Grids 1 – 6

As the aim is to offer spectators and entrants equally-matched fields in terms of performance and historic pertinence, the 500, or so, racing cars are divided up into six grids, each of which corresponds to a particular period. The cars selected are those that have taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hours between 1923 and 1981. Priority is given to cars that have actually raced in the event in their particular era. For each grid 10 reserve cars take part in the day and night-time practice sessions to be ready to fill a place left by the withdrawal or retirement of another car. A Le Mans-type start as used between 1925 and 1969 will be given for grids 1-2-3-4. Flying starts will be used for the others.

Pioneers and dust,
then the 8 cylinders in line domination

On a circuit that grew to 13.492 km in 1931, the in-line 8-cylinders had the wind in their sails. Alfa Romeo, with its 2.3-litre compressor, dethroned Bentley and continued its harvest, followed by Bugatti, which then left only two opportunities for the 6-cylinder Lagonda and Delahaye.

The participation record was broken in 1935 with 58 cars on the starting grid.

But in 1940, it was no longer time for motor sport. The cannon roared and for ten years there would be no more talk of the 24 Hours of Le Mans than of other sporting events. It was on a long and unsealed circuit (17.262 then 16.340 km) that the Bentley Boys took the lead over Chenard & Walcker. Twice outdone by Lorraine Dietrich, the British brand nevertheless retained the supremacy thanks to engine capacities that increased over the years from 3 up to 6.5 litres. On a circuit which in 1931 was extended to 13.492 km, the 8-cylinder in-line cars were booming. Alfa Romeo, with its 2.3-litre compressor, dethroned Bentley and continued its harvest, followed by Bugatti, which then left only two opportunities for the 6-cylinder Lagonda and Delahaye. The participation record was broken in 1935 with 58 cars on the starting grid.

But in 1940, it was no longer time for motor sport. The cannon roared and for ten years there would be no more talk about the 24 Hours of Le Mans than of other sporting events.

The Greens are back!

At recovery time, many makes have disappeared, leaving the track to newcomers. Indeed, a brand-new manufacturer, Ferrari, wins this first post-war race. Nevertheless, the ’50s are beyond a shadow of doubt the Jaguar years with the help of the C and D Types. Talbot (1950), Mercedes (1952) and Ferrari (1954) come out ahead. A terrible accident casts a tragic shadow over the 1955 event. New installations, a wider and shortened track welcome the 1956 edition which, for the first time since 1924, is not held in June.

The Reds’ years!

After enslaving the 1000 Miglia, Ferrari impresses Le Mans with seven victories from 1958 onwards, a year when 15 hours are fought in wet weather and three in an impressive flood…

In 1959, confirming their success at the Nürburgring, Aston Martin manage to slip in with a first and only victory at Le Mans. The British firm does not repeat the following year despite the remarkable achievement of two of its cars being among the 13 survivors out of 55 entries…

In 1961, Ferrari equals Bentley and Jaguar with a fifth victory.

Ferrari at the front and America at the throttle…

In 1962, Ferrari monopolises the podium and becomes the most titled manufacturer in the Sarthe; whereas, after four victories in eight participations, Olivier Gendebien announces his well-deserved retirement. This same year, 11 GTs are among the first 13.
Le Mans discovers the turbine in 1963 with a BRM/Rover which will be back in 1965. The victory goes to Ferrari, but Ford and a Lola GT make a notable entrance on Le Mans turf coming back the very next year with three GT40s and two Cobra Daytonas. Phil Hill gives Ford a new track record!

Even though Ferrari takes their ninth victory in 1965, it was an American one since the 275 LM was from the N.A.R.T. team (North American Racing Team)!

A Ford Victory,
but Porsche copes!

No later than 1966, the mid-engine takes the lead. Ford strikes the Cavallino down with a spectacular fight, keeping the whole 1966 podium for itself.

1967 sees the 24 Hours of the Century, with the most breathtaking grid ever. This year, also of all the records, leads the Sporting Authorities to regulate the prototypes’ capacity.

The American giant is back with more of the same in 1968, then again in 1969. The GT40 star has earned its stripes…

Then Porsche shifts gear and begins a series of records still to be equaled (24 hours with a 222.3km/h average speed).

Ford confirms, Matra stands out,
Porsche takes off…

In 1972, a change of regulations put the 917s out to pasture. The Matra V12s were built and took over with three victories for Henri Pescarolo and off they went…

1975 was the Gulf Mirage’s year (1st & 3rd ), which allowed John Wyer to join the very exclusive Endurance Masters Club. This was also the first of Jacky Ickx’s consecutive triple wins, which put the Belgian champion equal with compatriot Olivier Gendebien for the record of victories. The record was broken in 2013 by Tom Christensen with nine victories.

In 1978, it was France’s turn to stand out on home ground. Renault was ever present, winning hands down. Firstly, the Alpine driven by Frenchmen Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud held off Porsche from start to finish. Meanwhile, another French driver, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, broke the track record.

The following year the circuit was modified just before the Ferrari BBLMs and BMW M1s turned up and Porsche strung together a collection of triumphs, which is yet to be equaled.