Le Mans Classic marks Le Mans milestones

The Le Mans 24-Hours race created in 1923 has always been a technological laboratory. From engines to headlights to bodywork, not a decade has passed but a manufacturer has tested a new concept in the Sarthe with varying degrees of success. Ten cars that have marked the history of the race and the motor car in general will be at Le Mans Classic.

70s: Porsche 911 RSR (first turbo engine) In 1974, the melodious-sounding Matras were up against two Porsche 911 RSRs, which would not have looked out of place in a body-building contest, powered by a flat 6 turbo engine. Before the race little did those present know that the muffled sound of this motor heralded a revolution. Two years later, the German manufacturer was no longer alone as Renault had adopted the same technology. The French firm, which had lodged a patent on a supercharger in 1902, was determined to impose turbocharging in racing. But Porsche was the first to do so when Ickx-Van Lennep won the 24-Hours race in 1976 in the Porsche 936. 80s: Sauber SHS C6 (first vertical aero wing) In 1982, the innovative Group C regulations were introduced based on a limited amount of fuel and a maximum number of refuelling halts (25). Everybody worked hard to find a solution to the tough equation brought in by the ACO. Thus was born the Sauber SHS C6 whose bodywork was made by Seger & Hoffman with avant-garde elements like a Kevlar and honeycomb aluminium chsssis and a big rear wing shaped like a whale’s tail. It was a precursor of the shark’s fin that is commonplace today

70s: Porsche 911 RSR (first turbo engine) In 1974, the melodious-sounding Matras were up against two Porsche 911 RSRs, which would not have looked out of place in a body-building contest, powered by a flat 6 turbo engine. Before the race little did those present know that the muffled sound of this motor heralded a revolution. Two years later, the German manufacturer was no longer alone as Renault had adopted the same technology. The French firm, which had lodged a patent on a supercharger in 1902, was determined to impose turbocharging in racing. But Porsche was the first to do so when Ickx-Van Lennep won the 24-Hours race in 1976 in the Porsche 936. 80s: Sauber SHS C6 (first vertical aero wing) In 1982, the innovative Group C regulations were introduced based on a limited amount of fuel and a maximum number of refuelling halts (25). Everybody worked hard to find a solution to the tough equation brought in by the ACO. Thus was born the Sauber SHS C6 whose bodywork was made by Seger & Hoffman with avant-garde elements like a Kevlar and honeycomb aluminium chsssis and a big rear wing shaped like a whale’s tail. It was a precursor of the shark’s fin that is commonplace today90s: The Mazda 787B (first and only victory by a rotary engine) The rotary engine was invented by Felix Wankel and developed by the NSU company in 1957. It made its Le Mans debut in 1970 in private hands in the little Chevron-Mazda powered by a twin rotor that weighed only 60 kg and put out around 200 bhp accompanied by a banshee-like engine note. By 1991, the technology had improved in leaps and bounds although the Mazda wasn’t considered as a serious victory contender because of the rotary engine’s excessive thirst. Nonetheless, the Japanese engineers had worked hard to reduce this weakness and adopted a carbon chassis rather than one in aluminium. Mazda took advantage of the rout of the favourites and went into the lead around two hours from the finish to score a historic and surprising victory. The noughties: Audi R10 (First victory by a diesel engine) Diesel engine technology was reintroduced at Le Mans in 2004 by a rather unconvincing Lola-Caterpillar, but very soon afterwards it would open a new chapter in the history of the 24 Hours. After winning with direct injection in 2001 Audi took up the diesel challenge with the R10 becoming the first of a new generation of silent cars (Silent Sams for the Americans!). The incredible torque generated by the 5.5-litre twin turbo engine left Audi’s rivals standing and their only hope was that reliability issues would strike the cars from Ingolstadt. One of the two R10 diesels survived and won the race on its first outing in 2006. The 2010s: Audi R18 e-tron quattro (first victory by a hybrid engine) In 1998, Don Panoz entered the first hybrid racing car in the history of the race. The big 6-litre Ford V8 was combined with an electric engine with the huge batteries recharging under braking and releasing the energy under acceleration. The Panoz Q9 lapped the circuit in 3m 53.9sec but failed to qualify for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Fourteen years later a hybrid car won the race for the first time. Once again it was Audi which achieved this feat with a KERS system using an inertia flywheel developed in partnership with Williams coupled to a V6 TDI engine

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