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Birth of the 24 Heures du Mans

Thanks to the competitive spirit of the Bollée family, a group of locomotion enthusiasts was created in Le Mans bringing together some manufacturers and the directors of the insurance group, Mutuelles du Mans Assurances. It marked the birth of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest in 1906. In 1992, despite the proliferation of all types of events promoting motor vehicles, the ACO was still seeking to bring to life an idea of Georges Durand, one of its founders. The opportunity came at the Salon de l'Automobile during a conversation with Charles Faroux, the famous journalist and brilliant academic and visionary, and the decision was quickly and unanimously made to create an endurance race. Why not 24 Hours?, said Georges Durand. The rules were drawn up by Charles Faroux and the first edition of the Grand Prix of 24 Hours of Endurance was held under a deluge of hail and rain on the 26th and 27th of May 1923.

Why is the 24 Heures du Mans race a legend?

As is for all great human adventures, the history of the 24 Heures du Mans has provided the stage for physical and sporting feats, anecdotes and drama. The setting for the event is unique. Each site, each building has contributed to the history of this race. The leading carmakers on the planet have been there at least once. In 97 years, 88 editions have been fought, some of them thrilling, others slightly more monotonous, but all have remained loyal to the sporting spirit so dear to the ACO's founding fathers. The 24 Heures du Mans has travelled through time. It has been followed by an increasingly large and enthusiastic public and is now part of the national heritage.

Welcome to the Legend

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Enter into the heart of the legend of the 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) with these photos:

  • - Exclusive, never-before-seen photographs of the most famous endurance race in the world
  • - Limited edition: only 10 prints of each photograph will be produced, your choice of frame
  • - Certified, numbered prints

Starts and Finishes

A show, a test bench, Le Mans represents the ambition of a brand, the hope of a team. Le Mans represents the achievement of the drivers and the work of the mechanics. For the winners, Le Mans represents the triumph of bravery, talent, endurance, as well as the knowledge and tenacity of those who design and prepare the cars. How is it possible not to be convinced of the interest and the prestige of a victory at the 24 Heures du Mans.

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Finishes

Finishes

Many are happy to just finish the race, others even entertain the hope of finding glory there. It is often said that Le Mans chooses its winner and it is an ambition that is cherished by all the leading names in the world of motorsport. Talbot, Matra, Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and many more have all wanted to be the first over the finish line.

Starts

The first start grids involved placing the competitors in two parallel lines: even numbers on the right and odd numbers on the left. They were ranked by their engine size. It was the 3rd edition of the "Grand Prix of 24 Hours of Endurance" that innovated: a new starting procedure. The cars were now lined up in a fishbone shape in front of the pits, facing the drivers placed on the other side of the track. At the time, the rules required all the cars to be equipped with a removable hood. To check its solidity and ease of installation, the cars had to have the hood up during the first 20 laps of the race. The idea of keeping the drivers as far away as possible from their racing car was designed to prevent them from starting manoeuvres before the race director had dropped the flag. The drivers then had to run to their vehicles, install the hood, start the engine and accelerate away. Here, the fastest runners were able to gain a few seconds and ensure themselves a good position for the first lap. Used in races around the world, this method, which quickly became known as the "Le Mans-style start", was abandoned in 1970, deemed to be too dangerous for the drivers who did not take time to buckle their safety harnesses. Le Mans finally adopted the "Indianapolis-style" start.

Circuit

With its successive upgrades, the 24 Hours' circuit has contributed to the success of the Sarthe-based event. Discover the legendary sections of the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit over the years: the Hunaudières straight, the Dunlop Curve, the Porsche and Ford Bends, the Mulsanne and Arnage Chicanes, the Pit Straight and many more.

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13,626 km long, the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit is one of the longest in the world. Using a portion of a secondary road open to public road traffic all year, it is used only about ten days a year. This specific features makes it unique and contributes greatly to the success of this legendary race. The Tertre Rouge, Mulsanne, Indianapolis, Arnage Bends and the Hunaudières Straight are sites where the leading champions in the world of motor racing have rivaled each other for feats and records with the sole aim of contributing largely to the progress of automotive construction. Known around the world, its name speaks volumes to motorsport fans. The creators, driven by a taste for risk without which nothing great is ever done, defined the route and the present-day directors of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest are continuing in their footsteps. Thanks to their continued efforts, the quality of the circuit and the organisation improves year after year, a priority for the ACO! In 2023, the same as for the past 100 years, its anniversary will again last 24 hours.

Spectators

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is and continues to be an event for all. Every year, more than 250,000 spectators assemble in the circuit's enclosure and in the town of Le Mans to enjoy each edition to the fullest. From generation to generation, loyal spectators from all over the world never miss the most famous endurance race in the world.

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Since 1923, visitors to Le Mans all agree that they have always received a warm welcome at the circuit. This great courtesy is a matter of pride at the ACO. It also highlights the effectiveness of the Le Mans club that does not leave anything to chance when it comes to the circuit's structures. The attraction of the motor vehicles is the first thing that attracts the crowds. These are organised around the circuit's enclosures. In the enclosures, it is possible to see the racing cars, take advantage of the big wheel, do some shooting at the range, eat some fries and drink a good beer beneath the sweet-smelling pine trees. Speed enthusiasts find what they want and if they prefer the Mulsanne and Arnage Bends to the general enclosures, it is easy for them to get around thanks to the shuttle buses and colourful signposting. The installation of the chicanes now offers a reception area in the middle of the Hunaudières and the 40-hectare panoramic view remains a place much appreciated by Le Mans’ many spectators.

Night View (Le Mans by night)

It is one of the essential features of the 24 Heures du Mans: nightfall... and the few intense hours that follow. The temperature falls, the tiredness increases, the headlights are switched on and there can be many sudden plot twists. The circuit finds itself plunged into a very specific atmosphere. For only a few hours but ones that the biggest fans believe should never be missed.

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The festive atmosphere contributes to the popular success of the greatest race in the world. Once night falls, while the cars continue their deafening tours, distraction and entertainment become the watchwords of the night at the 24 Hours. Everything provides a good reason for mingling with the crowds. Night is a unique time as much for the spectators as for the teams during which everything can change. The specific feature of night-time driving can greatly influence the race's final result. With the fatigue and the tension after several hours, it's a time when the risk of error increases. A moment that the drivers dread. Flooded by light, smells, music and big thrills, the atmosphere at the circuit is unique. There is no doubt that night-time definitely contributes to the magic of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Drivers and Personalities at Le Mans

Whether they are drivers, team directors, organisers, or guests, they all share the passion for Le Mans and contribute to building and perpetuating the legend. Because the 24 Heures du Mans is, above all, a human adventure.

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In 97 years of existence, the 24 Heures du Mans have collected records that have shaped the incredible history of this race. It is not possible to name them all, but we could start by mentioning Tom Kristensen, nicknamed "Monsieur Le Mans", who competed in Sarthe from 1997 to 2014 and won the coveted prize nine times. His first victory was in a Porsche, the make that holds the record of 19 victories at the 24 Heures du Mans. Then comes Audi with 13 victories. Another record was set in 1966 when 20 metres lay between the Ford GT40 driven by Amon and McLaren and the one driven by Miles and Hulme at the finish line. It was the closest finish ever but in actual fact it had been "arranged" with it having been planned that the two sister cars would finish together. The true smallest difference between two competitors at the finish line was in 1969. After a magnificent fight between Jacky Ickx and Hans Hermann, 120 metres separated the two cars at the finish line. Jacky Ickx won the first of his 6 victories at Le Mans. And let us not forget Henri Pescarolo who participated 33 times as a driver and 14 times as team manager. He won the 24 Heures du Mans four times.

Paddocks

Enter the private world of the teams and enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the performance: the car's assembly and preparation before the race, the maintenance and adjustments during the race. The time in the pits and paddocks is often key to the strategy that leads a team to the much coveted victory.

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The competitors' paddock enclosure is reserved for the teams, officials, organisers, journalists and VIPs. The paddock is the backroom of each team's pit. The competitors and mechanics eat there, rest there, or at least try to rest there, dismantle, repair, reassemble and improve the cars' different parts. The competition is on the track but it is also in the paddock. In recent years, this place has seen the installation of reception facilities and some very impressive works: 4-story mobile kit-hotels with air-conditioning, balconies, and terraces assembled in less than 7 days, and team restaurants fitted out and decorated just like real restaurants. The team's mechanical workshops are also very modern: they house the equipment needed to rebuild or repair a car once or several times just like at a factory.