THE BEGINNING OF A MAGNIFICENT STORY
Georges Durand and his fellow motor racing pioneers saw competition as a test bed for new production cars. Durand organised the first French Grand Prix in 1906, on a 100-km circuit of public roads passing through Montfort le Gesnois, La Ferté Bernard and Vibraye.
La Sarthe hosted the Grand Prix from 1911-13 before they were suspended during WWI. In the meantime, the Automobile Club de la Sarthe became the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and organised the first motor race of the post-war period.
In 1922, Georges Durand introduced the area to a new discipline, an endurance race. The idea was to “encourage manufacturers and teams to attend to the finest details of the cars they produced by putting them to the ultimate test of reliability.”
The world’s greatest endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, was born.
On 16 May 1923, a field of 33 competitors descended on the Circuit de la Sarthe. The first edition was won by Chenard & Walcker. A legend was born.
By the time war interrupted the annual event once again, prestigious marques such as Bentley, Alpha Roméo, Bugatti and Delahaye had already added their names to the roll of honour. The postwar era saw triumphs for Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Matra, Alpine, Porsche and Audi and a host of legendary head-to-heads, among them Ferrari vs Jaguar, Ferrari vs Ford and Porsche vs French constructors Matra, Renault and Rondeau.
An endurance race is a test of technology and also of human skill. The drivers who rise to the challenge often become household names: Henri Birkin, Mike Hawtorn, Luigi Chinetti, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jacky Ickx, Henri Pescarolo, Derek Bell, Tom Kristensen and more.
Renowned for its street circuit, Le Mans enjoys the same popularity as other world-famous races such as the Monaco Grand Prix or the Indianapolis 500. The three iconic races constitute the Triple Crown, the Grand Slam of motor racing only achieved once to date.
Today, Le Mans 24 Hours is the pinnacle of the World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC).