Whether a fan of motor racing or not, the chances are you’ll have heard of the 24 Hours of Le Mans – one of the most iconic races in the world.
The gruelling endurance event is held every year at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France, with teams competing in different classes of cars to see who can drive the furthest before the clock runs down.
The circuit was the stage for our announcement that Ford will be returning to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016. Exactly 50 years after achieving a 1-2-3 finish with the original Ford GT40 racing car, we’ll be back with a special racing version of the Ford GT supercar we unveiled earlier this year.
To get you in the mood for Ford’s return to the famous race, here are ten facts you may not have known about the race many refer to as the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency.
- The 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) is the world’s oldest active endurance sports car race and has been held at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Mulsanne, France, every year since 1923, apart from 1936 due to a Great Depression labour strike and 1939-48 due to WW2.
- The Ford GT40 was created specifically to beat Ferrari at Le Mans after the team’s Italian boss, Enzo, reneged on a deal to sell the firm to Henry Ford. The legendary race car did it in style, winning four years in a row, beginning in 1966 with a top three clean sweep.
- In 1967, American drivers Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won in a Ford GT40. During the awards ceremony they spotted some journalists who had predicted disaster for the team and sprayed their ceremonial champagne at them, starting a racing ritual that still stands today.
- Until 1969, drivers ran from the pit wall to their cars to start the race. Jacky Ickx protested by walking to his car that year. He felt drivers were encouraged to start with seatbelts unfastened. Despite giving the competition a head-start, the Belgian won in his a Ford GT40.
- While Hollywood legend Steve McQueen only drove Le Mans on the big screen, his contemporary Paul Newman actually took part in the race, finishing second in a Porsche 935 during a rain-soaked event in 1979.
- Other famous drivers include former Manchester United and France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez who drove a Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 in 2014, and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason who competed in various cars between 1979 and 1984, including a Porsche 956.
- The fastest ever lap in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was set in 1985. Rothmans Porsche driver Hans-Joachim Stuck clocked an average speed of 251.815 km/h (156.471 mph) during qualifying, to lap the 13.629 km (8.469 mile) circuit in 3:14:843.
- The fastest speed ever recorded during the race was clocked in 1988 by French driver Roger Dorchy who flew along the Mulsanne Straight at 405 km/h (252 mph) in a WM P88-Peugeot. Two years later chicanes were added to the six kilometre straight to slow the cars down.
- For 37 years Britain’s Jackie Olivier held the record for the fastest racing lap at Le Mans, one of only three drivers to have done so since 1971. The current record was set in 2010 by French driver Loïc Duval: 3:19:074 at an average speed of 246.463 km/h (153.145 mph).
- The greatest distance covered by a winning car is 4,828 km (3,362 miles), achieved in 2010 by Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller in an Audi R15+ TDI. That’s around the same distance between Oslo, in Norway and Athens, in Greece.