The first Le Mans 24 Hours took place in 1923, and this year the 60th edition will be run. The race was not held in 1936 due to strikes, nor between 1940 and 1948.
Two chicanes were introduced to the ligne droit des Hunoudieres, better known to the British as the Mulsanne Straight, in 1990, slightly increasing the circuit length to 13.60 kilometres (8.45 miles).
Maximum speeds were reduced, from around 400 kph (which was sustained for nearly a minute) to about 350 kph which is reached, briefly, before the first chicane, l’Arche. and at the infamous kink before the Mulsanne corner. There is much less time for the drivers to relax, thus increasing fatigue, and greater loads are placed on the brakes and transmissions. Mark Blundell, who drives for Peugeot this year at Le Mans, holds the qualifying lap record at 3m 27.02s, a maximum-boost lap in 1990 driving the Nissan R90C. Last year Jean-Louis Schlesser was slower in qualifying, taking his Sauber Mercedes C11 round in 3m 31.27s, but he started from the sixth row of the grid because the first 10 places were reserved for 3.5-litre cars!
Andy Wallace should have started from pole position in the Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-I4, which he qualified in 3m 31.912s, but the car was withdrawn on the instructions of Tom Walkinshaw, who intended the team to concentrate fully on the V12 cars.
The lap record stands to Michael Schumacher, who took his Sauber Mercedes C11 round in 3m 35.564s last year at an average of 227.125kph (141.130 mph).
Porsche has the absolute winning record, with 12 victories achieved since 1970. Ferrari won nine times between 1949 and 1965, and Jaguar has seven successes in the book, five in the 1950s and more recently, in 1988 and 1990.
Of the drivers, Jacky Ickx has won six times, Derek Bell five and Henri Pescarolo four.
Mazda won the race last year, the first Japanese victory. The rotary engined 787B model was driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot, who completed 362 laps (4,923 kilometres) at an average speed of 205.333 kph (127.589 mph).