24 hours of Le Mans: The numbers behind the race
24 hours of Le Mans

24 hours of Le Mans: The numbers behind the race

This August will see the 89th staging of the 24 hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest motorsport endurance race and one of the most prestigious.

Here we delve into the recent history of the race to work out who could triumph this year.

What is the 24 hours of Le Mans?

Usually held in June but delayed to allow fans to attend once pandemic restrictions are lifted, the race has been contested at the same track since its inception in 1923 – the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France.

The race sees teams of three drivers compete to see whose car can cover the most distance in a 24-hour period. The race is mostly driven at full throttle, putting an immense amount of stress on the cars and drivers alike. To prevent fatigue, at least three people must drive each car, with drivers permitted a maximum of 240 minutes behind the wheel every six hours.

What does it take to win the 24 hours of Le Mans?

Improvements to car design and team strategy have seen the distance covered by the winners increase significantly over time. Since the first race in 1923, the furthest distance travelled has more than doubled from 2,210 kilometres to the current record of 5,411 kilometres set in 2010.

To put these distances in perspective, if the first winners had driven in a straight line from the circuit and covered the same amount of ground, they would have reached the modern Russian border. The current record holders meanwhile would have almost reached China if they were able to sustain the same pace in one direction.

Who could win the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2021?

There are 12 teams competing this year who have managed to complete the race at least five times in the last decade.

Toyota Gazoo Racing are entering two cars in this year’s race and will almost certainly be among the favourites, as they have won each of the last three. The Japanese team has also finished second on three occasions and third once since 2016.

Their nearest challengers appear to be United Autosports, who have entered seven cars since 2017 and only suffered one retirement. In 2020, they finished fifth for the second time and have made the top 10 on two other occasions, so it wouldn’t take much of an improvement to win this year.

The only other team competing this year who have managed to last the full 24 hours at least five times in the last 10 years and finished in the top 10 is G-Drive Racing. The Russians won three European Le Mans Series championships in a row between 2016 and 2018 and have since finished second and third.

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