100 fascinating facts from a Centenary of Le Mans action (Part 2)
Photo: WEC

100 fascinating facts from a Centenary of Le Mans action (Part 2)

Roll up! Roll Up! You will not believe your eyes as you read these extraordinary Le Mans facts, and there are 100 of them to celebrate the upcoming centenary of the world’s greatest race.

This is the second in a five part series leading up to the big race from 10-11 June. No ranking, no chronological order, just first-class, intriguing facts and stats!

21.  AROUND THE WORLD: All of the past six Le Mans have seen a non-European driver stand on the top step: Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley, Kazuki Nakajima, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez and Ryo Hirakawa, with the previous record such streak of four (1965-1968 and 1993-1996) broken in 2021.

22.  PUTTING THE MILES IN: Of the 2.8 million miles WEC cars have raced since 2012, 1.6 million of these have been achieved at Le Mans – the equivalent of driving from Paris to Circuit de la Sarthe more than 12,000 times.

23.  ROAD GOING: Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the first road-based Garage 56 car, with the previous four innovative entries being the Nissan DeltaWing, Zeod RC, Morgan LMP2 and Oreca 07.

24.  21ST CENTURY BOYS: Of the 23 races in the 21st century, 21 of them have seen the winner complete a different number of laps. In 2004 and 2014 the winner completed 379 laps, whilst in 2006 and 2022 the winning total was 380. The other winning totals have been between 321 laps (2001) and 397 laps (2010).

25.  STAYING POWER: With 53 cars classified at Le Mans 2022 it set the new record for most finishers. Nine retirements is the first total in single figures in the WEC era, with 85.5% of the starters seeing the chequered flag.

26.  YOUNG BUCKS: Le Mans 2023 features the race’s youngest-ever starter Josh Pierson (16 years, 117 days in 2022), and its youngest-ever winner Julien Andlauer (18 years, 347 days in 2018).

27.  SLIPPERY: Little known French racer Roger Dorchy has a unique place in Le Mans legend as the fastest man on the Mulsanne. In his WM Peugeot P88 that he shared with Claude Haldi and Jean-Daniel Raulet in 1988 he broke through the speed trap at an astonishing 405km/h/251mph in the slippery Group C car.

28.  FOREST FIRE!: In the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours race control was notified shortly after midnight of a fire in the forest just after Mulsanne Corner. What at first was presumed to be an out of control barbecue was in fact the inverted Lancia LC2 car of Fabio Magnani which had cleared the barriers and exploded in woodland. The fortunate Magnani was only slightly injured in the astonishing accident which destroyed several trees.

29.  LAST LEGS: A year later in 1991 Johnny Herbert completed a herculean race with teammates Bertrand Gachot and Volker Weidler to ensure Mazda became the first Japanese manufacturer to win at La Sarthe. But a severely dehydrated Herbert missed the podium celebrations after collapsing upon getting out of the famously orange and green liveried Mazda 787B.

30.  FAN ENGAGEMENT: In the 1989 race audience participation found a whole new level when Brian Redman, driving the Aston Martin AMR1 Group C car caught the eye of a bunch of British enthusiasts entering the Arnage corner. The creative bunch started to write handwritten signs on old beer cases, encouraging Redman to slide the car out of the righthand corner. A few laps later after Redman had followed the instructions another one appeared. ‘Now, fastest lap’. His efforts were rewarded by a final sign which read ‘Crumpets and Tea with the Queen!’

31.  FERRARI FRIGHTENER: During the famous negotiations between Ford and Ferrari when the ‘Blue Oval’ aimed to buy Ferrari in 1963, then Ford general manager Don Frey was taken on a road trip around the scenic roads of Modena buy the Il Commendatore himself Enzo Ferrari. During a hair-raising trip in a latest production model, Ferrari is said to have attempted to scare Frey, but to no avail. The potential deal was called off a few days later and Frey went straight to John Wyer and Eric Broadley where the Lola MkVI soon morphed in to the legendary Ford GT.

32.  HEARTBREAK: Pierre Levegh (real name Pierre Bouillin) is remembered for his part in the tragic and devastating accident of 1955, but three years earlier he almost pulled off one of the greatest feats Le Mans had ever seen. Driving his own in his own Talbot-Lago against factory teams from Mercedes, Ferrari and Jaguar Levegh led comfortably as the race entered its final stages only for an engine failure to cruelly deny him a true David slaying goliath moment.

33.  INCROYABLE! But more incredible still was the fact that Levegh went on a ludicrous solo drive for a record time of 22 hours 50 minutes. Not before or since has a feat been even remotely attempted.

34.  GREATNESS UNREWARDED: The incredible Porsche 908 is the only model of car to score outright podiums at Le Mans in three different decades (1969, 1972 and 1980), but it never won the big prize at Le Mans! A faulty brake light for the Hans Herrmann and Gerard Larousse 908 and a remarkable drive from Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver in 1969 was the closest the model came to success.

35.  STUMPED: Woolf “Babe” Barnato took a legendary hat-trick of Le Mans with Bentley from 1928 to 1930 but he also played first-class cricket for Surrey County Cricket Club in England, where he kept wicket for one of the best teams in the land at that time.

36.  VERSITILE HERO: Other sporting legends that had a pedigree in non-motorsport disciplines include skiing champion Luc Alphand who completed nine Le Mans between 2001 and 2009. His best result came in 2006 when he took third position in a GT1 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R.

37.  FOR THE GLORY OF FRANCE: Nine French manufacturers have won the Le Mans 24 Hours. In order of wins they are Peugeot and Matra-Simca (3wins), Lorraine-Dietrich and Bugatti (2 wins), Delahaye, Chenard & Walcker, Rondeau, Renault-Alpine and Talbot-Lago (1 win).

38.  PERFECT SCORES: Only eight drivers hold the distinction of 100% winning records at Le Mans. They are Woolf Barnato (1928, 1929, 1930), Jean-Pierre Wimille (1937, 1939), Fernando Alonso (2018, 2019), Luis Fontes (1935), Hermann Lang (1952), A.J Foyt (1967), Tazio Nuvolari (1933) and Nico Hulkenberg (2015).

39.  TYRED AND EMOTIONAL: There have been eight winning tyre manufacturers overall at Le Mans. They are Goodyear, Dunlop, Michaelin, Engelbert, Avon, Pirelli, Firestone and Continental. Dunlop has taken the most wins with 34 between 1924 and 1991, although Michelin is catching them quickly with 31 achieved between 1923 and 2022.

40.  THE LE MANS MATRIX!: Keanu Reeves was nowhere to be seen in 1997 when a new car called ‘The Matrix’ attempted to qualify for the big race. The brainchild of U.S based Frenchman Lilo Beuzieron. The the car was built from the monocoque of a Nissan GTP chassis and ran with a Nissan V6 engine. Bernard de Dryver and Tim Richardson were entrusted with the driving the agricultural machine but were way off the pace to make the starting grid. PS: Keanu reeves made a visit to Le Mans in 2016 but didn’t enter The Matrix!

Click HERE for part 1 of the top 100 facts.