The last weekend in May brought us the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Monaco, two parts of auto racing's own trinity. This Saturday and Sunday, we shall be treated to the third and final leg of this grand set. I speak of course of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Now, if we were to argue for a four leg set, the other would obviously be the Daytona 500, ahead of even the 24 Hours of Nurburgring and the 12 Hours of Sebring. If you go by four, then this, Le Mans, is the Wimbledon or the Master's of the set. It is the oldest and most storied race in the history of auto racing, originating with a 6 lap race on a 64-mile track in 1906. Let's look at some moments there...
1952) Pierre Levegh shows dominance, driving his car to a 4-lap lead... he unfortunately missed a shift due to exhaustion and blew the engine. Levegh drove the ENTIRE 24 HOURS BY HIMSELF!
1955) Levegh famous again... for the wrong reason. Levegh dies in a freak accident in which is car goes include the crowd, where it explodes and kills 88 others. Switzerland banned non-hill climb racing for the next 52 years.
1959) Roy Salvadori and Caroll Shelby drive their Aston Martin to victory.
1967) Ford's hey-day with Dan Gurney co-driving the win... in victory lane, Dan Gurney becomes the first athlete to pop the bottle of champagne in celebration.
1969) Jacky Ickx protests the famed "Le Mans Start" which involved drivers starting on the far side of the track, running across the track, hopping pit wall, running across the pit road, and hopping in the cars, strapping themselves in, and driving off. Many drivers skipped strapping themselves in to save time. John Woolfe was one of those and he died in a crash on lap 1. Ickx slowly walked to his car despite cars swerving to avoid him and took as much time as necessary to strap in safely.
By the way, Ickx won the race.
2003) The bizarre Bentley Le Mans Prototype/Grand Touring hybrid-mutation humiliates the Audis, lapping them several times to win the race.
2008) Tom Kristensen wins a record eighth 24 Hours.
2009) As Leigh Diffey said, "The lion roars in France!" as Peugeot won for the first time since 1993.
There is a strange aura in France on this day. How many races can be running at 10PM, and the sun is still up? How many races mandate the car is turned off during pit stops? It's a magical day, and it's one that many drivers consider the pinnacle of their career just to partake in, and it's even more magical when they can stand on the top step of the podium.
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