The Le Mans 24 Hours has been the site of some legendary races through the years. Each era has displayed its own magical combination of radically different cars and a track which still retains the same basic challenge that it has done for 80 years. Here’s a little video retrospective to get you in the mood for this year’s race, starting with footage from last weekend’s Test Day.
Next up, some on-board footage from last year’s Peugeot 908. A far more calm and measured environment than some of the following videos. And is the noise of a diesel really that bad?…
Who can forget Mark Blundell’s pole lap from the 1990 edition, where he drove a Nissan R90CK mounted with a nuclear bomb of an engine: a twin-turbocharged V8 that made over 1,100bhp in qualifying trim and absolutely flew round the track. Most of the time it barely seems in contact with the ground! The Nissan is like a bucking bronco: Blundell has to fight the car through every corner… His eyes must have been shaken out of their sockets at the end of every stint.
The previous decade saw the explosion of the Group C formula. In 1984 the fast but fragile Lancia LC2s and French WM-Peugeot took the fight to the Porsche 956s. This video shows the first lap of that race and just how bumpy and sinuous the Hunaudières straight is. Imagine driving that at 230mph. It’s no wonder that driver reports of the time talk of letting the car wander across the road as it wanted, rather than even trying to keep it straight.
Not that things were slower even back in the ’70s, where in 1977 the Porsche 936s were exceeding 350kph down the Hunaudières straight, then unadulterated by chicanes. One thing that stays the same is how slow the GT cars seem in comparison to the prototypes – they come up frighteningly quickly.
Back to hordes of Porsche 917s in 1970: lightweight missile hurled at the track and perhaps the archetypal Le Mans car that everyone recognises. This was the year that Steve McQueen filmed Le Mans, capturing in cinema quality the battles on track.
If the Seventies was the decade for Porsche, the Sixties was the period for an epic war between Ferrari and Ford – the former dominating the early years of the decade and the latter the second half. We’ll be looking at the Ford victories in detail tomorrow. This clip shows the original running start, where the drivers had to sprint to their cars before taking off for the opening lap.
And finally a lap around Le Mans from 1956 – this is Jaguar D-Type driver Mike Hawthorn giving a running commentary as he drives round: a far more challenging technical problem than with today’s GoPros and mini-microphones. The car must have weighed a ton with the big camera and all the bulky recording gear! What makes it even more interesting is the fact that regular road traffic is still coming towards him, as it was filmed prior to the race whilst the roads were still open.