Le Mans: The Greatest Race

Jun 05, 2024

On June 15, 2024, the 92nd 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance event will put automakers, engineers, technicians, and drivers to the test, and Ford Mustang will be competing to take the checkered flag. To celebrate, we’re taking a trip through all things Le Mans, from its history and Ford’s legacy there to what you can expect to see from Ford and other competitors when the race begins.


The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the beating heart of endurance racing. A win at Le Mans is a badge of honor that every manufacturer, team and driver would like to have. The week-long event every June is physically and mentally exhausting for the teams that take part, but the race’s legendary profile means they go back year after year. It’s a pilgrimage.


The 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe is a combination of permanent race track and public roads that are temporarily closed for the event. There are 33 turns along the 13.626km circuit, 13 to the left and 20 to the right.


The winner of Le Mans is the car in each class that completes the greatest distance during the designated 24 hours. This produces an outright winner and two class winners (The #68 Ford GT won the GT class in 2016). The outright winner of the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans covered a distance of 4,659km. To put that into context, the minimum race distance for a Formula 1 race is just over 300km.


The Hypercar class is for prototype hybrid race cars such as the Porsche 963 and the Ferrari 499P. The cars have a total combined power output (engine + hybrid system) of 500kW and a minimum weight of 1,030kg. Hypercar manufacturers include Alpine, BMW, Cadillac, Ferrari, Isotta Fraschini, Lamborghini, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota


A unique class just for the Oreca 07 – Gibson prototype race car, LMP2 is aimed at professional and amateur drivers, with a maximum speed of 315kph. This class used to be part of the FIA World Endurance Championship, but with full Hypercar and LMGT3 classes, LMP2 only appears on the WEC schedule at Le Mans.


A new class for Le Mans in 2024 based around the FIA’s existing GT3 technical platform and focusing on private teams, LMGT3 replaces the old LM GTE class, which was won by the Ford GT in 2016. LMGT3 manufacturers include Ford, Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Lexus, Lamborghini, McLaren and Porsche.


Each car has three drivers who take turns behind the wheel. With 62 entries, that’s 186 drivers taking on the challenge of Le Mans.


The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the crown jewel of the FIA World Endurance Championship, a global competition that takes place in eight countries across four continents in 2024, with races ranging from six to 24 hours. After Le Mans, WEC will head to Interlagos in Sao Paulo, then the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Fuji in Japan and finally, Bahrain.


Last year, 325,000 race fans attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans; a record-breaking figure!


Racing at Le Mans comes with a 137-page rule book, and that just covers the sporting regulations! Break the rules and at best, you will be called into the pits to serve a time penalty.


Cars are checked in great detail during the Scrutineering process and the officials may re-check a car at any time during the competition. All cars run a permanently-connected data recorder at Le Mans.


Each car must run the FIA Marshalling Display, which tells the driver when marshalling flags have been initiated. No more “I didn’t see the yellow flag”.


Each LMGT3 car has an allocation of dry weather Goodyear tires, to be spread across Free Practice and Qualifying (28), Hyperpole (8) and the Race (60). In case anyone was thinking about being clever, every single tire is identifiable by RFID and barcode. There is no such limit on wet weather tires, but these can only be used once the track has been declared wet by the Race Director.


Every driver must complete five laps of practice in full darkness to be eligible to race. 


At the end of the first Qualifying session, the eight cars having achieved the eight best lap times in each category move on to the Hyperpole session. The results of Hyperpole determine the top eight grid positions for each class.


The Le Mans race gets underway with a rolling start. When the start signal is given, the cars must stay in formation until they cross the start line. Then, the race is on!


If a car receives a drive-through or stop-and-go penalty, the driver must not cross the finish line more than four times before serving the penalty.


The pit lane speed limit is 60kph. Break this at your peril!


In LMGT3, the minimum driving time for each driver is six hours and the maximum is 14 hours.


During a pit stop, refueling is the first job and it can only be started once the car is fully stopped and the engine is turned off. Once refueling has been completed, the car can be raised on air jacks for a tire change, during which only two air guns can be used. No F1-style, 22-person pit stops here! A driver change can be done during any part of the pit stop, as long as the car is fully stopped, and the engine is off. The exiting driver is permitted to help the driver taking over to get their belts on.


If a car has a technical problem and the driver is able to pull off the track to a safe place, the driver may work on the car. For this reason, many cars carry toolkits for the drivers to use, including a mobile phone to call the team and ask for instructions. Only the driver can touch the car, and if the driver moves more than 10 meters from the car, that car is deemed to have retired.