The 24 Hours of Le Mans have long since fascinated motorsport fans around the world. Year in, year out, drivers and teams flock to the Circuit de la Sarthe to race twice around the clock in the oldest motor race in the world. Le Mans is a place where stories are written and legends born. In our series, Legends of Le Mans, we have put together some of the stories that make this wonderful race so unique.
Le Mans is something very special and nobody succeeds in winning the very big race right away. Tom Walkinshaw, former team manager of Jagaur, put it very aptly: “It takes three years to win at Le Mans! The history of Jaguar in the 1980s shows that this figure is not taken out of thin air.
Following and eight-year hiatus for the second world war, the 24 Hours of Le Mans returns to La Sarthe as Europe rebuilds. It is a time for new beginnings in motorsport. In 1952, Frenchman Pierre Levegh attempted something no other driver had ever done: to complete the race on his own. He fought for 22 hours and 50 minutes without any kind of break – it’s the greatest solo drive in Le Mans history.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans may be a French race, but British drivers, teams and indeed fans have always had a significant presence in western France every June. In the list of Legends of Le Mans, there is one name that sticks out: Derek Bell. Born in Pagham as the son of a farmer, Bell dominated the Group C era through his driving with Porsche and also through a number of spectacular performances.
Ford is one of those manufacturers that has inextricable links to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the 1960s, Ford arrived at La Sarthe in an attempt to upset Ferrari’s domination of the classic endurance race. The Ferrari-Ford battle went down in history as one of the fiercest and closely fought in Le Mans history – and is a rivalry that continues to this day. Our gallery of Ford’s Le Mans efforts in the 1960s provide a rare glimpse into the past.
As Jim Roller in the Radio Le Mans booth said that night, there’s an awful sense of foreboding when a hush falls over a race track. In 2011, the track fell silent on two separate occasions. But the 2011 race will also be remembered for one of the most epic battles for overall victory in recent history.
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