The 85th 24 hours of Les Mans takes place this weekend in France at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Although not quite as well known stateside as other popular car races, this event has been happening near the town of Les Mans since 1923. It is a 24-hour sports car endurance race, and it is boldly considered one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. Often called the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency,” the 24 hours of Les Mans makes up one leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsports, keeping company with the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. The race itself takes place on a course comprised of closed public roads and a specialty racing circuit. The goal of the racing teams is to find the perfect balance between speed and endurance while avoiding mechanical damages whilst racing for 24 hours straight. The race is organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and as of 2012, it has been part of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
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The basic rules and regulations of the race have been adapted and updated over the years. At one point, it was permitted to have just one driver complete the entire race, but to prevent driver fatigue, it is now required to have at least 2 drivers participate, and the majority of the teams utilize 3 drivers. Even as recently as this year, updated rules were revised and instated regarding the final lap. As of the 2017 race, the final lap must be completed in less than 6 minutes, although a car may still be classified with penalties if it takes up to 15 minutes. Anything above 15 minutes loses the opportunity to be classified, and the team is effectively disqualified.
There are approximately 60 competitors who participate in the annual race, and invitations are issued to previous class winners, as well as to the winners of a number of other races that occur during the offseason. All contenders race simultaneously, but there are four different classes determined by vehicle type and one winner per class, plus of course, the overall race winner. There is a cash price awarded, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the real prize which is the prestige and the benefit of guaranteed future sponsorships upon winning. Car manufacturers also look at the race as a chance for marketing and to show off new technology available.
If you want to learn more about the world’s oldest active sports car race, you can follow this year’s 24 hours of Le Mans live here on their website.
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