The Le Mans 24-hour sports car race in France is perhaps the most famous of its kind in the world.
The Le Mans 24-hour sports car race in France is perhaps the most famous of its kind in the world. Cars have been practising for this year's race which starts on Saturday (11 June). Last summer, the drivers had to overcome extreme heat to complete the race. In their first practice session on Wednesday (8 June), the problem was rain.
SYNOPSIS: Much of the circuit at Le Mans is in fact on roads used every day by local traffic. The only purpose-built section is the main straight where the pits are situated. Le Mans has been the scene of important motor races since 1914. But it wasn't until 1923 that the present 24-hour race was introduced. The original course had a lap distance of 10.7 miles (17.25 kms) and was rough and dusty. However, the growth of the nearby town forced the authorities to reduce the circuit to just over eight miles (13.4 kms). The bends were smoothed out and the road surfaces improved. Nowadays, the cars can lap the circuit in three and a half minutes. Last year's winner -- Belgian, Jacky Ickx -- is back again this year in his Porsche 936 turbo-car, number three.
The cars now have a standing start like most other motor racing events. But for many years, Le Mans was famous for its running start. Drivers would race across the track to their cars and jockey for position as they drove away. Then a driver was not quick enough one year and was hit by another car before he managed to reach his own.
The all-night racing at Le Mans each June draws vast crowds of onlookers. The motor companies spend a great deal of money on research for improving their cars as the winner's trophy carries great prestige. Renault are making a major effort this year with their new turbine-engined car. But they will have a on their hands to overcome the massive entry of Porsches. And in particular, the one driven by Ickx.