Revving up for Le Mans 24 hour race

The infamous Le Mans 24-hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe gets underway over the weekend as the world’s toughest drivers will, once again, battle it out for a space on the winner’s podium. Allan McNish (GB), Tom Kristensen (DK), Loïc Duval (F)2013 WEC Champions At 3pm tomorrow 14, 56 cars, watched by some 250,000 spectators, will set off for 24 hours of endurance racing, finishing at the same time the following day. The race is being held a week earlier than last year, to avoid clashing with a Formula One Grand Prix race. Last year’s race was won by Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval and Allan McNish for Audi, after a hard-fought battle with Toyota. It was Audi’s 12th Le Mans win, and the second win for Audi’s hybrid LMP1 prototype. But Toyota is back ready to do battle again this year, with drivers of its TS040 Hybrid model hoping that 2014 will be their year. The TS040 generates a massive 986bhp due to its 3.7-litre petrol V8 engine producing 513bhp, which is combined with a 473bhp hybrid boost.

Race background

The first ever Le Mans race took place 91 years ago in 1923. Plenty of racing-car greats have won at Le Mans, including Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Porsche. But the lap record, made in 2010, is held by the Peugeot 908 HDI FAP in 3’19’074, which means a speed of 246.463km/h on average.
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Many legendary drivers as well as celebrities have competed at Le Mans, including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Graham Hill, Derek Bell and Mario Andretti. Hill is the only driver to be an F1 world champion and to have won both at Le Mans and Indianapolis. Danish driver Tom Kristensen has won the race the greatest number of times, standing on the winner’s podium a record nine times. This year’s well-known names include the actor Patrick Dempsey, who will attempt to fulfil his dream of winning at Le Mans. It will be Dempsey’s third Le Mans race. His finished both previous races in 2009 and 2013, narrowly missing a place on the podium in the LM GTE Am class last year. But the race has a darker history too. A dreadful accident in the first hours of the race in 1955 killed 83 spectators and Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh after large fragments of racing car debris flew into the crowd. More than 120 people were also injured in what was the most catastrophic accident in the history of motorsport. Mercedes didn’t return to Le Mans until the mid-1980s. Last year also saw tragedy, after Danish driver Allan Simonsen was killed having spun his Aston Martin Vantage GTE at the Tertre Rouge corner of the track, hitting the crash barriers. This was Le Mans’ first fatality for 27 years, and following the incident, improvements have been made to the safety barriers and run-off at both the Tertre Rouge and Corvette corners.  A ‘slow zone’ system will be used for minor incidents by limiting all cars in one section of the circuit to a speed of 60 km/h.

Ones to watch

While Michael Dempsey will race in a Porsche 911 RSR this year, the Porsche which is most likely to hit the headlines is the 919 Hybrid, which will enter the premiere class of the race after more than two years in development. Porsche claims that the prototype combines, “everything we have learned from 60 years of motorsports and 16 overall victories in Le Mans.”
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Cars racing this year must confirm to Le Mans prototype 1 category (LMP1) regulations. These stipulate that cars must not exceed 4650mm in length, 1900mm in width and 1050mm in height and that they must weigh no less than 870kg. Porsche’s single-turbo 2.0-litre V4 direct-injection petrol combustion engine is supported by an electric motor that uses lithium-ion batteries. Porsche says that the 919 Hybrid is its “fastest mobile research laboratory and the most complex race car that Porsche has ever built," but only time will tell whether it can beat its rivals into first place on June 15. There’s no doubting Porsche, which is returning to Le Mans after a 16-year absence, will face stiff competition, with Audi racing three of its R18 e-tron models – last year’s winning car – this year. The Audi R18’s e-tron V6 TDI engine has been increased from 3.7 to 4.0 litres this year in order to improve efficiency at high revs, which will make it even tougher to beat.
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