The 24 Hours of Le Mans is always big news. It has been like that ever since Bentleys and Alfa Romeos started sweeping their French opponents off the podiums back in the 1930s. But this year’s edition is truly special. Porsche is coming back to reclaim its crown, Toyota is more reliable than ever and, to top it off, Audi is still struggling to find its rhythm.
This can only mean one thing: the LMP1-H is finally a three-way battle, something that hasn’t happened since 1999, when BMW was still racing at Le Mans and right before Audi became frustratingly dominant. It’s also the first race to gather three top automakers relying on hybrid technology. We’re talking about different powertrains and different approaches, ranging from Toyota’s 3.7-liter V-8 to Porsche’s puny, 2.0-liter V-4.
Of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is no longer about displacement. Gone are the days of 1976 when John Greenwood got a $55,000 check just to bring his nasty, 7.0-liter, V-8-powered C3 Corvette to France. It’s all about fuel efficiency and about squeezing extra power from braking nowadays. Le Mans was never lacked cutting-edge technology, but no other edition seemed so packed with state-of-the-art mechanics and electronics as the one we’re about to enjoy.
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This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will see 55 vehicles revving their engines on the starting grid. The competitors are spread across five categories plus an invitational entry place awarded to Nissan and its awkwardly-shaped ZEOD RC . The top-tier category is LMP1-H, a class that includes prototype race cars with hybrid powertrains and consists of seven teams driving Audi R18 e-tron quattros , Toyota TS040 Hybrids , and Porsche 919 Hybrids . Audi will field three crews, while Toyota and Porsche will join in with two teams each.
Just a tad lower sits the LMP1-L class, designed for privateers who don’t use hybrid technology. Only two entries have qualified for the event, both run by Rebellion Racing and powered by Toyota engines. Next up is LMP2, a class that limits both engine displacement and the number of cylinders. Naturally aspirated engines have a maximum capacity of 3.4-liters and a maximum of eight cylinders, while turbocharged engines are up to 2.0-liters in size with a maximum of six cylinders. This tier includes entries from Oreca, Morgan and Zytek, with all competitors using Nissan , Honda , and Judd drivetrains.
The fourth category, LM GTE Pro, features vehicles that bear more resemblance to their production counterparts. This grand-tourer class includes nine factory-backed competitors driving Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 , Chevrolet Corvette C7.R , Porsche 911 RSR and Aston Martin Vantage GTE models.
Lastly, there’s the LM GTE Am category, similar to the LM GTE Pro class as far as regulations are concerned, but it is reserved for amateur drivers. 19 teams will battle against each other to become the best gentleman driver in vehicles similar to those listed in the previous tier.
Why Is It Worth Watching
To this day, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has seen many innovations in the aerodynamics, engine and brakes departments trickle down into production cars. Supercharged engines hit the track as early as 1929, while the Wankel engine made its debut in 1970. Disc brakes, also common in today’s production vehicles, appeared in 1953 on a Jaguar C-Type . Mercedes-Benz introduced the air brake two years later, while anti-lock braking became the norm in the 1980s. Carbon brakes are another technology that became popular after proving its worth at Le Mans, and these are only a few of the innovations that made the race relevant to the automotive industry. If you like keeping a close eye on the latest developments in the auto industry, then Le Mans is a race you shouldn’t miss. Today’s Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car may very well be tomorrow’s road-legal hypercar.
Engineering aside, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is also one of the most action-packed races you can watch nowadays. Unlike NASCAR or Formula One , Le Mans gathers vehicles spread over five categories and sees countless takeovers over its 24-hour stretch. Sure, staying glued to a screen for 24 hours is an enduring task for the eyes, but just think about the drivers that completed the entire race by the themselves back in the day.
Keep An Eye Out For...
The LMP1-H battle is by far the most interesting aspect of this year’s race. Audi and Toyota will be fighting for the overall win once again, with Porsche joining the fun for the first time since 1998. Audi is obviously aiming for its fifth-consecutive win, but Toyota appears to be the more reliable car this year after winning the first two races of the World Endurance Championship. Hopefully, Porsche’s brings its big-boy pants and gives us a three-way battle to keep us excited.
If you’d like to see an American team celebrate at the end of the race, then you might want to support Corvette Racing. The Michigan-based stable is fielding two Corvette C7.R s in the LM GTE Pro class alongside Ferraris, Porsches and Aston Martins. Sadly enough, there will be no SRT Vipers at Le Mans this year. Moving over to the LM GTE Am category, Krohn Racing and 8 Star Motorsports are charging the track with a Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 each, while Dempsey Racing will be looking to win the class with a Porsche 911 RSR .
Where and When Can I Watch It?
The 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans begins Saturday, June 14th, at 9 a.m. ET and the checkered flag is scheduled to fall after exactly 24 hours. If you’re looking too follow the entire event or just have a glimpse of the action, FOX Sports is providing a full coverage via two channels and its online GO platform.
Saturday, June 14th – 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM (FOX Sports 1, LIVE)
Saturday, June 14th – 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM (FOX Sports 2, LIVE)
Saturday, June 14th – 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM (FOX Sports GO, LIVE)
Saturday, June 14th – 6:30 PM to 1:00 AM (FOX Sports 2, LIVE)
Saturday, June 14th – 1:00 AM to 7:30 AM (FOX Sports 1, LIVE)
Sunday, June 15th – 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM (FOX Sports 2, LIVE)
The entire race is also streamed live on FOX Sports GO.
Additionally, the race is broadcast on radio by Radio Le Mans. You can listed to their live coverage online through their website or Satellite radio on Siriux XM Radio.
Held annually since 1923 near the French town of Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s longest-running endurance sports car race. However, the event was cancelled in 1936 due to a workers strike and between 1940 and 1948 because of World War II and post-war reconstruction of France.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans started as an alternative to Grand Prix racing, which was the dominant embodiment of motorsport in Europe at the time. Unlike Grand Prix racing, which mainly required cars to be fast, the duration of the Le Mans event as well as the configuration of the Circuit de la Sarthe demanded automakers to focus and reliability and fuel efficiency too.
What’s more, the 3.7-mile-long straight — now shortened by two chicanes — spurred manufacturers to improve the aerodynamics and high-speed stability of their cars. In addition, the fact that the Le Mans race is being held on a public road and not on a regularly maintained track add to the strain put on tires and many of the vehicles’ internals. Not surprising, the 24 Hours of Le Mans quickly became a two-front race. One on the track, where drivers and their cars had to prove their skills reliability, and one behind the curtains, where engineers were brilliantly finding ways to improve speed and handling, reduce fuel consumption and even find regulation loopholes and "cheat" their way to the finish line.
The very first 24 Hours of Le Mans, or Grand Prix of Endurance as it was called back then, took place on May 26th and 27th, 1923, bringing together 33 vehicles. Aside from a couple of Bentleys and Bugattis , and one Delage , most manufacturers that sent cars on the track that year no longer exist. Naturally, most drivers came from France, a feat that changed dramatically in the 1950s.
Although the initial intention of the race was for a winner to be declared following three straight years of racing, the idea was abandoned in 1925, right before Europe’s major sports car manufacturers began paying more attention to Le Mans. A series of four-straight wins for Bentley and Alfa Romeo, respectively, would make the event highly popular by 1934. The following year, the grid included no less than 58 vehicles. The stage was set and Le Mans propelled itself into motorsport history.
As years passed, both the track and regulations have been subjected to major changes, as organizers looked for ways to improve safety and reduce fatalities. Following an accident that killed more than 80 people in 1955, the entire pit area was redesigned and rebuilt. Another major change occurred in 1990. Forced by FIA, who announced it would no longer sanction any circuit that had a straight longer than 1.24 miles, the iconic 3.7-mile straight gained two chicanes. Consequently, less tarmac meant cars were no longer able to reach top speeds of more than 205 mph, which is nearly 20 percent less than the 253-mph benchmark established in 1988.
Speaking of records, Porsche is the manufacturer that took most trophies home at 16. The Germans had a spectacular seven-win streak between 1981 and 1987, but its latest success dates back to 1998. Audi, on the other hand, who came into the spotlight only 15 years ago, has no less than 12 titles to its name. Ferrari comes in third with 9 wins between 1949 and 1965, while Jaguar and Bentley follow up with 7 and 6 trophies, respectively. Ford and Mazda are the only automakers outside Europe to triumph at Le Mans. FoMoCo did so four times between 1966-1969, while Mazda scored its only win in 1991. In all, 23 manufacturers have won this grueling event at least once.