The Le Mans 24 Hours vies with the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 as the world’s most famous automobile race.
The Le Mans 24 Hours vies with the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 as the world’s most famous automobile race. Le Mans is also one of the last remaining old-fashioned road courses, using public roads that are normally open to general traffic. The area around the town has been instrumental in the growth of the sport for the first Grand Prix was held in 1906 on roads to the east of the town. What is now the Mulsanne Straight formed part of the 33.75-mile course that held the 1913 GP de France. The current circuit was first used for the 1921 French GP, and the original unpaved roads were soon laid with tarmac. A 24-hour race was added two years later but the 1955 edition was marred by the worst disaster in motor racing history. The Mercedes-Benz of "Pierre Levegh" (real name: Pierre Bouillon) crashed into the crowd opposite the pits, killing the driver and over 80 spectators. The recriminations were felt throughout the world, with racing suspended in France and banned permanently by Swiss authorities. In the 1990s, safety concerns and ongoing machinations with the FIA resulted in the 3-mile Mulsanne Straight being interrupted by two chicanes. The lure of Le Mans remains as strong as ever to drivers, spectators, and manufacturers alike as it enters its tenth decade.