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Le Mans 24 Hours

Photo: Mark Agius Cesareo

Photo: Mark Agius Cesareo

Each year in June, the renowned 24-hour car race is held at Le Mans in France, a city some 210 kilometres southwest of Paris.

The race starts in the afternoon on Saturday and ends 24 hours later on Sunday afternoon. It is an endurance race, meaning it is not just the fastest car that wins, but the fastest car that survives being driven at top speed for 24 hours in succession, which is roughly to 13 Formula 1 races one after the other without pause except for pit stops for refuelling, tyre changes and repairs.

Each car is driven by a team of three drivers, with limitations on how long a driver can be at the wheel at a stretch and in total during the race.

To avoid loss of time, driver changes usually take place when the car comes into the pits to refuel.

The race is run on a 13.629-kilometre track, of which a significant section is actually part of a public road closed for racing, formerly the N138, now renumbered D338.

This stretch is the renowned Mulsanne Straight, which is almost six kilometres long and where the fastest cars reach speeds in excess of 330km/h and are at full throttle for nearly a whole minute even after the introduction some years ago of two chicanes situated at one-third and two-thirds of the length of the straight.

Entrants are divided into two classes, LMP and GTE. The LMPs (Le Mans Prototypes) are pure racing cars designed to Le Mans specifications and are subdivided into LMP1 and LMP2, depending on their technical characteristics, weight and power.

The GTEs must be based on road-legal production sports cars and supercars, such as Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and others.

The GTE Pro is restricted to professional drivers and the GTE Am is for amateurs, but one professional driver is allowed in the three-driver team of each car. The overall winner of the race is usually one of the LMP1s, which are the fastest and of which the winners for the last several years have been powered by diesel engines.

The Le Mans 24 Hours is a racing experience that extends well beyond the race itself. It is a series of events that attract a gathering of motor racing enthusiasts who stay several days. The actual race starts on Saturday but qualifying practice is held on Wednesday and Thursday, both in daylight and in dark hours, which replicates what the drivers have to face in the race.

On Friday, there is the traditional drivers’ parade through the streets of the city of Le Mans in old cars, a lighthearted event at which squirting of water among drivers is common.

On Saturday morning, a race called the Le Mans Legend is held, in which the participants are historic and legendary models from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Jaguar C- and D-type, Lotus, Elva, HRG, Alfa Romeo, AC, Lola, and Allard among others. There is also a static show, at which the star this year was a Bentley, licensed GF8507, chassis HM2868, built in 1930 that won the Brooklands 24-hour race in 1930 and also raced at Le Mans, placing second.

In 2004, the car, in very good condition, was offered for sale by Christies Auction House with an estimated sale price of €2.2 to €2.5 million. It fetched a remarkable €4,188,250.

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