After 96 years since its inception, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is considered one of the most demanding Motorsport events in the world. Here we have a look at some of its best editions, all of which perfectly illustrate its incredible hardness and enormous popularity. These sporting feats have helped forged the legend of this mythical race where moreover the champagne ceremony was also born.
At Le Mans, drivers become heroes as, over the course of a whole day, they overcome the numerous challenges of this gruelling endurance competition. Amongst the many difficulties that Le Mans presents are the constant overtaking of slower cars from different categories, the fatigue, the treacherous circuit of La Sarthe, the night relays, the keeping up the speed and the changing weather conditions.
The race where Porsche broke all the records
In 1971, a year after their first ever podium, Porsche broke several records at Le Mans and started their journey into becoming the most successful team at La Sarthe. The German team got the three first positions in classifying. Rodrigues and Oliver dominated the session onboard their 917K with an astonishing 3:13.9.
Their command of the actual race was even more overwhelming. They took a 1-2 and 7 of the top ten positions. The 917K of Austrian Helmut Marko and Dutch Gijsbert van Lennep completed a total of 5.335,313 meters in 397 laps, a distance never achieved to date. Finally, another one of the German missiles broke the average speed record with 250km/h.
Graham Hill and the Triple Crown
In 1972, Formula 1 driver Graham Hill starred in one of the best editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At 43 years of age, the Briton was still pursuing his dream of conquering the Triple Crown. Nicknamed Mr Monaco after his five victories in the Principality (1963, 1964, 1965, 1968 y 1969), he had also won the Indianapolis 500 in 1966. He just had to take the legendary French race in order to achieve what nobody had achieved before.
On board the Matra-SIMCA MS670 #15 which he shared with Frenchman Henri Pescarolo, Graham threw himself at the doors of glory, and these opened up wide for him. The pair won with 344 laps, eleven more than teammates on #14, Francoise Cevert and Howden Ganley. Nobody has since been able to match Hills’ achievement of conquering the Triple Crown.
The unexpected triumph of McLaren
Just four years after Ayrton Senna’s third and last Formula 1 title with McLaren, team’s chief, Ron Dennis, decided to set himself a new sporting challenge. He wanted to debut and win in the GT-1 category at La Sarthe in 1995. He devoted a wealth of technological and human resources to the development of the McLaren F1 GTR project and it all paid off.
The black missile became the overall winner, defeating Mario Andretti and his all-powerful Courage C34, who was second. On the 18th of June and in one of the wettest editions on record, the F1 driver from Finland JJ Lehto, the Japanese Masanori Sekiya and the French Yannick Dalmas, delighted fans with one of the best races of 24 Hours of Le Mans in history.
The most exciting of finales
In 2016 and after three decades of trying without success, Toyota was finally in for the glory. With just five minutes left for the chequered flag, the victory seemed a done deal for the prototype TS050 Hybrid #5 driven by Kazuki Nakajima. The Japanese driver was leading with a considerable advantage over his pursuer, the Porsche 919 Hybrid #2.
Nakajima was already relishing on the dream of putting an end to Toyota’s curse and tasting the champagne in his mouth, but his dream suddenly turned into a nightmare when his car suddenly stopped at just one lap to the finish line.
He had to witness his German adversary passing him on the track with horror. That 17th of June was a tragic day for the Japanese team but one of the most thrilling finales of a 24 Hours of Le Mans in history.
Alonso conquers the title for Toyota
On the 17th of June 2018, Fernando Alonso and his masterful performance finally put an end to Toyota’s curse at the toughest race on earth. After 33 years, 17 attempts and innumerable disappointments, the Spaniard became the hero of the Japanese Scuderia.
He conquered the coveted trophy for Toyota on board the TS050 Hybrid #8 which he shared with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. During the night, under the rain, and when all hopes had been lost, the Spanish driver performed a sensational relay and comeback and took his team to victory.
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