MAY 26, 2015
The 2015 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be the 83rd running of the greatest of all endurance motor sport races.
1. First held in 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a true test of both a vehicle’s endurance, reliability and speed, and a driver’s passion, determination and stamina. This year’s race takes place over the weekend of 13-14 June, and starts at the traditional time of 15.00 CEST. Rolex has been the Official Timekeeper since 2001, and enjoys a privileged partnership with the founders and organizers, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO)
2. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is contested on the 13.629 km (8.47 mile) Circuit de la Sarthe, located 200 km (125 miles) west of Paris. With its combination of road and racetrack, it is one of the fastest motor circuits in the world, with prototype cars reaching close to 340 km/h (211 mph) on the quickest sections. The record in-race lap on the current circuit configuration is 3:19.074 (average speed of 246.463 km/h or 153.145 mph) and was set in 2010. In 2014, #2 Audi, a hybrid prototype driven by André Lotterer set the fastest lap of the race at 3:22.567 (242 km/h or 150.371 mph) in lap 317.
3. Entry into the race is by invitation and all vehicles have to undergo rigorous scrutineering. This year the field will be 56 cars, divided into four categories. LM P1 (Le Mans Prototype 1) the fastest, and most innovative cars in the main utilizing hybrid technology; it is aimed primarily at major automotive manufacturers. LM P2 is geared towards private or amateur teams, with rules governing expenditure on the chassis and engine. LM GTE Pro (Le Mans Grand Tourisme Professional) cars must be derived from a road-going vehicle of which a minimum number of units have been built and the Pro label designates that this category is reserved for professional drivers. LM GTE Am was established in 2011 to respect and protect the fundamental part played by gentlemen drivers throughout the history of the race.
4. Across the 82 previous races, some 4,002 cars have started. Over the full history of the race only 40% have finished, emphasizing the attritional nature of endurance racing. In recent years improved reliability and increased safety measures mean that more cars now complete the race than in earlier years. In 2014, 38 out of 54 cars “beat the 24 hours”, an achievement that requires preparation, determination, and teamwork. One driver who has outwitted the race more than anyone else, is Rolex Testimonee Tom Kristensen, dubbed “Mr Le Mans” as the only driver to have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times, a record that may never be surpassed. For Kristensen attitude is everything to have a hope of winning: “Every lap, every second, every hundredth of a second counts”.
5. The winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is not the fastest car. It is the car that travels the furthest distance in the set period and, now, more than ever in LM P1 how efficiently it uses a precise allocation of energy during each lap. Each LM P1 car gets a set amount of energy based on its chosen engine/hybrid combination. In simple terms, teams can make the choice between big engine/small hybrid system or small engine/ large hybrid assistance. In 2014 Audi chose a turbocharged 4-litre diesel engine and a small hybrid system offering 2 megajoules of energy. It proved highly successful with Audis finishing in first and second place. Covering 5,167.13 km (3,210.12 miles) at an average speed of 214.90 km/h (133.93 mph), Audi #2 driven by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer beat Kristensen’s #1 car into second place.
6. Time is a core element at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Maximising the time spent on the track at the highest sustainable speeds practicable for the conditions is the key to having a shot at overall victory. Successfully neutralizing the pitfalls of errors, reliability issues and accidents reduces time spent off the track in the pits. Last year’s winning car completed 379 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe, pitting 29 times to take on fuel, and to make driver and tyre changes. According to Audi, the aggregated stopping time was 58 minutes and 12 seconds.
7. The eight hours of night at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is some five less than at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but it is still a testing time for the drivers doing stints during this period. With the circuit lighting varying between the floodlit Pit Straight and the plunging darkness of the Forest Esses, teams devote research time to improving nighttime-vision. The technology advances in this area have been seen to benefit production cars with, for example, LED headlights becoming more commonplace. Last year saw for the first time the use of laser lights to aid corning at night.
8. On a circuit of many famous names, the 6 km (3.7 mile) Ligne droite des Hunaudières or Mulsanne Straight is one of the best-known. Continually evolving safety measures have led to the insertion of two equally spaced chicanes to limit the maximum speed, but it remains a fearsome stretch. The turn at the end is abrupt, narrow, and requires nerves of steel when approaching at 325 km/h (200 mph) every single lap. In a race lasting 380 laps each driver will need to get it absolutely right around 125 times – come rain or shine, daylight or darkness.
9. One major difference this year will be the absence from the driver line-up of 9-time winner and Rolex Testimonee, Tom Kristensen. At the close of the 2014 season, Kristensen decided to retire from endurance motor sport. The Dane has long asserted that to succeed personally a driver needs to give everything during every minute of the race. “Le Mans”, he says, is “the jewel in the crown of any racing season; it’s where the most energy goes. The challenge is unique and you have to perform at your best if you want to win.” Kristensen will still grace the circuit in June having been invited by the ACO to serve as Grand Marshal.
10. For the drivers who do live up to the challenge and stand at the top of the podium on Sunday afternoon, the rewards are impressive: a specially engraved Rolex Cosmograph Daytona and a place in sporting history. Winning a Cosmograph Daytona at the 24 Hours of Le Mans constitutes the ultimate award. Created by Rolex in 1963, this iconic model has established an extraordinary track record in the world of motor sport thanks to its reliability and performance
The 83rd 24 Hours of Le Mans starts on Saturday 13 June at 15:00 CEST.