Ferrari will dye the front row of the grid red at the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #50 car of Miguel Molina, Antonio Fuoco and Nicklas Nielsen signed the hyperpole on Thursday at the Circuit de La Sarthe (3:22.982), with eight tenths of an advantage over the other Ferrari 499P and 1.4 seconds over the first Toyota GR010. A milestone for Molina, seasoned for years in the GT category, who signs the second Spanish pole in history, five years after Fernando Alonso. And a big step forward for the Maranello team, which had not participated in Le Mans since 1973. His return is another chapter in the exciting history of the queen of endurance, full of unforgettable moments.

At the limit of your strength

The figure of Pierre Levegh, protagonist of the greatest catastrophe of Le Mans in 1955, should not only be associated with his tragic death. Rather, we should talk about his heroic attempt in 1952, when he challenged three giants such as Mercedes, Jaguar and Ferrari. Aboard a Talbot Lago T26GS Spider that he had modified himself, he left with a very simple plan: wait. He knew that his rivals, faster but with precarious reliability, would fall one by one. In the early hours of the morning he took the lead and when the sun was already high he had four laps ahead of the Mercedes. In the garage they begged him to give the wheel to René Marchand, his co-driver, but Levegh wanted to pamper the mechanics of a car he knew inside out. With an hour to go, the Talbot's crankshaft was shattered in Mulsanne. Only in this way was his monumental 23-hour solo ride truncated.

He was one of those old-fashioned pilots, able to drive any device that rolled and squeeze it until it stopped. In 1932, Raymond Sommer appeared at Le Mans with an Alfa Romeo Mille Miglia 8C, the same car he had won the previous year, although incorporating striking aerodynamic improvements. As co-driver, the remembered Luigi Chinetti, with a great hand to tune the engines, but with a precarious physical condition. Early on Sunday, Chinetti felt faint and Sommer, who had already accumulated 10 hours at the wheel, had to continue his solo pursuit of Franco Cortese, aboard an official Alfa Romeo. Not only did he hunt him down, but he saw the checkered flag with a two-lap lead. In total, 20 hours behind the wheel. There was a reason why they called him Coeur de Lion.

In 1971, the Porsche 917 of Helmut Marko and Gijs Van Lennep, recorded a distance record at Le Mans, with 5,335.313 km (222.304 km/h average speed). A milestone that was only surpassed in 2010 by the Audi R15 TDI+ of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller, with 397 laps (16.5 per hour) at an average of 225.228 km / h, for a total of 5,410.713 km. Something like a road trip between Madrid and Baku.

MONKEY Two years before Levegh's truncated adventure, the British Edward Ramsden Hall had already become the first and only rider to cover the entire distance of the race alone, completing 236 laps of La Sarthe. No less than 3,200 km without getting off its Bentley Corniche. When asked by a reporter how he went to the bathroom, Hall replied with a smile: "A green monkey, old friend!"

Alonso's double

In 2018, at age 37, Fernando Alonso was rushing his last days with McLaren, fed up with an F1 that did not allow him to fight with the best and sheltered in his adventure with Toyota, which gave him a dominant car. He, of course, surrendered with his usual obsessiveness. In fact, days before the only official test at Le Mans, the Spaniard reviewed in detail the images of the previous edition of his TS050 Hybrid. No less than 16 hours of camera on board. Making F1 compatible with the 24 Hours also required an express return from Montreal, scene of the seventh round of that World Championship. "I spend most of my time in 'power saving mode.' I go to bed early and try to sleep as much as I can. And if not, at least, rest, "he confessed shortly before tasting the glory for the first time.

Alonso celebrates his 2019 triumph at Le Mans.GAZOO RACING

year later, back aboard the #8 Toyota, Alonso completed his double thanks to a rare stroke of fortune. "We didn't deserve to win, because we didn't have his pace," he admitted after José María 'Pechito' López's puncture with 62 minutes to go before the chequered flag. The misfortune of the Argentine ruined any option of the #7, who had passed first by the finish line for 339 of the 385 laps (87.3%). Kamui Kobayashi, in the press room, clearly expressed the desolation of his garage: "I hate this race. I know I'll be back, but right now I hate her."

Today looks difficult, but if Alonso gets off the Aston Martin wave, he could still return for the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) to tackle a couple of challenges. The first, equaling the British Woolf Barnato, the only one with a perfect record after three participations (1928, 1929, 1930). In addition, he could be equated with Phil Hill, F1 world champion and with three wins (1958, 1961 and 1962) in the 24 Hours. During the 2019 Drivers Parade, Fernando warned a crazed audience. "This is not a goodbye, but a see you later. Here I'm sure I'll be back, although I don't know in what year."

Those who know about endurance say that the 24 Hours, like the Indianapolis 500, chooses its winner. And not the other way around. A way to summarize all the greatness and misery of these two legendary careers. In any case, despite the monstrous superiority of his car, Alonso left good proof in Le Mans of his virtues as a driver, one of the most complete of all time. The clinical coolness in traffic management, the aggressive attacks on the piano and the ability to squeeze the power of the Toyota at the exit of the corners left their mark among the French fans.

From pioneers to artisans

TRIUMPH Since its genesis, in the 24 Hours there was always a space, more or less privileged, for small manufacturers. Among the countless adventurers who dared to challenge giants such as Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar or Ford, perhaps none as meritorious as Jean Rondeau, a motor enthusiast who in 1976 set out to build, in his garage in Champagné, 20 km from the Circuit de La Sarthe, his own cars, powered by a Ford-Cosworth V8 engine. He was eighth in 1976, fourth in 1977, ninth in 1978, fifth in 1979... and finally achieved victory in 1980. Not just anyone, but beating the Porsche 908/80 of Jacky Ickx and Reinhold Joest, to become the only driver to have won at Le Mans at the wheel of a car that bears his name.

Although septuagenarians, André and Edouard Michelin were able to enjoy the triumph of their tyres in the first edition of the 24 Hours. However, the heirs of the founding brothers had to wait no less than 55 years to enjoy another victory. During that half century, no one could cope with Dunlop, whose fame grew like foam after giving name to the catwalk located at the Pontlieu fork and later moved to the Tertre Rouge area. To this day, the British brand still maintains an advantage in the palmares (34-31).

11. THEM, SINCE 1930
Despite the glaring void between 1951 and 1971, where there was no female representation, the truth is that women made themselves felt very soon in the 24 Hours. On June 21, 1930, Marguerite Mareuse and Odette Siko, at the controls of a Bugatti 40, finished seventh, the best position ever. Two years later, teaming up with Louis Charavel in an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 SS, Siko was on the verge of the podium in a race that only nine cars completed. And throughout that decade a legion of British women were incorporated. In fact, in 1935, Margaret Allan, Corinne Eaton, Doreen Evans, Eveline Gordon-Simpson, Anne Itier, Joan Richmond and Barbara Skinner reached the finish line, while Kay Petre, Gwenda Stewart and Elsie Wisdom had to abandon. In more recent times, Annie-Charlotte Verney – with 10 consecutive appearances (1974-1983), including a victory in her category (1978) – and engineer Leena Gade, who commanded from the Audi wall the three victories of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer (2011, 2012, 2014), deserve a place of honor.

In 2012, with the aim of promoting accessibility and encouraging the development of new technologies, the ACO created the Garage 56 project. Four years later, Frederic Sausset took advantage of this initiative to become the first quadriplegic to start at Le Mans. He participated with the Morgan team, in the LMP2 category and managed to finish the race. During the relays, to get in and out of a car adapted to his disability, the mechanics used a long steel bar. Not satisfied, Sausset began running his own team, with three disabled drivers. After getting the invitation, he returned to the 24 Hours in 2021, with an Oreca 07-Gibson. And his project reached the goal again.

Death, face to face

13. A LIST OF 22 DEATHS Over a century, 22 pilots
have been killed on the asphalt of La Sarthe. The first tragedy came on May 15, 1925, five days before the race, when Frenchman André Guilbert lost his life on a road adjacent to the circuit. In any case, Marius Mestivier is officially considered the first fatality, when he lost control of his Ravel on the Mulsanne straight. It was June 20, 1925.

Although by far the worst tragedy - not only at Le Mans, but in the history of motorsport - must undoubtedly be dated June 11, 1955. That Sunday, Pierre Levegh's Mercedes became a huge fireball that took the lives of 82 spectators on the finish straight. A massacre that would forever mark Mike Hawthorn, the British driver who triggered the accident, final winner with Jaguar and F1 world champion in 1958 with Ferrari.

Ickx, left, during the 1969 exit.

GESTURE Today it is almost impossible for us to assume for security reasons, but the truth is that most of the winners at Le Mans were open cars. That is, without a hood. 51 versus 39. Until the mid-60s, the closed did not compete as equals. And not even its occupants wore seat belts. This was denounced by Jacky Ickx in 1969, with a gesture for history. As his rivals raced towards their cars, the Belgian walked slowly towards his Ford GT40. He lost many positions while tightening his belt, but won the race. That same June 23, during the first lap, John Woolfe killed himself after flying out of a Porsche 917. He hadn't buckled up.

He was one of the most respected drivers in Gran Turismo and had six years of previous experience at Le Mans, where he also boasted two podiums in his class (2010 and 2007). However, from the first moment, Allan Simonsen's accident in Tertre Rouge seemed extremely serious. Barely a quarter of an hour of racing had elapsed. The agonizing countdown ended with the confirmation of Aston Martin. Since that fateful June 22, 2013 there have been no more deaths in La Sarthe.

It could only happen here

HANGOVER Between historical rigor and urban legend it is worth placing the anecdote of Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt, winners of the 1953 edition with a Jaguar C-Type. Their weekend, however, began to twist late on Thursday, when the stewards disqualified them for an irregularity in their number 18. With nothing better to do than drown their sorrows, they spent the night drinking at Le Mans. After all, both had already seen almost everything in life during World War II. Rolt received a pair of decorations after trying to escape seven times from concentration camps, while Hamilton forged his worth as an airplane pilot behind enemy lines. Early on Friday, Jaguar manager Lofty Williams convinced the organization to reinstate the #18. As it has been said since then, the British team did the impossible to get its duo out of a monumental hangover. True or not, the truth is that Rolt and Williams traveled 4,088 km at an average of 170.3 km / h, ahead in four laps to their sister car, led by Stirling Moss and Peter Walker.

Bill and Don Whittington should start at the end. In the spring of 1986, Bill pleaded guilty to one count of drug trafficking and one count of tax evasion, for which he served five years in prison. His brother Don, sentenced in 1987 for money laundering, spent 18 months behind bars. The fact is that they, inside or outside the law, had climbed in 1979 to the top of the podium at Le Mans, leaving Paul Newman's Porsche with honey on their lips. The seed of its success was sown by Kremer Racing, one of Porsche's best customers at the time. The German team had a specialist like Klaus Ludwig, but to complete its lineup would auction the two free seats. And there the Whittingtons appeared, with $200,000 in a bag. An astronomical amount for the time. And that 935 K3 well deserved the expense. Equipped with a fierce six-cylinder engine and 2994 cc, it surprised the favorites thanks to a device of the simplest, which at that time did not mount the competition: a windshield wiper. Essential during a weekend of intermittent rain. Thanks to Ludwig's speed, the Whittingtons won at Le Mans by seven laps.

Japan's motor fever, traditionally focused on its national Super GT championship, took half a century to move to Le Mans. In 1973, Hiroshi Fushida and Tetsu Ikuzawa became the first Japanese drivers to compete in the 24 Hours at the wheel of a Sigma-Mazda with which they could only last 79 laps, because of a clutch failure. And we still had to wait until 1995 to celebrate the triumph of Masanori Sekiya, the man who closed the treble of the Lanzante team, with that McLaren F1 GTR that JJ Lehto flew over the water. Sekiya's star, however, had already shone in a very peculiar way in 1987, when he decided to celebrate his third participation with a wedding just before the race. A bad time for the honeymoon, given that that year, with a treacherous climate, only 14 cars (29.1%) reached the finish line. The Toyota 87C-L engine of Sekiya, Tiff Needell and Kazuyoshi Hoshino said enough when it had only completed 39 laps.

"It was a spontaneous sign of support, as happens between pilots." That was the official version of Vincent Capillaire to explain the unusual event that frustrated any option of Toyota in 2017. Late in the morning, Kamui Kobayashi's #7 was leading the race when he entered the pits during a safety car period. When he returned to the pit-lane he stopped at a red light. Right there the truly unheard of would be unleashed. Capillaire, LMP2 driver in Algarve Pro Racing, runs to the Toyota and shows him the thumbs up, so Kobayashi starts again. Immediately, Toyota radios its driver to rectify. This ceremony of confusion ended up causing irreparable damage to the clutch of the TS050 Hybrid. The reason was simple: Capillaire's orange jumpsuit, very similar to that of the stewards, had fatally confused the Japanese. The FIA would settle the matter with a fine of 1,000 euros to Capillaire and Toyota added another notch to its badge at Le Mans.

Extreme speeds

Throughout this century, the Circuit de La Sarthe has undergone up to 14 substantial modifications. From 17,262 km in 1923, to 13,626 km today. The absolute fastest lap record was set by Kamui Kobayashi's Toyota TS050-Hybrid in practice in 2017, with 3:14.791 (251.882 km/h) on a 13.629 km rope. In this way he cut, by a very narrow margin, the 3:14.80 of Hans-Joachim Stuck at the wheel of a Porsche 962, during the qualifying session of 1985 (251.815 km / h).

22. IT HAD TO BE 405
It was closer to a marketing strategy than a sports one, although as such it was a resounding success. In the 1988 edition, the modest Secateva team, sponsored by Peugeot, launched the Project 400, with which it intended to break the speed record, overcoming such a huge barrier. At any price. Even covering the cooling intakes with adhesive tapes to optimize aerodynamics. At 20:19 hours, with Roger Dorchy at the wheel, car 51 reached 415 km / h in Hunaudières, although the team ended up reducing that figure to 405 km / h, given that that year the lion brand launched its 405 sedan. Nobody seemed to mind that the engine broke down on lap 59, because the car was retired to cheers. To stop a foreseeable dangerous climb, only two years later the organization introduced two chicanes in that mythical straight.

Navigating the thick traffic of Le Mans is always a thankless task for the favourites, who rarely have enough space to optimise the power of their vehicles. However, a couple of records have been polished over the last decade. André Lotterer, aboard the Audi R18, already made history in 2015, at an average speed of 248.458 km/h (3:17.475). Four years later, this time was beaten by Mike Conway in his Toyota TS050-Hybrid, during the fourth turn of the race (3:17.297, at 248.628 km / h).

May 27, 1923, 30 of the 33 cars that took the start in the first edition reached the finish line. There were only two withdrawals due to mechanical mishaps and one by accident. From those heroic times only names like Bentley and Bugatti have survived, who did not even climb the podium, powerless against a winner who already reached an average speed of 92.064 km / h. Equipped with a 3000 cc four-cylinder in-line engine, the number 9 Chenard & Walcker of André Lagache and René Léonard took the victory, after completing 128 laps, for a total of 2,209.536 km.

Famous quotes

"We sell millions of cars, but this guy is in the newspapers every Monday just because he wins a few races." Henry Ford II, grandson of the founder of the American firm, took charge of the family business at the age of 28, just after the end of World War II. In those years of crisis he knew how to impose his aggressive style, of ruthless capitalist, to the point of challenging Enzo Ferrari himself. The creation and subsequent triumph of the GT40 at Le Mans remains one of motorsport's greatest feats.

"A lot of people go through life doing things wrong. Careers are important to men who do them well. Running is life. Everything that happens before or after is just a wait." It's the script line that Steve McQueen's (Michael Delaney) character offers Elga Andersen (Lisa Belgetti), when she asks him why it's so crucial to be the fastest. Of course, this is Le Mans (1971), the most emotional and sincere documentary about the 24 Hours that cinema has given birth.

27. XXL
WINDSHIELD"Aerodynamics is for those who do not know how to manufacture engines." Enzo Ferrari treated his drivers with a paternalism that mixed tenderness and cruelty. A good example of this is this reply to Paul Frère, who had asked him why his 250 Testa Rossa, with a huge windscreen, did not reach higher top speed at Le Mans. At the beginning of the 60s, Il Commendatore could still afford to ignore any progress in aerodynamic matters.

The 917/20 was different from the rest. At first I wondered: Is this a race car? But when I drove it, on the straight it was better than I expected. It was fantastic and I didn't care about the exterior color. Inside it wasn't pink." In 1971, Porsche went to Le Mans with one of the most striking decorations in the history of motorsport, the work of Antoine Lapine, its chief designer. It was not only about the color, but it sported stickers naming each of its parts as if it were the anatomy of a pig. He was soon christened the Pink Pig and the Truffle Hunter. It was piloted by Willi Kauhsen and Reinhold Joest, whose phrase explained very clearly the nature of the matter.

Curves with a lot of history

If the Spa circuit gave immortal fame to the red-water stream that winds through the Eau Rouge area, Le Mans did the same with the reddish sand terrain acquired in 1932 and forever known as Tertre Rouge. With them, the ACO intended to communicate the private part of the Bugatti circuit with the public road leading to Mulsanne. In that area he built a tunnel and a footbridge. After different modifications, in 1979 the profile of its curve became much more closed. Scene of the fatal accident of Allan Simonsen in 2013, today it is one of the busiest areas, due to its good communications and its proximity to the city.

SPOT The exit of the Porsche corners, one of the most complex and technical areas where only the most experienced have fully stepped on the accelerator, gives way to a false straight that leads to the Maison Blanche. For two decades, in this black spot, with speeds around 240 km / h, four pilots died: Pierre Maréchal (1949), Tom Cole (1953), Louis Héry (1956) and John Woolfe (1969). Finally, in 1972 the old Maison Blanche road was abandoned and a new variant was introduced at the entrance of the Ford chicane.

One of the monuments of motor sport, with a stop sign, at the junction between the D139 and D140 roads, which nobody respects during the second weekend of June. The Virage Arnage, the slowest point of the route, is traveled at about 90 km / h and does not present excessive technical difficulties. A 90º angle to the right as a place of pilgrimage for thousands of fans, who crowd to enjoy the roar of the engines and red brakes during the night. It is named after the village of Arnage, located two kilometers to the west. It was the only point where Luigi Chinetti passed Tazio Nuvolari during the crazy last lap that decided the 1933 edition.

Fernando Alonso has always shown his weakness for the Indianapolis area, much more than a simple left-hand corner of sharp cant. And you have to have guts and talent to keep your foot down. Because here, Dindo Capello lost a wheel of his Audi in 2007 and paid the consequences against tire protections. At almost 300 km/h. Named in 1932 for its resemblance to the 500 Mile stage, it is the only part of the circuit that still retains, almost exactly, its original shape. In this century only cant, protections and loopholes have been expanded.


  • Fernando Alonso
  • Audi
  • Articles Miguel A. Herguedas

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