Back in 1923, the Le Mans 24 hour races were set up for manufacturers to show off the latest in automotive technology and design. It’s remained as one of the pillars of motorsport ever since as we creep ever closer to its 100th anniversary.
From the introduction of radial tyres to the emergence of hybrid engine technology, the event’s origins are still important to the organisers. In 2024 there has been a challenge set to see the world’s first hydrogen-powered car take to the track and, according to Autosport, that will be built in a collaboration between Red Bull Advanced Technologies and Oreca.
But not only does Le Mans showcase the tech, but it is also a demonstration of pure driving skill and endurance like no other, as teams of drivers compete to see who can race the furthest distance over 24 hours around the 13.626km track.
In 2021, the team from Toyota will forever be remembered as they took the title in the first-ever running of their GR010 hybrid hypercar, bringing a fourth consecutive win for the Japanese manufacturer. This year’s race was the 89th staging, making it the world’s oldest motorsport endurance event, according to a Bwin Sports feature on Le Mans, and it made first-time winners out of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi. The trio beat their fellow Toyota Gazoo racing teammates into second place by just two laps when the chequered flag was waved.
Over the years, there have been many iconic moments, from first outings of cars like the Toyota above to close racing, remarkable feats of driving skill, incredible effort and more, so we take a look at some of them below.
2012: The Nissan Deltawing
In 2012 the strange looking vehicle from Nissan was allowed to enter the race under experimental rules, and all was looking quite well for the driver Satoshi Motoyama until he clashed with Toyota’s Kazuki Nakajima at the Porsche Curves. Motoyama smashed into the concrete barrier leaving the Nissan in quite a state and seemingly out of the race. However, the driver wasn’t going to give up so easily, he ran to a group of Nissan engineers at the chain link fence trackside, and he just wanted to get it going again. For two hours, the driver took instruction from the engineers who couldn’t enter the trackside to help in an attempt to get the car going again, but after his best attempts for two hours, he had to concede defeat.
1991: Mazda’s first win
Mazda was the first team to fly the flag for a Japanese constructor from the podium’s top step back in 1991. Their reliability and consistency took to victory over a Mercedes squad, including the great Michael Schumacher, who had set the fastest lap of the race. Everyone thought the German squad would take the spoils, but engine problems brought their race to a premature end, leaving the Mazda to take the lead at the 22nd hour and hold out for the win.
1969: The best ever
The race that brought the sixties to a close is the closest fought Le Mans 24 hour race ever. The iconic Ford GT40 in the hands of Jackie Ickx was unbelievably fast, and even after his slow walk to start the race, it showed just how good it was after three previous wins for the American manufacturer. The final three hours of the race were gripping, and it culminated in Ickx holding off the pursuing Porsche 908 of Hans Hermann and Gérard Larrousse with just 120 metres separating the cars when the race came to an end.