motorsport enthusiasts, considered one of the most prestigious and difficult in the world. A look back at this legendary first race as we prepare to celebrate its centenary…

The origins of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Almost 100 years ago, we took part in the first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, organized at the initiative of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. It took place on May 26-27, 1923. Back then it was a touring car race. They had to cover the most kilometers in 24 hours on a race track, each lap of which was 13.626 km long.

It brought together 33 cars divided into four categories: LMP1, LMP2, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am.

The category LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype 1) included petrol and diesel vehicles. The minimum weight for these cars was 875 kg. These cars were the fastest and most powerful in the race.

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The category LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) was reserved for cars weighing at least 900 kg. These cars were also very fast and powerful, but slightly less than the LMP1 class cars.

The categories GTE Pro (professional Grand Touring Endurance) and GTE-Am (Grand Touring Endurance Amateur) were reserved for high performance touring cars. GTE-Pro cars were for professional drivers while GTE-Am cars were for amateur drivers.

The race lasts 24 hours, which means the drivers have to take turns and complete stints lasting up to two hours. Teams must also manage tire, brake and engine wear and fuel consumption. Pit stops are frequent, allowing mechanics to fill up fuel tanks, change tires and make repairs as needed.

The start of this first edition was due to bad weather: ” the flag lowers in a hailstorm wrote the journalist from Ouest-Eclair on May 27, 1923. It was won by the crew of André Lagache, accompanied by René Léonard, at the helm of one Chenard & Walcker Sport.

Since then, the race has evolved into what it is today: a sports car endurance event.

The traditions and legends of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is also known for its traditions. The race begins with a drivers’ parade through the city of Le Mans, where fans can meet their heroes and admire the cars.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans saw many big names in motorsport. Drivers like Jacky Ickx, Tom Kristensen and Derek Bell have won the race multiple times and set records that are hard to beat. The most well-known racing teams, e.g Porsche, Audi, Ferrarialso had great success at Le Mans, taking victories in many editions of the race.

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The Impact of Safety on the 24 Hours of Le Mans

However, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was also marked by tragedy. In 1955, a serious collision occurred at Le Mans, killing more than 80 people, including pilot Pierre Levegh. This incident prompted a complete overhaul of motorsport safety rules. Since then, many improvements have been made to make racing safer, including the use of crash barriers, more robust cars, and protective gear for drivers.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans was also affected by changes in the automotive industry. Over the years, racing cars have been equipped with advanced technologies such as hybrid systems and electric motors, reflecting current trends in the automotive industry. The cars were also designed to be more economical and environmentally friendly.

Ultimately, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a celebration of passion for motorsport, but also of technical innovation. The race continues to delight generations of fans and drivers and offers a unique spectacle in the world of motorsport. The race is a reminder that speed, endurance and innovation are values ​​that continue to inspire motorsport enthusiasts around the world.

1923 … 2023. A centenary celebrated notably by the passage of the Patrouille de France and by the “Century Show” …

Also read: Le Mans 66, a great story at high speed