Why the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the biggest car race
It is difficult to share the sensory experience of the 24 hours of Le Mans. The aficionados of the most prestigious motor racing in the world are in general for a long time and come back for many years. It offers unique sensations: the metallic howling, throbbing and ripping of the engines, and the brake discs that blush at night when cornering, the exhausts releasing jerky flames. Mechanical pleasure in its purest form. Le Mans is the pilgrimage of those nostalgic for the triumphant automobile, the speed and the fury of the machines. No wonder if the 258,000 “pilgrims” who came this year are mostly British, German, Scandinavian, American and Japanese.
However, Le Mans is not just a thing of the past. As proof, it is the only automobile race which attracts in such a large number the big world manufacturers. This year, the top six in the standings met on June 17 and 18. Volkswagen via its Porsche subsidiary which snatched its nineteenth victory, Toyota, GM with Chevrolet Corvettes, Renault-Nissan with Alpine, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler with Ferrari.
In 85 editions, Le Mans has smiled on the biggest names in the automobile industry. To Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Ferrari, Porsche, Matra, Audi, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, McLaren, Renault, Peugeot, BMW, Aston-Martin, Mazda… but not Toyota, victim of a real curse after nineteen unsuccessful attempts.
Envied and coveted
In the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan … the 24 hours of Le Mans is a legendary race, envied and coveted. In France, it is a heritage barely claimed in a country where the political and intellectual elites have long announced the end of the automobile dream. Too polluting, too macho, too dangerous, and too popular. Only the Le Mans region is delighted to see hundreds of thousands of spectators arriving every year for a weekend in June. And this year, miracle, broadcast a large part of the competition live.
Le Mans is one of the few car races, even one of the few sporting events that transcends its vocation. Its resonance thousands of kilometers from the Sarthe is almost unsuspected … Toyota, number one or two in the world automobile for three decades, has tried in vain since 1985 to impose itself in the Sarthe. Last year, its failure was one of the cruelest, adding a new chapter to the myth of this race born in 1923. After 23 hours and 57 minutes of racing, the lead 먹튀 had suddenly stopped in front of the track stands following a minor power failure to be overtaken in the last lap by the victorious Porsche…
This year, Toyota saw its hopes fade again in the evening of Saturday. Two of its three prototypes, which dominated in pure speed, were disqualified after a mechanical failure and a collision. The third car had to change an electric motor and fell into the depths of the standings. During this time, one of the two rival Porsches, number one, ran like clockwork … for twenty hours before suddenly breaking down. The second Porsche, also delayed by problems with the electric motor at the start of the race which made it fall to 56th position … then managed a fantastic ascent to take the lead an hour before the end of the race.
At Le Mans, the show is unique and the scenario dramatic. No wonder Hollywood loves this race. Patrick Dempsey has raced at Le Mans several times and speaks of “spiritual experience”. Brad Pitt started last year with Jackie Chan and Keanu Reeves. Paul Newman finished second in 1979 and Steve McQueen ruined himself by making in 1970 a film which had become legendary, simply called Le Mans. A crazy business. He used dozens of racing cars, Porsches, Ferraris, Lolas… filmed in conditions close to competition and driven by the greatest drivers of the time, who sometimes took insane risks. The film, halfway between documentary and fiction, was a failure. It will have taken forty years to be recognized at its fair value.