The 24 Hours of Le Mans is amongst the world’s most coveted motorsport events, so Last Lap sets out all you need to know as a rookie fanatic.
This historic French classic combines all the necessary ingredients of any race to make each one notable and special.
It needs to be majestic, desirable, famed and celebrated as a momentous landmark in motor racing.
And that is exactly what Le Mans has been for almost 100 years since its inauguration in 1923.
In this piece, we share what makes Le Mans so great and unique, plus what you need to know about it, how to get yourself watching the race in the best possible way, and more.
What is the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Considered as one of the world’s most challenging and admirable events in motorsport, it is a 24-hour endurance race taking place near the French town of Le Mans.
Each entry consists of three drivers taking on the world’s oldest endurance race.
It is governed by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, who organise other 24-hour races at the venue plus set out the technical regulations alongside the FIA in the World Endurance Championship (WEC).
This 24-hour race is part of the coveted Triple Crown of Motorsport accolade, as well as the Triple Crown of Endurance (Le Mans 24H, Daytona 24H, Sebring 12H).
Circuit de la Sarthe has seen a few changes over the years from a safety perspective but has maintained the exuberance of the signature straights and high speeds.
All 38 corners and 8.467 miles of the configuration make it a foundation for close racing which entails battles lasting not only a few laps, but even hours when pit-cycles come into play.
What are the categories?
Speaking of the cars, there are four car classes which compete: Hypercar, LMP2, LM-GTE Pro, and LM-GTE Am.
Hypercar is the new top tier category replacing the former LMP1 class and provides a more attractive platform for marques with lesser financial consumption to LMP1(Hybrid).
As of 2021, Le Mans Hypercars are eligible which are packages designed from scratch by the manufacturer. They also supposedly involve the most talented sportscar racing drivers in the discipline.
This inaugural debut for Hypercars is important with it setting the foundation for the excitement to come.
LMP2 is a secondary prototype category featuring privateer outfits and includes a variety of talented drivers in one of the most competitive WEC classes.
The majority of the field will run Oreca 07-Gibson platforms, apart from one Ligier JSP217-Gibson.
Racing tends to be close with the cars able to run closely with each other since the modern LMP2-era regulations in 2017.
GTE-Pro is the works category of the WEC, featuring the best professional GT drivers like James Calado and Kevin Estre. This year so far, it has been a tense fight between Ferrari and Porsche.
Corvette Racing missed their first Le Mans last year since 1999, so the American marque are always a thrilling outfit to cheer on this time round on the C8R’s Le Mans debut.
GTE-Am features a mixture of professional and amateur-licensed drivers.
The GTE cars raced in this class have always been the models from the season prior.
Even so, this is a class not to be overlooked as it is filled with drivers and teams who revel in the pure privilege of attending the race and want to make the most of its competitive field.
The fight for class-victory here is always an immense joy to witness.
More specific talking points will feature in our WEC preview.
How do they take part?
An aspect that makes it more of an honour for the teams is that the majority of them are invited to this race.
There are a variety of sportscar championships and most of which naturally feed into the WEC and Le Mans in multi-class sportscar racing.
Such examples of automatic invitations include if you’ve won in the prior year, or you finish in the top-three of a class in the likes of the European Le Mans Series or Asian Le Mans Series.
Who is taking part?
One aspect which gives makes Le Mans a special event includes the diversification of drivers.
From the most talented, to those reaching nearly two decades of experience, there are names and faces from all various nationalities and backgrounds.
Each all have their ultimate goals to finish the race, and fight for the winning spot.
But even the honour of being there fulfills many, like French-born American Dominique Bastien last year who broke the record for the oldest driver to start Le Mans at the age of 74.
He dreamed of racing here since he was 10-years-old and fulfilled that dream decades later.
He races in the ELMS with Proton-Competition, and will return this year to break the age record once again as a 75-year-old.
His pace may not be on par with the others in his category, but he is quick enough to still race at one of the world’s most historic circuits in his 70s.
We also have the Iron Dames and the Richard Mille Racing crews inspiring younger female talents to pursue the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Garage 56 is an opportunity for new technologies or designs to be tested with an ‘Innovative Car’.
In this case, it is the inspiration of Frederic Sausset’s academy to inspire disabled drivers to pursue this endurance accolade with the #84.
As far as the WEC goes, double championship points are on offer which adds pressure amongst the title fights taking place with Le Mans being a place to take opportunity over competitors’ woes.
In fact, drivers say that a Le Mans win is slightly more important than the championship title as an accolade to their record.
What is the schedule like?
As you can imagine, the amount of running is more extensive than the usual WEC weekend with an extra Free Practice session and Hyperpole qualifying that was brought in last year.
The first bit of action will be on the Test Day, Sunday 15 August.
However, the first Free Practice session takes place on Wednesday 18 August from 1pm BST till 4pm.
Then from 6pm BST to 7pm, a 1-hour qualifying practice takes place.
Here, teams fight for a spot within the top-six of their respective classes to qualify for Hyperpole on the following day – a 30 minute shootout to ‘Hyperpole’.
A night FP2 session takes place later on from 9pm BST to 11pm.
On the next day, FP3 takes place from 1pm BST till 4pm.
From 8pm to 8.30pm later that evening will situate the Hyperpole qualifying which made the fight for pole intense last year with drivers able to push to the limits with less congestion to worry about.
The fourth and final Free Practice running is another night session from 9pm BST to 11pm.
A 15-minute warm-up takes place on Saturday from 10.30am BST ahead of the race later that day.
It is at 3pm BST when the 24 Hours of Le Mans commences.
What supporter events are going on?
Porsche Sprint Challenge France, the ‘Fun Cup’, Road to Le Mans, and the Endurance Racing Legends can keep yourself occupied in between the main event.
Since 2016, the ‘Road to Le Mans’ races have been taking place as part of the ACO’s Michelin Le Mans Cup.
A field of LMP3s and GT3s take on two 55-minute intense races to the finish.
With the two drivers per car, each one will take on the two races for what is a two-parter for the fourth round of their 2021 calendar.
Another major favourite this year is the Endurance Racing Legends supporter races.
We will see 57 endurance racers from the enriching history of this discipline race wheel-to-wheel during two 45-minute races.
Embed from Getty Images
They include 13 prototypes, 13 GT1s and more of the fascinating race cars which most have raced at Le Mans (and/or elsewhere in the endurance world) over a decade and a half ago.
The two races will be streamed on the Peter Hub Auto Youtube Channel, with the second race taking place on the morning of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Saturday start.
For the full official program of the race week at Le Mans, see here to gain a glimpse of a packed schedule.
Must-have tools for the race itself
- Entry list – A list of all the teams and drivers racing at Le Mans can be handy to choose who you want to follow.
- Spotters Guide – A commonplace item in endurance racing championships, with a more presentable appearance to keep on top of your favourite names and stunning car liveries – also oneself is unlikely to remember all 186 drivers and 61 cars. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will release it on their socials during the course of race week itself, but other names also do spotters guides.
- Live Timing – Some live timing by Alkamel on the Le Mans website, or the FIA WEC app gives you all the live data you need on everyone’s pace and track status alongside the qualifying and race broadcast (via Eurosport or the app/website for a small fee). Also see Radio Le Mans for free coverage.
- The WEC Reddit feed for all and more answers to any questions you still have.
- A final note – Why not excite yourselves up by watching previous races all of which are on Youtube!
Stay tuned to Last Lap for a WEC Preview and if you are a first-timer, we wish you a delightful following on the 89th Le Mans 24 Hours.