My Favorite Race of the Year – the 24 Hours of Le Mans

This year, amateur radio Field Day and the 24 Hours of Le Mans occur on the same weekend.  My amateur radio readers will be upset with me but it really isn’t a difficult decision; I can play radio any weekend but the 24 Hours of Le Mans only happens once a year.  Additionally, Field Day seems to be all about the contest aspect of the hobby, which is a part of the hobby I enjoy very little.  I will spend 22/23 June 2013 watching the 24 Hours of Le Mans (and wishing I was there).

Despite many claims to the contrary, there is no such thing as the “World’s Greatest Race.”   Each form of motor sport has its greatest race and fans have their favorites among them. The Indianapolis 500 may be the greatest IndyCar race.  Monaco may be the greatest Formula 1 race.  Bathurst might be the greatest touring car style race. The Daytona 500 might be the greatest stock car race.  The 24 Hours of Le Mans might be the greatest sports car race, but it is my favorite race.  No offense intended to my friends who prefer other forms of racing, but Le Mans is my favorite for a number of reasons:  variety, technical diversity, teamwork, and relevance.

Sports Car racing and Le Mans is known for its variety.  There are 4 classes of cars racing at one time.  LMP1 is the high tech battleground of the manufacturers and they are joined by a few intrepid privateers.  These expensive prototypes test the limits of automotive technology.  LMP2 is the arena for what has traditionally been the backbone of Sports Car racing, the gentleman driver.  The gentleman drivers team with professional drivers in a more affordable form of prototype.  GTE-Pro is another manufacturer battleground, this time for production based cars.  The likes of Aston Martin, Corvette, Ferrari, and Porsche put racing versions of their venerable road cars to the test.  GTE-Am offers another place for the gentleman driver to team with professionals in GT equipment.  This variety of machinery means there’s always something going on and creates traffic that tests the drivers and creates excitement.

The technical diversity is amazing.  In the prototypes, there is an exciting difference in approaches to hybrid racing.  Audi has chosen a diesel engine with a flywheel storing energy harvested from the front wheels and delivering that energy back to the front wheels.  Toyota has chosen a gasoline engine with a super capacitor storing energy harvested from the rear wheels delivered back to the front wheels.  In GTE, you find engines with different numbers of cylinders, different displacements, and different configurations.  In many of the classes there are multiple tire manufacturers.  It’s refreshing to see compared to the near spec cars you see in many other forms of racing these days.

Teamwork is key in any form of motorsport, but even more so in endurance racing.  Not only do you need teamwork between the driver, engineers, and crew you need teamwork between 3 drivers, engineers, and crew.  It’s impossible to set the car up to be exactly to the liking of all 3 drivers, so the team has to find a compromise and the drivers have to do their best with that compromise.  The drivers all have to set aside their ego for the benefit of everyone.

Finally, there’s relevance.  Sports Car racing is relevant.  There is a flow of technology back and forth between the road cars and the race cars.  Corvette boss Doug Fehan frequently touts how much development of the Corvette race cars goes into the Corvette road cars. We’ve seen technology flow from Audi’s prototype racers into their road cars as well.  That connection between racing cars and street cars draws me to the sport.

All of the above takes place at Le Mans in a 24 hour test through daylight, darkness, and the rain.  It is a test of endurance for both man and machine.  The endurance test of the human element is both physical and mental.  In the recent years, the race has practically been a 24 hour sprint in some of the classes with teams pushing at 110% for the entire race.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a day and night watching motor sport.  I know where I’ll be on Saturday and Sunday!


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