The 24 Hours of Le Mans started out as a simple question. Who could drive the farthest in 24 hours?
Mostly taking place on public highways, this monster 8.5 mile-long track tests not only the car's speed, handling, and technology, but also it's ability to stay together. It takes place at all hours of the day and in all sorts of weather. Only the front straight has outside lighting, while on the rest of the track drivers have to rely on their own headlights. By the time the race is over, the winner will have traveled about 3200 miles, roughly the distance from New York City to London.
This is the track that until 1989 featured the Mulsanne Straight, a 4-mile long back-straight with speeds reaching 250mph on public roads. This is the track where in 1955 a car flew into the stands in a fireball and killed over 80 people, almost ending auto racing forever. This is the track where in 1999 the factory Mercedes lost it's downforce and launched itself high up off of the track, backfipping multiple times and disappearing into the trees.
Even with 2 chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight and massive engine restrictions to slow the cars down, drivers are still full throttle for 80% of the lap and top speeds reach over 200 mph on 5 different places on the racetrack. Last year the top speed was 214mph.
Throughout the decades many factory companies have tried their hand at winning this great endurance race. Porsche, Ford, Ferrari, Mercedes, Peugeot, Nissan, Jaguar, and Aston Martin have all been there, each coming up with innovative designs and technology to try to win. Today, the battle for the win is between Audi and Toyota and the technology being developed relates to green energy.
The factory-built Audi's are entering 4 cars this year. Two of the cars are the Audi R18 Ultra, which runs on bio-diesel. New for this year are 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattros, which is a hybrid version of the Audi R18 Ultras. Energy under breaking is stored in the flywheel, which gives 500KJ of energy to the front wheels under acceleration by an electric motor, which gives the car four (quattro) wheel drive. This is an advantage in lap traffic and in wet weather.
The factory-built Toyota is returning to Le Mans for their 1st factory effort since 1999. This year they are running 2 TS030 Hybrids. Unlike the Audi, Toyota runs on normal petrol fuel and their hybrid system gives power to their rear wheels under acceleration. This allows the Toyota to use hybrid power anywhere on the track (as long as they have energy stored) as opposed to the Audi which can only use their hybrid power after the heavy braking zones on the track.
New for this year is a car called the DeltaWing. It received the 56th and last spot on the grid this year, which is reserved to a car that features new designs or technology. The car only weights 1000lbs (half the weight of the other Prototypes) and only has 300 Horsepower. It can go twice as far as the other cars on fuel and even though it has logged over 900 miles this weekend, it has not yet needed to change tires.
There are 5 different types of green energy being used as fuel for this race. The American version of this series, the American Le Mans Series, is the only racing league officially recognized by the EPA, DOE and SAE as a green racing league.
So don't let anyone tell you that we can't run cars on alternative fuels or technology. These cars run for 24 hours at over 200 mph at 5 points on the race track and log over 3200 miles, proving that we can do it. These cars are classified as SportsCars which means that they are just super-modified versions of the road cars in existence. The technology and innovations from these cars eventually goes right into normal driving technology.
Schedule: Coverage on SPEED Channel
This Saturday (EST)
8:30am (race beings at 9am) to 1pm
7:30pm-9:30am Sunday (race ends at 9am)
For the 2 hours during the race, SPEED channel isn't showing it, go to speed.com and they will have live streaming.
Eurosport and Eurosport 2 will be showing the entire race live.
2:30pm Saturday (France time) to 3:30pm Sunday (France Time)
Enjoy the race. If anyone has questions or wants more pics, ask below and I'll answer!
Okay, now it's time for pictures!
Audi R18 Ultra
Audi R18 Ultra (left) Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro (right)
Toyota TS030 Hybrid