the new golden age of a century-old race

the new golden age of a century-old race

2023-06-09 17:37:41

On the starting grid, the excitement is at its peak. The 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrates its centenary on June 10 and 11, and its promoters and the public compete with roaring qualifiers. “The return of the glorious times”applaud some. “A New Golden Age”, praise the others. In the top category of “hypercars”, 16 cars will be on the track, representing seven different manufacturers.

In 2022, only five racing cars animated the hypercar race. This year, Toyota, which has reigned supreme at Le Mans since 2018, is seeing competition from Peugeot, Porsche, Cadillac and Ferrari arrive, with the Italian prancing horse returning to the Le Mans event for the first time since 1973. And that’s only ‘a beginning. In 2024 also promise to engage BMW, Alpine and Lamborghini.

Lower costs for builders

Why suddenly such an assault on the macadam? “This is the consequence of a technical regulation finalized three years ago and which is now fully producing its effects.explains Frédéric Lequien, the managing director of the World Endurance Championship. It has a double advantage for the manufacturers: it allows costs to be reduced considerably at the same time as it offers great freedom in terms of the design of the cars, which are undoubtedly the most beautiful in the world of racing today. »

The financial argument is obviously major. “The budgets, which blithely exceeded 100 million euros for a season with the previous generation, now oscillate between 25 and 30 million eurosassures Pierre Fillon, the president of the Automobile club de l’Ouest, organizer and promoter of the 24 hours and the world endurance championship of the International Automobile Federation (FIA WEC). Manufacturers can also participate with the same cars in the American races of the International Motor Sports Association, IMSA, which offers a greater return on investment. Thanks to this convergence, entering our races does not now cost more than doing the Dakar. »

A younger audience

All for a very competitive marketing visibility, “significantly better than for the rally”underlines Jean-Marc Finot, even if the director of Stellantis Motorsport, who watches over the performance of the Peugeot 9X8s entered at Le Mans, concedes for his part a rather inclusive budget “in a range of 35 to 50 million euros”.

Peugeot in any case did not hesitate to exploit the other strong point of the regulations which tickles the creative fiber of the designers. From its very first laps on the circuit, the 9X8 with its “batmobile” looks caught the eye of lovers of beautiful lines. It is no coincidence that Lego offers a reproduction of the model with its famous bricks. “Our creatives have established specific design ratings, some of which will no doubt be found on the brand’s next models”, says Jean-Marc Finot. Which would like to point out: “The vocation of an innovation laboratory, technological but not only, attached to this program has always been essential for us. »

This rediscovered motivation of the builders revives the enthusiasm of the public. Le Mans has been sold out for weeks, but the entire championship is benefiting from the upturn. “72,000 people came to the third round of our championship at the end of April, in Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps, and this is an absolute recordwelcomes Frédéric Lequien. What is interesting is to note that endurance affects several generations, and that we see, as in Formula 1, a rejuvenation of the fans. » A new breath that promoters of motorsport inflate all over the place. After the success last year of a “Grand Prix Explorer” organized at Le Mans with influencers at the wheel, a second edition is scheduled for September 2023. In two hours, 70,000 seats have been sold…

Paradoxical evolution, when certain studies show a much less intense relationship between young people and cars than in the last century? “What I see is that it always sparks passion and makes your eyes shine.swears Jean-Marc Finot. There is the fact that series like Drive to Survive on Formula 1, broadcast by Netflix, make it possible to capture a new clientele who are rediscovering motorsport. The fact that the video game maintains the interest, some studies revealing that it is the endurance which attracts the most young people, in particular thanks to the silhouette of the cars. So, if we add to the myth of the 24 hours interesting technological developments, controlled costs and a strong appeal for young people, there, we begin to hold a good martingale for success. »

Test technological innovations

There remains the annoying question of the just adequacy of such tests with current environmental concerns. Cars running at full speed on the burning asphalt for hours on end, is that really reasonable at a time of sobriety everywhere called for?

After the hybrid engine, highlighted since 2012, the potential of the hydrogen engine will be explored from 2026. “What rolls on the track today represents the future, with the innovations developed then being transferred to production modelssupports Pierre Fillon. Motor racing can accelerate these developments. » So drive, little cars, even if the carbon footprint of the case makes you cringe?

“We could say to ourselves: let’s delete everything! But we believe on the contrary that there is a future for the automobile, because not everyone lives in the big metropolisesanswers Pierre Fillon. On the other hand, it is a question of decarbonizing mobility. Different technologies allow it and we are here to promote them and provide solutions to keep moving. »

36,000 tonnes of CO2

Measured in 2019, the carbon footprint for 24 hours represented more than 36,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of the annual consumption of more than 3,600 French people. Unlike Formula 1, which calculated its own over the entire season the same year (256,000 tonnes), the carbon footprint of Le Mans takes into account the movement of spectators, i.e. 70% of emissions. Because those of the race represent only 1.4% of the total. A reduced figure thanks to the use of a biofuel based on wine residue developed by TotalEnergies and Michelin tires made with 26% renewable materials. “All sporting events generate strong emissions, but we get bad press even though we are one of the most virtuous”regrets Jean-Marc Finot.

Nothing therefore prevents the promoters of endurance to see the future in pink. With ten manufacturers next year in the race, and an additional meeting, the eighth in its calendar of the world championship, in Qatar. And a ninth later cannot be ruled out.


62 cars and 186 drivers

The 24 hours of Le Mans is the fourth stage of the world endurance championship which has six other races: Sebring (United States), Portimaõ (Portugal), Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), Monza (Italy), Fuji (Japan) and Bahrain.

Les « hypercars » are the queens of the race at Le Mans, but two other categories (LMP2 and Grand Touring) will also be on the asphalt on Saturday June 10 from 4 p.m.: 62 cars and 186 drivers in total.

Porsche tops the list of constructors with 19 victories, ahead of Audi (13) and Ferrari (9).

The most successful driver in the history of Le Mans is the Dane Tom Kristensen, 9 times winner between 1997 and 2013.

#golden #age #centuryold #race


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