France has many wonderful traditions, the elegant military Ecole de Saumur, the high class chic fashion houses of Paris and the great Le Mans 24 hour car race are just a few of these superb places and events that are synonymous with French style and panache.
Le Mans 24 hours race first took place in 1923, at the height of the roaring twenties. It was held during the month of May and was won by two French racing drivers, André Lagache and René Léonard driving their marvellous 3 litre Chenard & Walcker.
Lagache worked at the car manufacturer as an engineer. He was selected by the car company to drive this sports model for the very first 24 hour race. It was a true test of endurance for both drivers and their cars. Lagache and Leonard drove a massive 2,209 km in just 24 hours. The race continued to test drivers right up to the beginning of the Second World War thrilling spectators who watched in anticipation as the cars whizzed round the circuit. The first ever race however, was along public roads around the lovely town of Le Mans.
In the early days of the race, drivers would run across the track to jump into their waiting cars. There was a tremendous thrill in the air as the drivers leaped into their race cars and the event drew massive crowds from all over the world. Le Mans was the motor sport of the day and continues to excite both spectators and drivers to this day. In 1969 this traditional Le Mans start was abolished and replaced with the more normal start of the race routine that we see today.
In 1955 Le Mans was the scene to one of the worst ever motor sports accidents in the history of racing when one of the race cars hit a bank and exploded. The cars engine flew into the grandstand which was jammed packed with spectators and sadly more than eighty people lost their lives in the horrific event. The car had been a Mercedes and the manufacturer never took part in the event again. British driver Stirling Moss and Juan-Manuel Fangio of Italy would never race at Le Mans again either. It was an incredibly sad day for the event and safety issues were bought very much into play as a result of the accident.
All through the decades since the early days of the race, with the exception of the years of the Second World War, spectators have packed the grandstands of the circuit track to witness the event. The race saw cars like Bentley, Alfa Romeo and Bugatti leading the field but the cars were becoming more streamlined as time went on. After the war in 1949 after a gap of ten years, manufacturers of Jaguar, Ferrari, Aston Martin. Mercedes-Benz and other big companies started to get really involved in the race. The old style open-cockpit cars were replaced with closed-cockpit models and the race was getting faster every year with speeds in excess of 200 mph down the straight.
The modern Le Mans 24 hour race sees car like Audi. MG, Chrysler and Panoz all competing for the prestigious trophy. The race has continued to keep spectators on the edges of their seats as they watch these cars hurtling at breakneck speeds around the circuit, making the 24 hour Le Mans one of the most exciting motor races in the world.