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Le Mans 24 Hours 2007
A Beginners' Guide. June 14th 2007

An Introduction to the Le Mans 24 Hour Race
By Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director of AD Holdings

Although many of our trackside guests are keen followers of motor racing, through F1 and other classes, sportscar racing is a somewhat different discipline and we thought that some explanation might be useful to Le Mans novices - although please note that this introduction was first prepared in 2007, and some technical elements may have changed since then.

Bentley win Le Mans in 1924The Le Mans 24 Hour race is run by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest which is abbreviated to ACO. The ACO creates its own regulations for Le Mans and for the spin-off series in Europe (the Le Mans Series) and in North America (American Le Mans Series, or ALMS). The ACO is an extremely powerful body that exercises absolute control over the regulations for their flagship event, the Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans. Le Mans ranks alongside the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix as one of the most famous motor races in the world.

The event was first held in 1923 on a circuit consisting of public rounds to the south of the town of Le Mans. It has been held annually since then apart from 1936 (Great Depression) and between 1940 and 1948 (Second World War and its aftermath). This will be the 75th running of the race.

Photo courtesy of Renault Communications

It is worth noting that Grand Prix motor racing originated in France (hence the French spelling) and that the French Grand Prix is the oldest Grand Prix of them all. It was first staged in June 1906 at Le Mans (above and right) and a special centennial celebration was staged last year, with period cars "racing" through the city streets. That makes this year the 101st anniversary of motor racing at Le Mans.

The Rules
The ACO’s rules accept two categories: Prototypes and Grand Touring Cars.
Each of these categories is further divided into two classes:

  • LM P1 and LM P2 for the Prototype category
  • LM GT1 and LM GT2 for the Grand Touring Car category

The cars racing within each of these classes is effectively competing in a race within a race. So, although the Aston Martins, Corvettes and Saleens, for example, will be aiming for the highest possible overall position, their real objective is to be the first LM GT1 car across the finish line to win their class.

Prototype Category

These cars must weigh a minimum of 925kg and their engines have a maximum capacity of 4000cc if turbocharged, or 6000cc if normally aspirated. They also have the widest tyres, affording them the maximum grip levels.

With the most powerful engines they also achieve the highest maximum speeds. Some will reach over 330 kph on the Mulsanne. Engines can be diesel or conventional petrol technology, although the diesels have a smaller fuel capacity in an attempt to compensate for their inherent power advantage. The smaller fuel capacity forces them to come into the pits more frequently to refuel. Carbon brake disks and pads enable over 24 hours of running without replacing the friction material. Expect a typical race lap to be down towards 3m 30s from the diesel powered cars, with the fastest petrol-engined cars – the Pescarolos – about 2 seconds slower. The fastest race lap could go as low as 3m 28s, and qualifying pole could be as much as two seconds faster than this.

The second category of prototypes must weigh a minimum of 725 kg and are powered by normally-aspirated engines of a maximum of 3400cc, or turbocharged engines of 2000cc. They are also restricted to smaller tyres than the LM P1 cars. They have a maximum fuel capacity of 90 litres. The carbon brake disks and pads enable these cars to generate incredible stopping power and drivers describe the feeling of ‘hanging in their belts’ as the G force, combined with the drivers weight, causes the seat belts to stretch slightly. Typically, the RML MG-Lola can slow from 300 kph to 90 kph in less than 80 metres!

The much greater power that the LM P1 engines generate more than compensates for their greater weight. In addition the larger tyres give them an additional performance advantage. Nevertheless, in wet conditions, the more nimble nature of the LM P2s due to their lighter weight may enable the fastest of them to challenge some of the LM P1s. Watch out for this if there is any rain during the race or qualifying. Expect a typical lap time for the fastest LMP2s around 3m 45s whilst the fastest lap could be in the 3m 39s region.

For the prototype category there is no minimum quantity requirement for production. Also, as this is a sportscar series, the prototypes must have a cockpit which is notionally big enough for two people and their wheels and tyres must be enclosed by bodywork. They are currently allowed to be designed with either open or enclosed cockpit areas. The enclosed design of the Peugeots is likely to give them a small advantage in overall straight-line speed over the Audis.

GT Category

Both GT classes are based on production cars and, to be eligible to race, a certain minimum number must have been built. Thus prevents a manufacturer producing a one-off design that meets the letter of the regulations but, being effectively a prototype, could be much faster than the production based designs.

This class allows significant modification from the original road car specification although the basic shape must remain the same albeit with the addition of a large rear aerodynamic wing. These cars are usually built around a specially designed and constructed tubular frame – the roll cage and drive safety cell – which is then ‘clothed’ in bodywork panels made from ultra light carbon. This has the effect of bringing the overall weight down to around 1100kg, which is almost 40% less than the road car. In addition, modifications to the engine will increase the power by up to 33% giving a total increase in power to weight ratio of around 100%. Typically, a road version of the Aston Martin DB9 can accelerate from 0-100 kph in about 5 seconds whilst the race version will achieve the same test in about 2.5 seconds!

Pictured above is the Saleen S7-R, designed and developed by RML and raced at Le Mans in 2007 by the French Oreca team.

Amongst the modifications which are allowed, the engine position can be moved to give a more balanced weight distribution, whilst carbon brakes, bigger wheels and tyres and modified suspension and dampers transform the handling. Although these cars will typically lap 10 seconds slower than the LMP2 cars, their huge power advantage – the engines can be up to 7 litres – makes them very difficult for the smaller prototypes to overtake on the long straights. A typical lap time may be as low as 3m 51s with a fastest lap possibly below 3m 50s.

The regulations require these cars to adhere much more closely to the production car on which they are based. Each GT2 car will have been created from a production bodyshell that will have had a safety roll cage added. Carbon fibre is only allowed for removable bodywork such as the wings, bonnet and doors.

The engine must remain in its original position and suspension modifications are far more restricted than with GT1. Expect a typical race lap time to be around 4m 08s with a fastest lap around 4m 02s.

The rules allow a maximum of three drivers in each car. The maximum time that any driver can drive for continuously (i.e. without being replaced) is 4 hours. In addition no driver may drive for more than 14 hours in total.


Routine pit stops will be dictated by the fuel consumption. Once the quantity of fuel in the tank is lower than that required to complete another full lap the team will call the driver into the pits. There the fuel will be replenished and the car will rejoin the race. As the rules do not allow any other work to take place on the car whilst refueling, most teams will leave the same tyres on for a double stint to save the time that it would take to change them. During the night, when the temperatures are cooler, the tyres can last longer, allowing some teams to give their drivers to a triple stint. This gives the double benefit of saving the time for two tyre changes and giving the resting drivers longer to recover between stints.

Although the rules allow driver changes to take place during a fuel stop, most teams will be unwilling to change the drivers unless they are also changing tyres at the same time as it may not be possible to complete the driver change before the fuelling is complete, in which case unnecessary time would be lost.

It is also useful to understand that, during the race, teams in the same class may move to different fuel strategies in order to make it more difficult to understand their relative positions from the timing screens. This may be as a result of utilising a safety car period to refuel before the tank is empty. Also, in general, whenever a car has to pit for repair work the team will usually refuel it at the same time. Fuelling may only take place in the pitlane (not in the garage) so don’t be surprised if you see a car being refuelled and then pushed into the garage.

Pit Lane

The maximum number of personnel allowed to work on a car in the pit lane is four. In addition, there can be one man allocated to assist the drivers getting out and into the car and fastening their seat belts, plus an engineer to upload the data from the car and a ‘manager’, who will usually hold the ‘in’ board and will be the person who releases the car back into the pit lane when the work is complete and the pit lane is clear. There is no restriction on the number of personnel who may work on the car in the garage, so if any car requires major attention you will usually see the crew push it into the garage.

Any personnel in the pit lane or on the pit wall must wear fireproof overalls.

All garage doors must remain open whilst the car remains in the race.

Factory versus Private

The A.C.O. states that LM P2 and GT2 classes are intended mainly for private teams and must have performances inferior to those in LM P1 and LM GT1. The ACO’s intention is that the overall performance should be in order of the classes i.e. 1st level of performance: LM P1, 2nd LM P2, 3rd LM GT1 and 4th LM GT2.

This is crucial to understanding the difference between the classes. In the LM P1 class there are two factory teams; Audi has won Le Mans every year this century (2003 was won by Bentley which is a VW Audi Group company, using technology taken directly from the Audi R8) but this year faces a new challenge from an old hand.

Peugeot (left) is returning to endurance racing for the first time since 1993, when the French manufacturer achieved a clean sweep of the Le Mans podium with their all conquering 905 Evo 1C - widely considered to be the fastest ever sports racing car. The factory teams have huge budgets and will each have run several 24-hour race simulations, hiring a circuit for their exclusive use and running their cars at race pace for a full race distance. Because of their large budgets they also have their pick of the available professional drivers, and both Audi and Peugeot have ex Grand Prix drivers galore in their line-ups.

The story is similar in GT1 where big factory budgets have ensured huge development programmes for both Aston Martin and Corvette, together with stellar driver line-ups. These teams specialise in bringing their cars home with minimal problems and fantastic pace. The race for the GT1 lead will be as compelling as the one at the head of the field and is well worth keeping your eye on throughout the race. The factory Aston and Corvette pits are immediately to the right of RML’s in the pilane.

By contrast with the factory classes, the LMP2 and LM GT2 classes are intended for the privateer teams. These teams, funded by private money, tend to differ significantly in make up from the ones described above. Firstly, although many of them employ professional drivers, they will almost all include ‘gentlemen drivers’ in their line-up. This is the term applied to drivers who have a day job away from racing and, rather than being paid to go racing, actually bring funds to the team for which they drive. As a result, many of these team’s performances may well be dictated more by the pace of their ‘gentleman’, relative to the next team’s, than by the overall potential of the car.

Additionally, because the cars in these two classes have not had the benefit of full-scale factory support, there is more likelihood of problems occurring during the race. This can have the effect of turning them into a ‘last man standing’ competition, and that is exactly what happened last year in LM GT2. The car which eventually won had been running in 5th position for the greater part of the race and moved up the order in the last few hours as its faster rivals encountered problems.

Despite the lack of factory money to the RML project, our two wins in 2005 and 2006 gives the team knowledge that could pay dividends in the longer term. Even if some of our rivals, with their newer designs, are able to run at a faster pace during the opening laps, the professionalism of the RML crew should show through as the race wears. Nevetheless, the following quote from Dindo Capello, multiple winner of the race and one of the three drivers in the #2 Audi sums it all up :-

It is difficult to make a forecast because it is such a long race. It happens only once a year and everything has to run perfectly that day. If it doesn’t, you have to wait 12 months to try again. After 12 months, you still have to hope that everything has to run perfectly. We know we have the best car. We have the best team and the best people in the pits. We just need some luck.


The track at Le Mans is sometimes referred to as the Circuit de La Sarthe, which is the name of the river on which the town stands

Henry II (left) was born in the Le Mans region in 1133

Sebastian Bourdais, one of the drivers of the #8 Peugeot, was born in Le Mans in 1979

The greater Le Mans area has 293,000 inhabitants and is the 19th biggest city in France

Le Mans is twinned with Bolton in Lancashire

Near the Place du Jacobins you can see a statue commemorating the Wright Brothers’ maiden flight. The engine for their aeroplane was manufactured in Le Mans, and the Wright brothers' test flight at Le Mans is pictured right.

Originally there were no restrictions on driving time or number of drivers in the 24 our race. In the early 1950s Pierre Levegh, a Frenchman, attempted the race single handed. He was leading with less than one hour to go, but destroyed the engine after messing up a gearchange due to fatigue!!

Tom Kristensen, who is driving the #2 Audi with Allan McNish and Dindo Capello, has won the event a record 7 times.

The only driver to have won the modern quadruple crown of Endurance Racing – Le Mans 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Road Atlanta ‘s Petit Le Mans is Andy Wallace

Tommy Erdos’s class pole position at the 2006 race was one of a series of 6 consecutive LMP2 pole positions for the Brazilian in the AD Group MG Lola during 2006

Andy Wallace won Le Mans at his first attempt in 1988, driving the TWR Jaguar XJR-9 pictured above. In 17 subsequent visits, despite many podium finishes, the next time he stood on the top step of the podium at Le Mans was last year for his LM P2 class win in the RML AD Group’s MG Lola !

In 2002 Mike Newton set himself a personal target of competing at Le Mans by 2007. This year, 2007, will actually be his fifth consecutive Le Mans start, of which two are class wins!!