This weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours will be the 83rd running of an endurance event which sits alongside the likes of the Tour de France and Vendée Globe as a French sporting institution.
Part of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) since the series’ formation in 2012, the race is a technical showcase, a shop window for some of the world’s leading car manufacturers and a fixture in the calendar for the thousands of fans who descend on the semi-permanent, 8.4 mile Circuit de la Sarthe – a record crowd of 263,300 attended in 2014 – and the millions more who watch from further afield every year.
“It’s man and machine together, it’s 24 hours, it’s day-night, it’s everything a classic race should be,” says Nigel Geach, Repucom’s Senior Vice President, Motorsport, summing up the charm and romance of an event which this year will feature four manufacturer teams, stocked with high-profile drivers including Mark Webber and Nico Hülkenberg, doing battle for overall honours.
Last year’s winners Audi, defending FIA WEC champions Toyota, Porsche and newcomers Nissan are the 2015 contenders in the LMP1, prototype category, where hybrid technology has been developed with spectacular results, while the likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche will be duelling for honours in the GT classes alongside a host of privateer entries.
“Endurance racing has had a resurgence, because of the identification of the cars which are on the track with cars you actually see on the road,” Geach points out. “Ok, not everybody can drive Ferraris or Porsches or cars like that, but people aspire to it. I think that this type of motor racing is now more in tune with the casual motorsport follower.
Geach adds: “The Le Mans-style, WEC- style racing is becoming more and more popular. On TV, the opening WEC race of 2015, at Silverstone, saw an increase in audience, which can be only good for the series.”
The FIA World Endurance Championship, which is a joint venture between the Automobile Club de l‘Ouest, which organises the 24 Hours, and world motorsport’s governing body the FIA, has already taken in events at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps this year. Following Le Mans will be six-hour races at the Nurburgring (a new venue for the series in 2015), Texas’ Circuit of the Americas, Japan’s Fuji Speedway, and China’s Shanghai International Circuit, before November’s finale in Bahrain.
Tudor is the series’ official timing partner, while competitors Audi and Porsche double up as official partners of the championship alongside logistics giant DHL and tyre manufacturer Michelin. Shell is the WEC’s official fuel partner.
The Le Mans 24 Hours, however, remains the centrepiece of the WEC season, worth double the points of any other race and, as Geach explains, offering sizeable commercial bragging rights for the winner.
“Sponsors will follow success and they will follow interest,” he says. “You will see after Le Mans this weekend, whoever wins, whether it be Toyota, Nissan, Porsche or whoever, you will see in the press many adverts extolling the virtues of that particular make.”