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Essential Guide > 100 years in the making
LE MANS 2023: 100 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Fewer places can boast more motorsport history than the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. The very first 24 hours of Le Mans was held in May 1923 on public roads, and whilst various interruptions, including a World War and more recently Covid, have seen some editions of the race cancelled, the oldest active test of motorsport endurance is still going strong.
As one of the most anticipated and prestigious events in the motorsport calendar, Le Mans attracts racing royalty from across the globe to compete and tame this ultimate test of endurance in search of being able to say they too are a Le Mans race winner. Man and machine are tested to breaking point, and beyond, as they do battle for this acclaimed endurance title.
We take a nostalgic look back at some the races that have stood out, and have helped cement this event as the biggest motorsport spectacle in the world.
Le Mans Timeline
1923 | History in the making
The first ever race is held and won by André Lagache and René Léonard in a Chenard et Walcker car. Setting the stage for the iconic event that it has become today.
1927-1929 | 24hours of racing & Bentley domination
The Le Mans race was extended from its original 12hour duration to 24hours in 1927, making it the most gruelling endurance event in world of motorsport, and with it Bentley took its second win, in what would turn out to be the emergence of Bentley as a dominant force in motorsport, with victories in 1928 and 1929 also.
1949 | Ferrari takes the win
The Ferrari 166MM, driven by Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thomson took the victory. An all-the-more significant milestone for Ferrari, which had only been founded a few years earlier in 1947.
1951-1957 | Jaguar’s decade
Their first victory came in 1951, with the C-Type. In 1953, they went on to set a new lap record and become the first car to average more than 100mph for an entire Le Mans race, as well as taking victory. In 1955 they introduced the D-type and with it went on to win the next three races in a row, becoming the first manufacturer to do so since Bentley in the 1920s and cementing Jaguar’s place as one of the greatest sport car manufacturers in the world.
1960 | Rear Engine Revolution
The Cooper T51, piloted by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon paved the way for the rear-engine layout that became the dominant design in sports car racing, allowing for better weight distribution, improved handling and greater speed.
1966 | Ford finally overcomes Ferrari
Hollywood chose 1966 as their iconic moment to glorify and for good reason. Ford, with its all-American GT40 first entered Le Mans in 1964, but it was 1966 where it ended the Italian’s six-year reign of Le Mans. Not only taking the outright victory, but also claiming all three spots of the podium.
1970 | Porsche gets the taste of winning
The Porsche 917, pipped the Ferrari 512 to the post. Using the disappointment from the year before, where it lost out to the win by just one second, in Le Mans’ closet ever finish. It started a run that would ultimately go on to inextricably link Porsche to this iconic event.
1976 | The start of the Turbo Era
Porsche heralded the start of the Turbo era with the 911 Carrera RSR in 1974, but it wasn’t until 1976, when the first turbo era win came for the 936 Spyder in 1976 and again the following year, albeit as a works team second time out.
1983 | The Battle of the Porsches & the longest winning run in history
The 1980s was all about Porsche. The manufacturer came into the decade with five wins already under its belt, but from 1981-1987 it dominated the sport. 1983 stands out as a statement of what was to continue. Coined as the Battle of the Porsche 956s, Porsche not only claimed all three podium positions, but took the first eight positions in the race!
1989 | Sauber C9
Mercedes and Sauber today in F1 do battle against on another but in the late 80s they came together to obliterate the opposition with their C9 prototype. This is the car that put Mercedes firmly back on the motorsport map. The first time since the mid 1950s.
1988 and 1990 | Silk Cut Jaguar
A car for a generation. Need we say more. Developed by TWR, the iconic XJR failed in 1986 and 1987, but at a third time of trying they did it. Piloted in part by Andy Wallace, who subsequently went on to set the world land speed record, Jaguar took the spoils, and would do so again in 1990. This time with an ex-F1 racer (now TV pundit) Martin Brundle at the wheel.
1991 | Mazda takes the first victory for a Japanese manufacturer
They may not have been favourites going into the race, and arguebly won due reliability issues with the Mercedes C11, but the 787B piloted in part by Johnny Herbert was not only a first for a Japanese manufacturer, but the only one in history to feature a rotary powered engine.
1995 | McLaren & BMW take victory with a road car
McLaren claimed victory at its first attempt. With no prior experience with a car designed as a supercar for the road, it turned up and won against faster purpose-built prototypes. The rain may have faltered its running, but such was its dominance that year- they took four of the top five places.
1999 | Mercedes Flips out
The Mercedes CLR-GTR flips not once, not twice but three times, First during qualifying on Thursday, then during the pre-race warm-up, and lastly on lap 75 of the 1999 race, going so high it went into the trees. Mercedes retired and pulled out of all motorsport.
2011 | Audi makes it ten
They would eventually go on to make it 13 victories from 15 years by 2014, but 2011 is where Audi achieved double digit wins. Moving it to second in the all-time list of wins and lifting it above the legendary Scuderia.
2016 | Ford GTs comeback win
Marking the comeback of Ford, and the iconic GT40, the new Ford GT claimed victory in the GTE Pro class, exactly 50 years after their historic sweep in 1966.
2022 | Toyota makes it six on the bounce
Nothing says domination, back-to-back wins. Few teams achieve this, even less have done three or more. Toyota have now won six. They go into 2023 looking for win number seven. A feat that would see them pull level with Porsche for the joint longest period of back-to-back win domination. If there wasn’t enough pressure already, this only adds to it.