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Le Mans 24 Hours - Top five best moments!

Written by Owen Bradley, Michael Golovach, Evan Veer, Sharifah Zaqreeztrina, and Vyas Ponnuri

The World Endurance Championship returns to one of the most prestigious events on the Motorsport calendar, the 92nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2024. Here are the Top 5 best Le Mans 24 Hours moments chosen by our writers:

Fernando Alonso conquers Le Mans in 2018 amidst F1 retirement rumours - Owen Bradley

Credit: James Moy

In 2018, Fernando Alonso had been dealing with many retirement rumours in Formula One, with many disappointing performances throughout the early season and disputes at McLaren, many thought Alonso would simply retire from motorsport as a whole, but that could not have been further from the case at all.

Alonso would compete in the 2018 Le Mans race, taking a monumental victory in his #8 Toyota with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima who narrowly beat the sister #7 Toyota in a period of Toyota dominance at Le Mans which secured a 1-2 finish. 

Just one year later, after Alonso decided to take a break from Formula One, the Spaniard would take yet another victory at Le Mans, proving to many people that despite his results in F1 being sub-par, Alonso could obviously still beat some of the best drivers in the world.

It is somewhat easy to see then, that after winning the WEC championship in 2018, among two Le Mans wins, Fernando Alonso was a good driver to have on board. Alpine F1 Team would quickly manage to secure a deal with Alonso for the 2021 F1 Championship, where Alonso now races for Aston Martin. It could be debated that the WEC helped revive Alonso’s F1 career.

Le Mans 2023 - A Centenary race to commemorate 100 years of the world's prestigious Endurance race - Mykhailo Golovach

Credit: Clive Rose

Last year’s Le Mans was my first ever that I watched in full, so I don’t rather have a rich experience beyond 2023, however that exact race I watched start to finish, showed drama in the hollywood-style movie. 

Stormy rain as the drivers went into the darkness, a shocker for Toyota in the Hypercar, supreme car control by Ferrari, pass for the lead with hours to go the next day, leading up ofcourse to the headlines of Ferrari winning Le Mans first time since coming back to WEC. This was an unordinary race, in the true form of an endurance racing spectacle.

A lot of moments went into the mix to create this masterpiece of the race, so I’d rather put all of them into one. Battles upfront the pack after “lights out”, soon after the sun set low in the french countryside a typical movie script followed with a heavy rain, though not to the stoppage of the race and certainly to the relief of fans trackside. 

It caught a lot of drivers out as a dark track filled with wet surface did not help keeping the car in one piece. The sheer pleasure and dynamic of knowing “you have to race, no matter the conditions” was the main point of the entire 24 hours, even though the storm did not last too long, it brought a cinematic shape to an already packed french classic.

Le Mans nights are pure magic, both on and off track, however this is the thing that might catch some drivers out, as Toyota cracked in the end, which allowed Ferrari to race through for the lead, keep it and blow the headlines worldwide.

The moment itself is for sure Ferrari winning Le Mans, but what stays behind, are the dramatic events making you rewatch this race all over again.

Toyota’s 2016 heartbreak - Evan Veer

Credit: Gerlach Delissen

Toyota’s history at Le Mans leading up to the 2016 edition, while rich with iconic and competitive cars, had already been full of misfortune and near-misses. Despite coming second a total of four times before the Japanese marque had never managed to hold the lead until the finish line. 

But this time, after all those years, it looked like it was finally going to happen. As the race entered its final stages the #5 piloted by Kazuki Nakajima, who had already led the race for quite some time, had built up a comfortable gap of almost half a lap to the #2 Porsche behind. Nothing seemed to stand in the way of the Japanese brand’s long awaited Le Mans success until, with a mere 5 minutes to go, the #5 begins to dramatically lose pace.

Confusion ensues: is this a problem? Are Toyota simply trying to let the sister car catch up for a staged finish? Or did Nakajima think the race was already over? But as the camera cuts to Nakajima pulling over to the side of the road as the #2 flies past it became clear that Toyota’s history of coming agonisingly close to winning the endurance classic had gained another chapter.

The contrast on display was striking; as the TV feed cut between Porsche’s Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas on the floor celebrating their unexpected victory on one side, while on the other side of the pits the Toyota garage was reduced to a painful silence filled with utter disbelief.

While being a story of how utterly cruel this race can be, the reason to include this moment in a list of what are otherwise moments of greatness is its value in teaching some of the most important lessons to keep in mind come race day:

1: There is no trophy for leading the first 23 hours and 59 minutes - to finish first, first you have to finish.

2: Fate does not care how desperate you are to win - its cruelty does not discriminate and it knows no mercy.

The walk of fame? Jacky Ickx ‘s iconic 1969 win  - Sharifah Zaqreeztrina 

Credit: Bernard Cahier

The 1969 edition of Le Mans saw the end of the traditional Le Mans start, where drivers would run towards their vehicle across the track at the drop of the French flag, prepare themselves once hopped into their car and race away as soon as possible. 

In the sea of rushing drivers, Belgian F1 driver Jacky Ickx calmly walked towards his Ford GT40, completely opposed the custom due to his concerns over the starting procedure being dangerous. This led him to start at the back of the grid.

As the majority of cars were already taking off, Ickx ensured that everything was carefully secured before following suit. With his brave one-man protest, no one would expect the driver who started last only to finish on the front row, much less winning the iconic race. 

Meanwhile, a privateer named John Woolfe was killed at the end of the opening lap. By the force of the impact, he was thrown off his Porsche 917 once crashed into the barriers near the Maison Blanche corner. It was reported that he didn't fasten his seatbelt before driving the car. 

This accident carried a similar tone with another one that occurred in previous year’s Le Mans. Another Belgian driver, Willy Mairesse, was badly injured on the first lap, but it was due to the door of his car not being properly shut.

As much as saving time is desired, all these accidents could have been avoided by not adhering to the hastiness of the starting procedure. This further triggered the beginning of the standing start, where drivers are to start by being in the cars, implemented in the following year.

As for Ickx, he and teammate Jackie Oliver were in a head-to-head battle with several Porsche cars. The German manufacturer took up nearly a third of the starting field, and also brought onto the track at that time their newly-developed vehicle, the powerful Porsche 917.

The 917s was also leading for almost the entire race, which made everyone predict that the Porsche would clinch the victory.

In an unexpected twist, the Porsche 917 driven by Vic Efford and Richard Attwood had to retire due to a gearbox issue. However, the battle with Porsche has not ended yet. 

In the last lap, the Porsche 908 of Hans Herrmann and Gerard Larrousse and Ickx’s Ford GT40 were leading side-by-side. It was a dramatic sight, as the Porsche and Ford overtook each other repeatedly. Ickx’s strategy on the Mulsanne Straight led him to pass Hermann by a few seconds and went on to win the 37th running of Le Mans. 

This also marked the first of Ickx’s six victories, carving his name in the French classic.  The GT40 formed a 120-metres gap between it and the Porsche at the finish line, which makes it one of the closest finishes in Le Mans history.

Overall, what a tremendous way to bid adieu to the 1960s era of Le Mans. 

The V8 Alarm Clock? A NASCAR takes to Europe - Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Chris Graythen

The centenary running of Le Mans was popular, not just for being a century since the grand old race was first held, or a certain Italian team pulling off a memorable victory for the ages, over five decades on from their return to the sport. There was one sight, however, that caught every single fan’s attention all weekend, though. 

Yes, we’re referring to the Garage 56 team taking to the 8.466 mi (13.626 km on the metric scale) Circuit de La Sarthe. For the first time in five decades, a NASCAR-spec entry would be making its way into mainland Europe for the grand race, the big, burly V8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 standing tall in a field of sleek hypercars and prototypes. 

Garage 56 have taken to the historic race with innovation in ideas and technology at the forefront of their entries, often naming differently-abled racers in their trio of racers to take to the track. This time, though, they decided to field a bright blue and gold Chevrolet Camaro. 

While the famous movie Cars witnessed an iconic monologue by Lightning McQueen, “Race cars don’t need headlights, because the track is always lit!,” this race car would require a pair of headlamps and taillamps, along with other modifications to make it endurance race-worthy. 

An all-star team of drivers were picked to race the Camaro around the 24 Hours of Le Mans, including 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, and 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller. A line-up befitting to the traits of the race. 

Being an ‘experimental’ entry, the Camaro would be starting from last position on the grid, behind the hypercars, LMP2s, and the GTE Am entries. 

However, the Garage 56 entry lapped a full two seconds quicker than the leading GTE entry on the grid, prompting the WEC Committee to move the entry behind the LMP2 cars, and ahead of the GTE cars on the grid. 

And once the race began, there was no mistaking the roar of the big V8 underneath the hood of this Chevy, as it took down GTE cars with aplomb, and even challenged LMP2 cars down the Mulsanne straight. Such was the speed the G56 entry had at their disposal. 

Fans even joked about the Garage 56 entry passing by their stands every lap that kept them awake during the night stages of the race, the unmistakable V8 roar so distinct from 61 other entries on the grid, it was likened to a “V8 alarm clock” by some. 

Alas, as reliable and bulletproof as the Camaro would be, it all came to an end 19 hours into the 24-hour race, as the gearbox gave in, and the crew pulled in from 26th on the road to repair the gearbox. Eventually, the Garage 56 entry would finish 39th on the road. Not bad for a big, beefy V8 NASCAR, wasn’t it?


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