Le Mans 24 hours races
This article contains information about many of the individual Le Mans 24h races. Information about the race organisiation and its history is contained in the 24 Hours of Le Mans article.
1927 to 1930 The Bentley years
These years were dominated by the big Bentley Blowers, driven by the Bentley Boys. After 70 years, this marque returned to Le Mans, to win again in 2003.
1931 to 1934 The Alfa-Romeo years
1955 The worst accident in racing history
1958-1963 The Ferrari years
Ferrari had 10 cars start the 1958 Le Mans with only two finishing but one, a TR 58 (250TR) was the winner driven by Phil Hill and Oliver Gendebien. Aston Martin finished 2nd. and 3rd went to a Porsche RS/K with only 1600cc, an amazing finish.
Rover and the BRM Formula 1 team joined forces to produce a gas turbine powered coupé, driven by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther. It averaged 107.8 mph (173 km/h) and had a top speed of 142 mph (229 km/h). Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini won in the Ferrari 250 P.
1964 to 1967 Ford/Ferrari duel
After Ferrari had dominated since the late 1950s, Ford first tried to buy the Italian company. A deal had been all but agreed on when Enzo Ferrari called the merger off, after an intervention of Fiat that gave some financial backing to Ferrari. A frustrated Ford decided to beat Ferrari in Le Mans instead. The GT-40 project was launched under the management of Roy Lunn with the partnership of Eric Broadley from Lola and John Wyer former Aston-Martin's team manager. The 1964 race turned to the advantage of Ferrari with the victory of a 275 P. The duel ended prematurely in 1965, with the failure of all the Ferrari and Ford works cars. However the North American Racing Team (NART), Luigi Chinetti's private team, saved Ferrari's honor with a Ferrari 275 LM winning the race, this proved to be the last win for the red cars. Four consecutive victories for Ford followed in the next years.
The previous year Ford had almost won Indy 500 on its first try with Lotus. The Indianapolis powerplant, a 4.2 L aluminum block Fairlane engine with a Colotti gearbox, was installed in the new Ford GT40s.
The new white and blue coupe made his first appearance in April at Le Mans' test days. The results were disappointing, the car was unstable on the straight, however Ford sent one car to Germany for Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren to race in the 1000km Nürburgring. The GT40 qualified a second to a Ferrari 275 P, but retired after 15 fast laps.
Even if the reliability of the GT40 was questionable, Ferrari took Ford as a serious threat. The works entered four prototypes in Le Mans, three 3.3 L 275 P and a 4.0 L 330 P. Other Ferrari prototypes, including two 330 Ps, were entered by the British team Maranello Concessionaires, the Belgian team Equipe Nationale Belge and the NART.
Pedro Rodriguez took the best start with the NART 330 P. Richard Attwood's No. 12 Ford GT-40 took fire at evening.
Phil Hill drove the sole surviving GT40 broke into the top three coming from 32nd during the night and establishing a lap record at 131.375 mph (211.4 km/h). Just before 05:30 Phil brought the last GT40 to the pits. After some discussion between Ford officials the cause of the renouncement was a gearbox failure: Ford engines never fail.
1965 Last victory for Ferrari
For the 1965 season, the development and racing of the Ford GT40 was given to Carroll Shelby. On Shelby's initiative the GT40s were fitted with the same engine as the Cobras — an iron cast 289 ci (4.7 L)- and the Colotti gearbox that proved unreliable was replaced by a German-made ZF.
In parallel, Ford developed a new version of the GT40. The Mark II was developed by Ford subsidiary Kar Kraft in Dearborn under the direction of Roy Lunn. The Mk IIs were powered by a 7.0 L engine based on a Ford Galaxie block. As there was no gearbox available on the market which was able to sustain the torque of the 7.0 L, the car featured a new 4 ratio Kar Kraft gearbox. Two Mark IIs were entered by Shelby. The cars were finished in a hurry. As there was no time to run a fuel consumption test, Shelby did not know the real fuel consumption of the 7.0 L Mk II.
The GT40s were entered by several teams. The Scuderia Ferrari entered two P2s, a new version of the prototype, featuring a new DOHC V12 engine. Strangely, Ferrari dispersed some of his effort by entering a 1.6 L Dino 166. Two 365 P2s were also entered, one by the NART, the other by Maranello Concessionaires. The 365 P2 was built around a previous year P chassis with updated aerodynamics and featured a 4.4 L SOHC V12.
Several 275 LM prototypes were entered by Ferrari customers. Ferrari developed the mid-engined LM for homologation in the GT category but was refused by the CSI. These cars are often mistakenly designed as 250 LMs as the first car build was fitted with a 3.0 L engine, hence the name 250 LM. The cars delivered to customers were 275 LM powered by a 3.3 L. The performance of the 275 LM was far from "real" prototypes but as the SOHC V12 engine was a close derivative of production Ferrari engines the car had proved very reliable.
The Mark IIs took the lead at the start as they were faster than the Ferraris, but lost a part of their advance in frequent refuelling. It would later appear that the Mark IIs refuelled more often than required due to the uncertainty of their fuel consumption.
The weather was hot, and overheating began to hit the GT40s. Bob Bondurant and Umberto Maglioli's No. 7 had head gasket failure before 20:00 and on the same lap, Herbert Müller and Ronnie Bucknum's No. 6 overheated terminally.
After the failure of Ford prototypes, four Ferraris were leading. By then, the top Ford-powered car was the Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant Cobra Daytona coupe. Around midnight, Gurney and Grant had risen to third overall. That was when the Cobra's motor mounts began to crack and Gurney had to park the blue coupe after 204 laps.
This left the Ferraris on top. But the P2 began to suffer of excessive disk brake wear, probably due to heat. All the leading prototypes had pit stops to change disk brakes, an operation that required between 20 and 30 minutes.
As the 275 LMs put less stress on the brakes two 275 LM were leading at 04:00 Pierre Dumay's Belgian yellow car led the NART 275 LM of Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory. The NART Ferrari had lost time struggling with ignition problem. But now the engine was sounding clear and the car took several second at each lap to the leader. Soon after 13:00 the Belgian Ferrari had approximately one minute over the US one but Rindt was driving 12 second per lap faster. As the leader needed only one refuel to finish the race while the NART car would have to stop twice, a close finish was expected.
That's when a tire began to deflate on the leading car, and soon disintegrated, destroying a large part of the thin aluminium rear bodywork. It took the Belgian team crew five laps to have the car ready to rejoin the race.
This was more than enought to give the victory to Rindt and Gregory. Despite the general failure of Ferrari works cars this was the ninth victory for Ferrari and the sixth in a row. Probably nobody envisionned that it would be the last victory for Ferrari.
1966 surprising result
In 1966, the Ford Mk. II had become reliable. Main Shelby test driver Ken Miles managed to win in Daytona and Sebring with the big block Ford. Ford sent no less than eight Mark II to the Sarthe, entered by three teams Shelby, Holmann and Moody and Alan Mann racing.
Ferrari sent only two works P3s to compete against the Ford armada. Another P3 was entered by NART, and four 365 P2 were entered by Ferrari's usual private partners. The two works P3s were involved in an accident. At 01:45 the P2s had already exhausted their engine in trying to keep contact with the Mk. II and the last Ferrari prototype, the Pedro Rodriguez/Richie Ginther NART P3 retired with overheating. The race was won for Ford.
At the last pit stop, three Mark IIs were in front. Ken Miles and Denis Hulme were leading, followed by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in the same lap. Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson were third, but twelve laps behind.
Ford decided to stage a near level photo finish between Miles/Hulme and McLaren/Amon with the No. 5 following, too. According to witnesses Bruce McLaren left a small margin to Ken Miles and it was expected than Miles/Hulme will be declared winner after the examination of the photo finish. But the ACO declared Tthe McLaren/Amon car had won the race, having covered more distance in 24 hours as it had started the race several places behind Miles/Hulme Mark II. The ACO estimated the difference to 8 meters. This was a terrible disappointment for Ken Miles who expected the triple crown Daytona-Sebring-Le Mans as a reward for his investment in the GT40 development. The well-known photography published by the Ford Motor Company showing McLaren leading Miles, with the MkII of Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson third, may have fooled some people, but this document doesn't show the finish line and the public doesn't know at what time the picture was shot.
1967 champagne party
In, the Ford Mark IV was introduced with a low drag, body. The surprise winners were Americans A. J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, for whom the roof had to be extended as he was over 190cm tall. Gurney started the now familiar tradition of spraying the champagne.
1968-1969 The Gulf Ford GT40 years
In 1968, the rules of sports car racing were changed to reduce speed. Like in Formula One, 3.0 L engines were adopted in order to reduce costs by the use of similar engines for both kinds of racing. So dedicated race cars built only in small numbers were now limited to 3.0 L engines. Thus, cars with engines that displaced over 5.0 L were banned from the World championship and from Le Mans, which was the end for the Big Block Ford (Mk II and Mk IV) and for the Chevrolet-powered Chaparral in Le Mans.
Cars with up to 5.0 L engines were still allowed to compete in the Sport category if there were at least 50 cars built. This mercy rule allowed old customer cars like the Ford GT40, the Lola T70 and the Ferrari 275LM to compete against factory prototypes powered by sophisticated 3.0 L engines.
A new chicane section was added at Le Mans between Maison Blanche and the starting line to slow the cars between the pits and tribunes. The chicane was called Virage Ford. The changes added around 10sec to a lap.
Enzo Ferrari was disappointed to have to bring his P4s to the museum and refused to compete in endurance for 1968 despite having a F1 engine, which was unlikely to last 24 hours though. John Wyer had to renounce to compete with his GT40 derived 5.7 L Mirage M1. Wyer chose to dismantle his M1s and to build new GT40s on the Mirage chassis which was close enough from the GT40 to comply with homologation. Gulf GT40s received some of the improvements of the Mirage, and a significant work was made to reduce the weight of car, using high-tech materials, for instance a large part of the body was made of a very thin polyester sheet reinforced with carbon fiber.
Because of the May 1968 riots in France, the race was postponed and moved to September, and was now the last race of the FIA championship. The rescheduled race increased the chance of the Prototypes against the Sports, as the new Prototype cars had matured during the season. But Le Mans meant high speed for 24 hours.
The Renault-Gordini V8 engine that powered the Alpine A-220s was disappointing giving no more than 300 hp (220 kW). With 350 hp (260 kW) the new 3.0 L air-cooled flat-8 that powered the Porsche 908 was underpowered in comparison to the new Matra V12, but the car was light, had very low drag and the highest top speed. Porsche was much more experienced in Le Mans and had an advantage in number, thus Porsche was the favorite.
Wyer entered 3 GT40s but the team wasn't at its best. Its fastest driver, Jacky Ickx, had broken his leg practicing for the 1968 Canadian Grand Prix, and Brian Redman was still out after a crash in the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.
With Ferrari protesting, the Prancing Horse was represented only by privateers. The best Ferrari was a green 275 LM entered in the Sport category by David Piper. This car was obsolete despite being seriously updated — most of its body was made of polyester/fiberglass instead of aluminium.
The start was given at 14:00 by Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli.
The Porsche were in front, Siffert took the lead at the fourth lap. Then a litany of minor electric problems slowed the new Porsche 908s, and some were eventually disqualified as the new team management had not studied the rules about repairs properly. One of Wyer's cars had clutch failure at 17:00, the other had engine failure at 22:00. By midnight, Wyer had only one car still in race, but it was leading.
Henri Pescarolo made a noted with performance the new Matra 630 powered by the Matra V12 engine. The car started the race with mechanical problems, which sent it down to a 14th place in the race. But Pescarolo drove the car to the second place under the rain despite a windshield wiper failure while his teammate Johnny Servoz-Gavin had definitely refused to drive the car in such conditions. However during one of the last pitstops the car caught fire, and could not continue.
The Porsche were still in trouble with alternators, belts and bearings while everything was just fine for the leading GT40.
The victory went to the GT40 driven by Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez. Porsche's best finisher was a private 2.2 L Porsche 907 in second, followed by a works 908 in third, both just one lap behind the winning GT40. Alfa Romeo performance was impressive with three cars finishing, the Nanni Galli/Ignazio Giunti T33 being fourth overall and winner of the 2.0 L class, the two other followed as fifth and sixth.
During the 1969 the minimal production figure to compete in the Sport category was reduced from 50 to 25. Starting in July 1968 Porsche made a surprising and very expensive effort to conceive, design and build a whole new car for the Sport category with one underlying goal: to win its first overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans. In only ten months the Porsche 917 was developed, which incorporated remarkable technology: Porsche's first 12-cylinder engine and a lot components from titanium, magnesium and exotic alloys. Porsche built 25 917 and according to many sources this drove Porsche AG close to bankruptcy. In need of cash, Porsche sold the 917 to anyone who wanted to pay for.
It soon appeared that the Porsche 917 didn't work well on the racing track, as its aerodynamics were developed for low drag rather than downforce. This was necessary for all former underpowered Porsches in order to do well on the fast straights of Le Mans but as the car was 30 km/h (18.6 mph) faster than anything previously built for le Mans the body was generating a significant lift on the straight. Brian Redman recalls that "it was incredibly unstable, using all the road at speed." Many thought that the 4.5 L engine was too much for the frame. At its competition debut at the 1000km Nürburgring, all works drivers preferred the 908 over the 'unsafe' 917, which was driven by two hired drivers, David Piper and Frank Gardner.
Matra ordered the aerodynamic engineer Robert Choulet to conceive a low-drag Long Tail Coupe specially designed for the Le Mans, the Matra 640. On April 16, Matra brought the car to the Sarthe circuit. Henri Pescarolo took it to the track, at the first kilometres in the Hunaudières the car took off and was pulverised, Pescarolo was pulled out alive but severely burned.
In parallel, Matra was experimenting with roadster bodywork. This lead to a new car, the 650. Some 630 chassis were converted in roadster, they were christened 630/650.
Despite the fact that no solution was found to fix the instability of the car, three 917s entered Le Mans. Two were Porsche team and the third was entered by the gentleman-driver John Woolfe. The Ahrens/Stommelen 917 qualified on pole.
Matra entered four cars: a new 650 roadster, a 630 coupe and two 630/650.
John Wyer's team was there but managed by David Yorkes. Wyer himself wasn't in Le Mans as his wife was ill. The team entered two GT40. Jacky shared GT40 1075, the car that won the previous year, with Jackie Oliver.
Before the race Jacky Ickx had expressed to journalists that he considered the start procedure unsafe as it was not possible to fasten the seat belts properly. When the start was given, he slowly walked across the track to his GT40 instead of running, then entered his car and locked the safety belt carefully before starting last.
Soon after the start the poor handling of the 917 and the inexperience of the driver resulted in a drama: John Woolfe had a fatal accident at the Maison Blanche with his private 917. He had not taken time to belt himself in, proving that Ickx was right.
Woolfe's crash had dislodged the gas tank from car. The burning tank was thrown onto the road where Chris Amon's Ferrari 312 hit it. After an interruption the race was restarted. The 2 official 917s were put out of the race by clutch bell housing problems, but the 908 of Hans Herrmann and Gérard Larrousse remained a serious candidate for the victory.
In a dramatic finish, Hans Herrmann repeatedly overtook each other as the Porsche 908 had brake problems, and eventually Ickx managed to beat Herrmann by a few seconds or about 120 meter.
Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won with the GT40 chassis 1075, the same car that had won the previous year. This was second time the same car had won two years in a row; a Bentley Speed Six had done it in 1929 and 1930. Joest Racing would repeat this twice later with their #7 cars.
Ironically Jacky Ickx had a road accident near Chartres while driving to Paris on Monday morning. A car pulled in front of his Porsche 911. Ickx's car ended up crushed against a utility pole. Ickx unbuckled his seat belt and stepped unharmed from the wrecked Porsche.
1970-1971 The Porsche 917 years
During June 1969 Enzo Ferrari sold half of his stock to Fiat. Ferrari used some of that money to build 25 cars in order to compete with the Porsche 917: the Ferrari 512, powered by a 5.0 L V12, was introduced for the 1970 season.
Disappointed by the poor results of the 917 in 1969 and facing a new competition, Porsche concluded an agreement with John Wyer and the Gulf Team, which became the official Porsche team, and also the official development partner. During tests in Zeltweg, Wyer's engineer John Horsmann had the idea to increase downforce to the expense of drag, a new tail was molded with aluminum sheets taped together. This worked well as the new short tail gave the 917 better stability. The new version was called 917 K (Kurzheck).
Wyer was surprised to discover that an other team was carefully preparing Le Mans with close support from Porsche. As in '69, the Porsche-Salzburg team was de facto a second works team under control of members of the Porsche family. The competition between the teams was at climax.
A new low drag version of the 917 was developed for Le Mans with support from the external consultant Robert Choulet. The 917 LH (Langheck) featured a spectacular new "Long Tail" body with a wing, which had very low drag and better stability than the 1969 version.
Two 917 LH were entered in Le Mans, one by Porsche-Salzburg, the other by team Martini Racing. The spectacular livery of this car was an elaborate whirls and swoops of light green on a dark blue background. The car gained the nickname of the Hippie Car or the Psychedelic Porsche from the team and media. The Porsche-Salzburg's LH was powered by a new 4.9 L that Porsche had introduced at Monza, this car broken lap records on every track it had run before.
Wyer lined up three 917Ks, two with the 4.9 L engine and one with the 4.5 L unit. Porsche-Salzburg also entered a 917 K with the standard 4.5 L engine for Hans Herrmann and Dick Attwood.
Despite a lack of drivers, as Ferrari had only two F1 pilots permanently under contract, a total of eleven Ferrari 512s were entered in Le Mans.
Matra entered two MS650s (roadsters with tubular chassis) and a new MS660 (a roadster with monocoque chassis), except Jack Brabham all drivers were French.
Unsurprisingly, one the low drag, high power Porsche-Salzburg 917 LH won the pole position with Vic Elford.
For the first time the traditional "Le Mans start" was replaced by an "Indianapolis start". For Porsche's 20th participation Ferry Porsche himself dropped the tricolor flag at 16:00.
At 17:30 all the Ferraris had already lost touch with the leaders, when the rain began to fall. Soon after Reine Wisell was running at reduced speed in White House in his "coda lunga" Ferrari 512 S. Derek Bell came in another 512 S going around 160 km/h (100 mph) faster. Bell produced a miracle in avoiding the crash, the following works 512 S of Clay Regazzoni hit Wisell's, and Mike Parkes hit both cars, setting his own 512 S on fire. The firemen came quickly and no drivers were seriously hurt. To complete Ferrari's disaster, Bell's engine took excessive RPMs in the adventure and broke in the Mulsanne straight, meaning that four Ferrari were out.
The rain became heavier around 20:00. The last works Ferrari was driven by Jacky Ickx and Peter Schetty. Ickx, probably the most talented driver of this era under the rain, managed to bring the car from sixth at 20:00 to second at midnight. But Ferrari lost its last chance tragically when Ickx had an accident that killed a corner worker at the Ford chicane.
Jack Brabham and François Cevert led the prototypes in the Matra roadster but the V12s were using too much oil, as all the Matras broke piston rings at quarter distance. This wasn't the year either for Wyer: Pedro Rodriguez had a connecting rod go, Mike Hailwood crashed in Dunlop Curves and Jo Siffert blew his engine by missing a shift while passing slower cars. The Porsche-Salzburg 917 LH had problems with its 4.9L engine, leaving only the 4.5L Porsche. All the major players were gone during the night.
At dawn when the weather turned from heavy rain to storm, three 917s were leading followed by a 908. The remaining Porsches just had to make it home safely, driving almost a day in the heavy rain without losing concetration.
Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood in their red and white No. 23 Porsche-Salzburg 917 K won while Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen finished second with the Hippie Car. Only seven finishing cars were ranked, a few others did not cover enough distance compared to the winner. Hans Herrmann, a veteran at age 40 which had survived the dangerous Mille Miglia and Carrera Panamericana races of the 1950s, had driven for Mercedes in F1 and won the Targa Florio plus many other major races for Porsche, had promised his wife to quit racing if he should finally win the big one at Le Mans, a success which he had missed narrowly in 1969. So he retired with immediate effect, much to the surprise of his team and its boss Louise Piëch, not without naming Denny Hulme as replacement though.
Porsche had won Le Mans for the first time, the last and most sought after triumph for the former underdog which managed to win all others sports car races and titles during the 1960s, and even a F1 race.
Template:Main At the end of the 1970 season Ferrari had entered in some races a new version of the 512, the 512 M (Modificata). The 512 M had a new bodywork built on the same aerodynamics doctrine than the Porsche 917K. At the end of 1970 the 512 M was faster than the 917s, at least on some tracks.
During the 1971 season the FIA decided to ban the loop hole Sport category for 1972, so the big 917s and 512s would have to retire at the end of a year which they would surely dominate again.
Surprisingly Ferrari decided to give up any official effort with the 512 in order to prepare the 1972 season a new prototype, the 312 PB was presented and engaged by the factory in several races. But many 512s were still raced by private teams and most of them converted to M specification. Being cheaper than the 917 K the 512 M appeared as a bargain for customers at the end of 1970.
Roger Penske bought a used 512 M chassis that was totally dismantled and rebuilt. The car was specially tuned for long races receiving many unique features, among them were a large rear wing and an aviation inspired quick refueling system. The engine was tuned by Can-Am V8 specialist Traco, this engine was probably able to deliver more than 600 hp (450 kW). As of today it's impossible to know to what extend Penske's initiative was backed by Ferrari works. This 512 M, painted in a blue and yellow livery, was sponsored by Sunoco and the Californian Ferrari dealer Kirk F. White. This car made the pole position for the 24 hours of Daytona and finished second despite an accident. For the 12 hours of Sebring the "Sunoco" made the pole but finished the race at the sixth position after making contact with Pedro Rodrigez's 917. Despite this misfortune the car had proved to be a serious opponent for the 917. Not only this car was the fastest on track in Daytona and Sebring but it was also the car that had the shortest refueling time.
The presence of the 512 M "Sunoco" forced Porsche to pursue his effort of research and development on the 917: The 917 K tail was modified, and the 917 LH aerodynamics received further improvements. New Magnesium chassis were developed. An entirely new car, the 917/20 was built as test-bed for future Can-Am parts and aerodynamic "low-drag" concepts.
The 917/20 was painted in pink for the 24 hours race with names of pieces of meat written across it, the car earned the nickname "Pink Pig".
A modified Ferrari 512 featuring a narrowed cockpit (built around a Porsche 917 windshield) was entered by the Scuderia Filipinetti, for Mike Parkes and Henri Pescarolo, the car was christened 512 F.
Matra entered only one 660 for Chris Amon and Jean-Pierre Beltoise.
The Ford Cosworth DFV made his Le Mans debut in Guy Ligier's new JS-3. The engine was limited to 8800 rpm. Available power was around 400 hp (300 kW).
The "Sunoco" Ferrari was unable to break the 200 mph (320 km/h) barrier on the straight while the 917 LH were lightning quick at speeds of over 240 mph (380 km/h). Mark Donohue qualified fourth anyway, which was obviously the result of an aerodynamic configuration that favored downforce over drag, which helped in the twistier sections.
Rodriguez/Oliver's 917 lead the first hours.
At 7:00 p.m. the Sunoco was third.
At 8:16 p.m., Donohue pitted the Sunoco Ferrari early. The Traco-tuned engine died.
At dawn the Matra was in an amazing second position.
At 9:40 a.m., Amon stopped in the long straight and stepped out of the Matra roadster. He had ran out of fuel, the fuel-metering unit was wrong, and the pits were too far away to push the car.
Despite the extremely high speeds of the long tail versions (Vic Elford's silver Martini car was clocked at 386 km/h or 239.8 mph) the 1971 Le Mans race was again won by a short tail car but with magnesium chassis, the white No. 22 Martini of Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep.
1972-1974 The Matra 670 years
In 1972 5.0 L cars were banned from the World championship and thus from Le Mans. The Prototype (Group 6) category became the new Sport (Group 5) category with no minimal production required. This left the game open for the best 3.0 L cars with F1-like engines.
Template:Main In 1971, the best competitor in the 3.0 L was Alfa-Romeo who managed to beat the Porsche 917 at three races. Alfa-Romeo made the choice to build a new car for 1972. Surprisingly the new 33 TT3 was build on a tubular chassis while the previous prototype was a monocoque. Making the new car competitive and competing in both the World championship and Le Mans proved to be too much for the team.
Ferrari and Matra were more wise. Matra cut down its participation in endurance-racing to focus on "Le Mans", while Ferrari made the opposite choice preferring to compete for the World Championship and to bypass Le Mans, as the F1 inspired 312 PB was optimized for 1000 km (620 mi) races.
This brought Matra in the favorite position for the 24 hours, with four cars enrolled — 3 brand new Matra 670 an evolution of the 660 specially constructed and designed to race in Le Mans, and an older but updated 660. They faced an opposition consisting mainly of three Alfa Romeo 33 TT3s, two semi-official Lola T280s entered by Jo Bonnier's team, and one private Porsche 908L enrolled by Reinhold Joest. This car was similar to the Porsche that finished second in 1969 and was considered seriously outdated and underpowered.
The Matra of Beltoise/Amon took the lead at start but broke its V12 at the begin the third lap. This caused enough disconcentration among Matra drivers to allow the Lolas of Jo Bonnier and Hugues de Fierlant to take the lead. Bonnier was slowed down by a deflated tire and after the first pit stops the two remaining Matra 670s were leading the race again with Cevert/Ganley on front.
Even if the reliability of the Ford-Cosworth DFV that powered the Lolas was questionable on a 24-hour race, there was some hope for a general failure of the Matras and Jo Bonnier decided to keep some pressure on the Matras. The Lolas where running fast with Bonnier establishing a new lap record early in the evening. The other Lola broke his gearbox.
Graham Hill took the lead with his Matra around midnight.
At dawn the Matra 670 swapped their position again. Bonnier's Lola T280 was still there with a surprisingly healthy DFV V8. During the night some race incidents caused unexpected pit stops and the car was only eighth but the F1-inspired Lola was running really fast the early morning. Just before 8:30 a.m. Bonnier's Lola came upon the Ferrari GTB4 of Florian Vetsch before Indianapolis curve. The witnesses are not entirely sure what Bonnier hit first, the Ferrari or the barrier, but the Lola got over the barrier and into the trees killing Bonnier.
This tragedy left the Matras without any serious opposition. Despite an unscheduled pit stop the car of Ganley and Cevert was still leading when Ganley got hit in the tail by a Chevrolet Corvette. This gave the lead to Pescarolo and Hill. The Hobbs/Jabouille Matra 660 was stopped with transmission problems.
The Matra 670 "Short Tail" piloted by Henri Pescarolo and Graham Hill took the first place, and the 670 "Long Tail" driven by François Cevert and Howden Ganley the second. This was the first victory of a French car since 1950 and made Graham Hill the first and so far only driver to win the Triple Crown of the Indianapolis 500, the 24 hours of Le Mans and the Formula One World Championship (including the Grand Prix of Monaco which he won several times, too).
In such a context the third position of the Porsche 908 L driven by Reinhold Jöest, Michel Weber and Mario Casoni that was mainly the result of careful preparation by Joest and his team was largely unnoticed, yet remarkable. It appears in retrospect as the first demonstration of Joest's "savoir-faire" in Le Mans.
1973 Duel with Ferrari
In 1973 Matra competed against Ferrari for the World Champion title for constructors and Ferrari came to Le Mans as the race could be decisive for the title.
The beginning of the sport championship had showed that the Matras 670 had better handling but the Ferraris showed better reliability.
The Matras 670s were updated to the 670B specification consisting mainly of larger spoilers.
The main weakness of the 1972 670 was the ZF gearbox (the gearbox used in the stock GT40 Mk1 and the de Tomaso Pantera that showed so much wear at the end of the 1972 race that it was obvious that it could not fisnish a 24 hours race with serious opposition. New Porsche "Type 1983" gearboxes especially built for Matra by Porsche were fitted in the 670B. According to Matra's engineer Georges Martin when Matra contacted Porsche to outsource their gearboxes they were given the choice between an expensive Porsche designed gearbox branded Matra and the same gearbox with Porsche brand at much lower price. Matra CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère chose the cheapest option, much to the surprise of Porsche management.
For Le Mans the Ferrari 312PB had a previously unseen longtail bodywork.
John Wyer was back with two Cosworth-powered Gulf Mirage M6 roadsters. In 1000 km races the M6s had proven they were serious competitors and only a slight advantage allowed the Matras and Ferraris to dominate them. But had that time nobody would consider the a car powered Cosworth DFV, a flat plane V8 engine known for its destructive vibrations, as a favorite for Le Mans.
Alfa Romeo was more affected than Ferrari by strikes and social troubles in Italy. Alfa racing subsidiary Autodelta renounced to enter his new flat-12 powered cars was represented only by a V8 powered private car entered by Scuderia Brescia Corse.
A Sigma powered by a Mazda Wankel engine was entered this was the first Japanese car to qualify in Le Mans as well as the first Wankel-powered car to race.
Ferrari sent the Arturo Merzario/Carlos Pace 312 out first as a rabbit.
The Matra raced theur plan and let the Ferrari go. While the Matra were all running at the same speed, the Ferraris had diversified plans Carlos Reutemann and Tim Schenken were running among the Matra. While Jackie Ickx and Brian Redman were running with the slowest 3L cars the Lolas and the private Alfa Romeo.
Ferrari swapped the lead with Matra through the next four hours, but Pescarolo could repeat his victory with Gérard Larrousse as co-driver.
1974 Last victory for Matra
In 1974 Ferrari retired from endurance racing. Matra had developed the 670 into a more aerodynamic version, the 680. Three 670 and one 680 were entered.
John Wyer entered two Gulf-GR7s.
Henri Pescarolo/Gerard Larousse's Matra 670 was leading at dawn.
Around 10:00 a.m. the 911 Turbo Carrera that had held second place lost its fifth gear, that made the car lose around 40 seconds per lap to the leading Matra.
But just before 11:00 a.m., Pescarolo had a gearbox failure. The Porsche-designed Matra gearbox problem was easy to repair, but the diagnosis had consumed 30 minutes despite the fact that Porsche's gearbox specialist affected to Matra behaviour was very fair showing a full self-involvement in the team and deploying as much if not more energy to solve the problem than Matra's mechanics and engineers.
When Pescarolo returned to the race, he had lost 45 minutes. The Porsche 911 Turbo was now in the same lap, which was a great achievement for a road-car derivative car against all those prototypes.
It rained during the final hour. Pescarolo managed to build a six-lap lead over the Porsche by the end. It was Matra's and Pescarolo's third consecutive Le Mans victory. At the end of the season Matra announced its retirement from racing.
1975-1981 The Group 6 years
1975 Last victory of the Wyer team
In the wake of the Oil Crisis, Le Mans introduced rules in 1975 regarding fuel consumption, the CSI reacted by excluding the 24 Hours from the World Championship for Makes.
Running at lower rpm to match the fuel limitation a Cosworth DFV engine could be reliable on 24 hours. John Wyer had planned his retirement but he couldn't resist to the opportunity to win in Le Mans again and he chose not to retire this year and to make Le Mans the sole race of the Gulf team program for the 1975 season. Two new Gulf GR-8 were designed and constructed especially for Le Mans, these were largely a derivative of the Gulf GR-7 with a new bodywork giving an up-to-date aerodynamics optimized for Le Mans and fuel efficiency. With the technology of Gulf that could provide specially tuned fuel the Gulf were by far favorite.
The new rule was also an opportunity for Guy Ligier who had previous experience in racing a Cosworth at Le Mans. As Matra had withdrawn from competition, Ligier managed to acquire the services of Matra's engineer Gérard Ducarouge, and the sponsorship of Gitanes. The sales of Ligier road going JS-2 had decreased drastically with the oil crisis and the team was preparing his entry in Formula 1 for 1976, this left limited financial and engineering means for Endurance racing. Ligier made the choice to run the race with the experienced Ligier JS-2's chassis fitted with DFV engines and Hewland gearboxes. In terms of performance the Gulf prototypes were clearly superior to the Ligier that were initially designed in 1971 as Maserati-powered road-cars and hacked as Cosworth-powered Prototypes in 1975. Achieving superior reliability was the sole chance for the team to gain advantage over the Gulfs. Ligier chose to run some races of the World Championship before le Mans as tests runs for the Cosworth-powered JS-2.
Gulf entered 2 GR-8's in Le Mans while Ligier entered 2 JS-2 Cosworth and one JS-2 Maserati. Both rivals had seriously downgraded their DFV engines: the Gulf had around 380 hp (280 kW) while the Ligiers had 420 hp (310 kW) to compensate some of their handicap.
Alpine-Renault entered one 2.0 L A441 C with an all women team. As the A441 was probably the best 2.0 L car of that era and 2.0 L cars weren't much restrained by fuel limitation this car was a serious outsider.
Porsche made a minimal effort, being represented only by private teams. The rest of the opposition consisted in a brand new and very aerodynamic-looking Lola T380-Cosworth entered by the gentleman-driver Alain de Cadenet that teamed Chris Craft. De Cadenet was here to finish, according to various sources he had limited his DFV RPMs so low that the engine wasn't able to deliver more than 350 hp.
Without surprise the two Gulfs took the lead of the race. Schuppan and Jaussaud had an alternator failure and went six laps down to teammates Ickx and Bell. The race went on at planned with the Gulf leading, near midnight the brand-new de Cadenet Lola was were it was expected to be, in third position. But the car lost its entire rear bodywork in the straight. Francois Migault hit it at full stride with his Ligier. After nearly an hour's repairs attempts, the Ligier coupe retired. The Lola carried on ; by luck the engine cover had missed the rear wing completely.
Not long after 2:30 p.m. Ickx pitted to repair a broken exhaust pipe, the repairs were completed as the remaining Ligier entered the lead lap. During the race the V8 powered Ligiers were also plagged by broken exhaust pipes due to DFV's destructive vibrations to a worse extend that the Gulf but with the experience gained in other races and a design of the exhaust system allowing quicker parts exchange they losted less time in the pits than the Gulfs.
It was later revealed that the winning Gulf had also a serious differential problems. The experienced John Wyer managed to hide his anxiety. According to some, Guy Ligier had the false conviction that everything else went as planned for the leading Gulf and missed the opportunity to put more pressure on the leaders to push them to mechanical failure, on the other hand considering the dysbalance between the teams some thinks that in Guy Ligier's mind securing 2nd position was enough to ensure the funding of Ligier as an F1 team in the future. The truth was probably in-between : fuel consumption was in favor of the Gulf and only a major failure could gave a victory the Ligier while Ligier had to handle with fuel consumption limit to have a homologated result.
The Gulf GR-8 driven by Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell finished the race at the first place having led the race during the 24 hours. The other Gulf had mechanical problem finished third leaving the second position to a Ligier piloted by Guy Lafosse and Guy Chasseuil. The gap between the winning Gulf and the Ligier was only one lap, and the public made an equal ovation to the first a the second.
De Cadenet's Lola was third finishing the race with a bodywork sticked together with a lot of adhesive tape. This remains be the best result of de Cadenet in Le Mans and the best result of a Lola chassis.
Reinhold Joest, Jürgen Barth and Mario Casoni were fourth in their aged Porsche 908/3.
1976 First victory for the Porsche 936
Regulation for Le Mans were changed again. Fuel limitation was removed Group 5 cars were allowed to compete with Group 6 cars. All the best car were new, Porsche entered two 936 and one 935. The Alpine-Renault A-442 T made also his first appearance in Le Mans, only one car was entered. The new Porsche 936 turbo won.
1977-78 Porsche vs. Renault
The Porsche 936 turbo won again in 1977 against the Renault and Mirage Renault, with extraordinary driving efforts by Jacky Ickx. In 1978, the Renault V6 turbo finally managed to beat the German cars, and Renault concentrated on their F1 effort.
1979 Porsche 935's victory
The Porsche 935 turbo, a high-powered version of the Porsche 911 road car, dominated endurance racing in the late 1970s, being entered by many Porsche customer teams all over the world. The German-based Kremer team managed to win Le Mans, which is a remarkable success for a car based on a 15 year old road car design. Actor Paul Newman finished second in Dick Barbour's Porsche 935. Jackie Ickx's efforts to win in his Porsche 936 came to nothing when he was disqualified for receiving outside (and unwanted) assistance in repairing his stricken car.
The prototype opposition consisted mainly of Ford M10s but this wasn't an official return of Ford, these cars were derived from the 1975 Gulf GR-8: Ford France and a consortium of French Ford dealers funded the ex-Wyer Team, a Cosworth DFV V8 was installed in the chassis for the occasion.
1980 Rondeau's victory
Porsche again sent no works Group 6 cars, in order to not compete against their many customers in their 935 Group 5 cars. The lone Group 6 Porsche, a Martini Racing-sponsored roadster entered by Joest for Reinhold Joest himself and Jacky Ickx, was christened the Porsche 908/80 by the team (and "FrankenPorsche" by journalists), but looked much like the 1977 version of the 936. For a long time it was believed to be a hack on a 908 chassis until it discovered that it was in fact built on a real 936 replacement chassis, the 936-004. As Porsche didn't wish to be in the business of selling 936s to customers the secret was kept by using a 908 chassis number plate.
The 908/80 was favorite but Porsche could also count on many 935, five Group 5 plus eight IMSA GTX, including three cars from the Sebring-winning Dick Barbour team. Most of the opposition was in the GTP class: three WM Peugeot and a trio of local heroes, the Le Mans-built Rondeau-Cosworth.
The start was the probably wettest ever in Le Mans. Ickx laid back in his roadster until he could actually see something else than the fog created by closed-cabin cars: Porsche 935s, BMW M1s and Rondeau coupes.
John Fitzpatrick was leading with Dick Barbour's Porsche 935. Hans Stuck had shoved his BMW M1 from 26th to second by 17:00. At that time Jean Rondeau had two of his made-in-Le Mans homebrew cars in the top 10.
When the rain decreased Ickx and Joest picked off one car after another. By the end of the third hour Joest found himself in the lead. When Ickx was back in the car he broke the fuel injection pump belt. But Joest had planned wisely, there was a set of basic tools and a spare belt in the car. Ickx restarted just 14 minutes later but this was enough to lost the lead.
At nightfall a Rondeau was leading the race but Ickx began the chase. By 01:00 Sunday, the 908/80 was on the same lap as the leaders. Two hours later, they were ahead and began to leave the coupe behind. After numerous lead changes caused by refuelings and scheduled maintenance on the cars around 07:00, the Joest Martini Porsche had built a solid lead.
But the Joest team had underestimated the Rondeaus as they didn't expect the Cosworth to be reliable. As a result, Joest and Ickx did not run fast enough and at 10:00 when the 908/80 had a gearbox failure, like the works 936s in 1977, they had not built up a large enough lead. The Rondeau of Jean Rondeau himself and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud gained the lead with a gap of three laps over the second placed car. Ickx had to begin a third chase at the Sarthe.
When Jaussaud took over from Rondeau with an hour and a half remaining, the Rondeau had still a two laps advance but the Porsche was running faster. With 35min left to race, the rain returned. Ickx pitted for wet tyres while Jaussaud kept the slicks. Jaussaud had made the right choice and remained on the lead. However there was a final surprise: As the rain became heavier in the last lap Jaussaud lost the control of his car. By luck the Rondeau did not hit anything. For the first time a driver had won Le Mans on a car bearing his own name. At the end of the race Ickx announced his retirement, which he reversed a few months later.
1981 Last victory for the Porsche 936
The great surprise of 1981 was that Ickx was back. Porsche had a new program for the future Group C regulations in 1982 and had persuaded Ickx out of retirement. The main reason for entering Le Mans was to test a new engine for the upcoming new car. This 2.6 L engine which was derived from a never raced Indianapolis engine. The new engines were fitted in 936 chassis. Ickx shared one of the updated 936 with Derek Bell.
All the race was run in very hot weather, but the engine test was successful: after the first hour, Ickx and Bell had built a large advance and remained at lead for the rest of the race. They won by an even greater margin than in 1976.
The race was marred by the death of Jean-Louis Lafosse, who crashed his Rondeau in the early stages. No cause has ever been established. Thierry Boutsen, who would go on to drive in Formula One, escaped a large accident in the first two hours without injury.
The sole incident for the winners occurred after the end of the race. In fact Derek Bell never crossed the finish line, he was removed from the car by fans and carried to the podium. On the podium Derek Bell asked for water to refresh himself but the only beverage available was champagne, thus Bell drank champagne, at least until he lost consciousness.
1982-1991 - The Group C era
1982-1987 The Porsche 956/962 years
For 1982, the new FIA Group C rules were in effect. The new Porsche 956 was introduced just before scrutineering, and took all 3 podium places according to their starting numbers 1-2-3. In the following years, the 956 (later the 962 with enlarged wheelbased required by IMSA) dominated, and the Porsche factory team was even beaten by its own customers, like the Joest team in 1984 and 1985.
In 1986, nothing could hold back the works 962C of Hans-Jochaim Stuck, Derek Bell and Al Holbert, but the race itself was marred by the death of Jo Gartner in an horrific crash on the Mulsanne Straight. The following year, engine failures put paid to many of the leading 962's within an hour of the start, but Stuck, Bell and Holbert were able to beat the Jaguars and Yves Courage's Cougar to take victory.
1988-1990 The Jaguar and Mercedes years
After four years of trying with previous evolutions, Jaguar took the XJR-9 to victory against Porsche's works 962C in 1988. It was an emotional victory for all concerned, and re-ignited the British interest in the race. Apart from a lone Jaguar in fourth, Porsches filled the rest of the top ten.
Having run his cars at Le Mans for a decade, Peter Sauber was aided by Mercedes in winning the 1989 race. His "Silver Arrows" Sauber C9's finished 1st, 2nd and 5th, with Porsches and Jaguars lying in their wake.
With Sauber not returning for 1990, Jaguar took on Nissan and Porsche for the 1990 version of the Sarthe classic, and the #3 Jaguar (now running an XJR-12)walked away with the trophy, after all the Nissans and the #1 Jaguar broke.
1991 The Rotary engine Mazda
1991 was a strange year for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, not only for its unexpected victor but also due to the grid line-up. 1991 was supposed to be the first year the World Sportscar Championship ran to the new '3.5 L' rules, which meant a new breed of sports-prototype. Although TWR Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot all built cars to the new regulations for the 1991 championship series, the take up of the new class was low amongst other teams and manufacturers and there was simply not enough of these new cars to fill the grid at the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. So the FIA allowed the first 10 spaces on the grid to be reserved for the fastest qualifying 3.5 L cars from the World Sportscar Championship while the rest of the field was made up of Group C cars from previous year's championships and Le Mans races. In another twist, some teams which had 3.5 L cars, but entered previous year's championships with Group C cars, were allowed to enter their 'obsolete' but more reliable (and for Le Mans in 1991, quicker) Group C racers. So in the case of TWR Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, their 3.5 L cars (the XJR-14 and C291 respectively) failed to qualify and instead they raced using their XJR-12 and C11 models respectively. Peugeot Sport on the other hand only had their 905 model to race, 1991 being their first season in sportscar racing, but with the absence of TWR Jaguar's far quicker XJR-14 the French marque had the honour of starting 1st and 2nd.
The very loud Mazda's 787B, powered with a rotary Model 26B Wankel engine, won in 1991. It was the first (and to date, only) Japanese car to ever win overall at Le Mans, as well as being the only non-piston engined car to achieve victory.
Mazda had been running at Le Mans since 1974, with a series of rotary-powered cars, starting with the RX-7. The company took 12th and a C Junior class win in 1983 with the 717C, but was less successful with the 727C and 737C. The company's performance had improved, though, with the 757 and 767/B claiming four consecutive GTP class wins from 1987 through 1990.
1992-1993 The Peugeot years
Since 1982 the Group C rules for endurance racing were in effect for many years. The fuel consumption was limited, so many different kinds of engines were used. Despite the success of these rules, the FIA introduced new '3.5 L' rules for the 1991 World Sportscar Championship which meant a new type of sports-prototype.
Although the 1992 and 1993 races were a battle between Toyota (with their TS010) and Peugeot, the French concern won both events with the 905B, claiming a 1-2-3 in 1993 — the first time that feat had been acheieved since Porsche AG in 1982! Peugeot's team leader was a certain Jean Todt who left afterwards to become the team boss of Ferrari's F1 team.
1994-1999 GT vs. prototypes
Unhappy with the FIA rules that did not do much good to endurance racing, the ACO made its own rules. The changes incorporated allowed heavily modified road cars the ability to race.
1994 The final Group C event
The 1994 race was, however, won by a car that had its roots in a 10 year old design. Porsche exploited an unusual quirk in the regulations at the time. Jochen Dauer had build a road-going version of the 962, thus Porsche entered two Dauer 962s in the GT category. With factory support, a Dauer-Porsche 962 won the 1994 24h race, the other came in a close third. Toyota, having themselves dusted off a Group C chassis after its TS010 was no longer eligible, broke with 90 minutes to go, leaving Eddie Irvine to finish 2nd in his 94CV.
1995 McLaren victory
The 1995 race was won by a McLaren F1 GTR entered in the GT category. The car was dominating the International GT Championships in various non-manufacturer backed teams, but the car that won was actually the initial GTR prototype that was on loan to Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing. Mario Andretti's Courage finished second, having been the sentimental favourite in the run-up to the race.
1996-1997 History repeats
The 1996 race was, ironically, won again by a Porsche that was not exactly a Porsche outright. Porsche themselves sent a team with to compete in the GTP class with a new mid-engined Porsche 911 GT1 with the intent of winning the race, along with the fleet of McLaren F1s and Ferrari F40s. Yet Joest Racing entered the Porsche car that won. This prototype was born from the shell of a TWR-designed Jaguar Group C racing car, modified to an open top design by Tom Walkinshaw Racing, and fitted with a Porsche 962 engine. The resulting TWR-Porsche WSC 95, while not being the fastest car on track, won when the manufacturer-backed teams hit mechanical troubles.
The 1997 race was won by the same #7 chassis, marking the second time that Joest had won back-to-back Le Mans classics with the same chassis (previously done so in 1984 and 1985). They beat teams from Porsche (now with 911 GT1 Evo), McLaren, Nissan, Lotus, Lister and Ferrari. Once again the TWR-Porsche car was not the fastest on track on the day, but when trouble hit the other teams, it was there to take the victory.
1998 The big boys come to play
1998 was the first of two years where car manufacturers were seriously involved in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The two teams that were seriously involved in the FIA GT Championship (Porsche with their Porsche 911 GT1-98 and Mercedes-Benz with their new Mercedes-Benz CLK LM) sent their two car teams. Along with this, Porsche provided full manufacturer support to 2 cars running an updated version of the TWR-Porsche cars. Toyota sent three of their new, extremely fast Toyota GT-One racing cars, BMW contracted WilliamsF1 to design an open top car (running 2 of the BMW V12 LMP), while Nissan sent 4 of their R390 GT1 cars. The US were again represented properly with a two car team from American magnate Don Panoz, his own GTR-1 powered by Ford engines. Porsche won the race as the faster cars from Mercedes, BMW and Toyota retired with mechanical difficulties and accident damage.
It was rumoured that Porsche's retirement from Sports Car Racing, in particular the Le Mans 24 Hours, was part of a deal that was made between Porsche and Volkswagen. Volkswagen chief executive Ferdinand Piech, a former chief executive at Porsche and Audi as well, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and also responsible for the development of the Porsche 917, did not want Porsche competing with Audi in the near future (Audi is owned by Volkswagen). As could be seen after this, Porsche and Volkswagen developed a sports utility four-wheel drive chassis to be used by both companies (as in the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg). Development of a new Porsche racing car was stopped, and then redeveloped for road use as the new Carrera GT.
1999 The Race of the Century
1999 was another year when manufacturers involvement was high. Porsche did not send a team to contest this year, leaving teams from Toyota (with 3 updated GT-Ones), Mercedes (with 3 Mercedes CLRs), Audi (with 2 open topped R8Rs and 2 closed roof R8Cs), Panoz (with 2 of their new LMP-1 open topped prototypes), BMW (with 2 new Williams-designed LMRs) and Nissan (running a R391 and a Courage C52 with a Nissan engine). The race was overshadowed by a second Mercedes withdrawal from Le Mans, although no fatalities were recorded this time. Their new CLR racecars, while being very quick, suffered severe aerodynamic flaws causing accidents where the cars literally flew off the track and into the sky and cartwheeling through the air in three separate incidents, the most specatcular during the race which was captured on camera. This forced Mercedes to withdraw from the race. Once again, it wasn't the fastest car that won, as the Toyota GT-Ones again hit accidents and mechanical problems, and the BMW team was able to secure a victory before their entry into Formula 1.
2000 to 2005: The Audi R8 years
After the 1999 race, most of the manufacturers went in different directions. BMW and Toyota went into Formula One, Mercedes walked away from sportscars (in all likelihood, permanently) and returned to the DTM, while Nissan also left the scene with its parent company suffering financial difficulties. It left just Audi and Panoz as the major teams at Le Mans.
It began a golden era for Audi for their roadster, the R8, at the Sarthe circuit. Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emanuelle Pirro won a hat-trick of races from 2000 to 2002 inclusive. Panoz tried hard, but had neither the speed nor the reliability to match the German marque. Bentley drew heavily on Audi's previous work with the R8 coupe to race the Speed 8, which after podiums in 2001 and 2002 took the crown in 2003, but only after the "works" Audi team declined to compete. Kristensen took the victory in the Bentley along with Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith.
Japanese ensemble Team Goh took the 2004 victory ahead of the de facto works squad Team Veloqx, with Kristensen joined by Capello and Seiji Ara, and in 2005 Kristensen teamed up with Marco Werner and ex-F1 driver JJ Lehto in a Champion Racing Audi R8. Henri Pescarolo's squad finished 2nd with a car based upon the Courage of previous years, now bearing his own name.
The 2002 edition, held on June 15 and 16, was won by Audi Sport Team Joest, with drivers Frank Biela (Germany), Tom Kristensen (Denmark) and Emanuele Pirro (Italy). The same team and the same drivers had already won the race in 2000 and 2001, making for a unique hat-trick. In GTS Class, the Corvette C5Rs again defeated the Ferrari Maranellos and were keen on a hat trick of their own.
2003 Bentley's come-back
After three consecutive wins, the Audi factory team officially did not take part, in order to let their newly acquired British sister marque win. Bentley, with an Audi engine and support from Audi works team Joest, won its first Le Mans title since 1930 in the Bentley EXP Speed 8 and Danish driver Tom Kristensen set a record with his fourth straight victory in the 24-hour endurance race. The Bentley team of David Brabham, Mark Blundell and Johnny Herbert finished second, ahead of customer Audis. In GTS Class, the Prodrive Ferraris spoiled both the Corvette's 50th Anniversary and the hat trick by winning GTS Class.
Bentley did not return, so the race was left to the Audi customer teams, which managed a 1-2-3.
Once again, Tom Kristensen was in the winning car, an Audi entered by the Japanese team Goh, setting a record fifth straight victory in the 24-hour endurance race. He now ties Jacky Ickx with 6 overall wins.
The GTS Class Corvettes avenged their loss to Ferrari on their anniversary last year by winning GTS class in 2004. The Corvettes and Ferraris have proven to be huge fan favorites, but both cars were aging, and will be replaced for the 2005 season. Chevrolet is returning to Le Mans with the new Corvette C6R, while Prodrive will field the Aston Martin DBR9. The GTS class has been renamed GT1 starting in the 2005 season.
2005 Audi vs. Pescarolo
One of the attractions of the week-end was the presence of Rally World Champion Sébastien Loeb in the team of the Pescarolo n° 17. Reportedly Loeb did much of his preparation for the race by running practice laps around the circuit in the Sony PlayStation 2 video game Gran Turismo 4 aboard a private jet (Playstation is a personal sponsor of Loeb). The fourth edition of the game includes two variations of the Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe — one with the chicanes along the Mulsanne Straight and one with the original, unaltered straight-away of over 3 km in length.
In Le Mans, asin much of France, the weather was exceptionally hot this week-end with temperatures over 30°C.
The hot weather caused a high rate of mechanical failures as well as several race incidents.
The Pescarolos took the lead at startup with n°16 running exceptionally fast.
One of the surprises was that the Aston-Martin GT's were faster than the prototypes on the straight.
The Pescarolo n° 17 was plagued by incidents, a hit with a Panoz, a deflated tire that disintegrated the rear bodywork and finally the loss of a spoiler. All of these misadventures happened while Soheil Ayari was driving. However, Loeb proved to be able to drive as fast as his team-mate for his first race on a closed track.
The n° 16 lost the lead due to a gearbox failure causing a long pit stop. The car dropped to around 14th position. However as the race was neutralized at that time the impact of the pit stop remained limited.
The n° 16 managed to reach second position at sunrise, establishing a lap record in the night.
At 14h 00 the Lehto/Werner/Kristensen Audi R8 entered by Champion Racing was leading Collard/Boullion/Comas Pescarolo by only one lap. Since 12h 45 the Pescarolo was lapping fairly consistently at approximately 5 seconds per lap faster than the Audi. If the Pescarolo kept up the pace the finish promised to be extremely close.
At 14h 30 the Pescarolo came in for a pit stop and was pulled into the garage to deal with overheating issues. The car was back onto the track before long, with Érik Comas as driver. The advance of the Audi was then 2 laps and the Pescarolo was then lapping in the same times than the leading Audi to avoid overheating. This dashed all hopes of beating the Audi on the track, the last hope for Pescarolo was a failure on the leading Audi that didn't happen.
Tom Kristensen set an absolute record of seven victories including six in a row, pulling ahead of legend Jacky Ickx who has a total of 6 wins, equal only to Kristensen's winning streak.
Audi returns with a factory effort led by a squad of new diesel powered R10s, while other new prototypes from Zytek and Pescarolo attempt to stop the German juggernauts. LMP2 class will be a fight for who can last between the new Lola B05/40 and tested Courage C65s. GT1 will again see a fight between Corvette and Aston Martin, with a great mix of privateer Corvettes, Aston Martins, Ferrari 550s, Saleens, and Lamborghini Murcielagos. GT2 yet again sees the dominant Porsche 911 take on the new Ferrari F430 as well as the usual TVR and Spyker entries, as well as the improved Panoz Esperante.
The tension between the new Audi R10s and the Pescarolo HC70's in LMP1 started even before the race began. In Wednesday's qualifying, Pescarolo swept the top spots. However, the sessions were wet, and one was unable to get an idea of what the race would hold. However, on Thursday, the Audi's swept the front row, while the Pescarolo's started behind them. In LMP2, the Ray Mallock Ltd. Lola ran a full 2 seconds quicker than the new Intersport Lola. This was just the beginning of what would become a dominating weekend for the RML squad. In LMGT1, the Aston Martins swept the front row, but the #64 Corvette was right behind them. Finally, LMGT2. The IMSA Perf. Matmut Porsche 911 GT3 took the quickest time; however, Luca Riccitelli took the car off at Nord du Karting just after the time was set, bending the chassis and swelling his ankle. The ACO granted permission for the team to replace the chassis, but they were forced to start at the back of the grid. The Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 thus started on GT2 pole.
The results are only class winners and top ten finishers; see main article on a separate page for specific race results. Class winners are listed in bold.
|1||LMP1 (1)||8||-- Germany -- Audi Sport Team Joest||-- Germany -- Frank Biela
-- Germany -- Marco Werner
-- Italy -- Emanuele Pirro
|Audi R10||Audi TDI
5.5L Turbo V12
|2||LMP1 (2)||17||-- France -- Pescarolo Sport||-- France -- Sébastien Loeb
-- France -- Eric Hélary
-- France -- Franck Montagny
|Pescarolo C60 Hybrid||Judd GV5 S2
|3||LMP1 (3)||7||-- Germany -- Audi Sport Team Joest||-- Italy -- Rinaldo Capello
-- Denmark -- Tom Kristensen
-- United Kingdom -- Allan McNish
|Audi R10||Audi TDI
5.5L Turbo V12
|4||GT1 (1)||64||-- United States -- Corvette Racing||-- United Kingdom -- Oliver Gavin
-- Monaco -- Olivier Beretta
-- Denmark -- Jan Magnussen
|Chevrolet Corvette C6.R||Chevrolet
|5||LMP1 (4)||16||-- France -- Pescarolo Sport||-- France -- Emmanuel Collard
-- France -- Érik Comas
-- France -- Nicolas Minassian
|Pescarolo C60 Hybrid||Judd GV5 S2
|6||GT1 (2)||007||-- United Kingdom -- Aston Martin Racing||-- Czech Republic -- Tomas Enge
-- United Kingdom -- Darren Turner
-- Italy -- Andrea Piccini
|Aston Martin DBR9||Aston Martin
|7||GT1 (3)||72||-- France -- Luc Alphand Aventures||-- France -- Luc Alphand
-- France -- Pierre Goueslard
-- France -- Jerôme Pelicand
|Chevrolet Corvette C5-R||Chevrolet
|8||LMP2 (1)||25||-- United Kingdom -- Ray Mallock, Ltd. (RML)||-- United Kingdom -- Mike Newton
-- Brazil -- Thomas Erdos
-- United Kingdom -- Andy Wallace
|MG-Lola EX264||AER P07
2.0L Turbo I4
|9||GT1 (4)||62||-- Russia -- Russian Age Racing
-- United Kingdom -- Team Modena
|-- Spain -- Antonio Garcia
-- Australia -- David Brabham
-- Brazil -- Nelson Piquet Jr.
|Aston Martin DBR9||Aston Martin
|10||GT1 (5)||009||-- United Kingdom -- Aston Martin Racing||-- Portugal -- Pedro Lamy
-- France -- Stéphane Sarrazin
-- Monaco -- Stéphane Ortelli
|Aston Martin DBR9||Aston Martin
|15||GT2 (1)||81||-- United Kingdom -- Team LNT||-- United Kingdom -- Lawrence Tomlinson
-- United Kingdom -- Tom Kimber-Smith
-- United Kingdom -- Richard Dean
|Panoz Esperante GT-LM||Elan
- 24 Hours of Le Mans
- 1955 Le Mans disaster
- List of Le Mans 24h winners
- Motorcycle 24 Hours of Le Mans
- Le Mans 1965 in Automobile Historique n°48, May 2005
- 24 heures du Mans 1973 in Automobile Historique n°49, June/July 2005