The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the World’s most Prestigious Endurance Race
$F, $RACE, $GM
When it comes to racing events there are many that lay claim to being great tests of endurance: a Formula 1 Grand Prix is set to place the drivers under terrible strain involving a couple of hours of high level G-forces, while some of the longer races in the US see NASCAR drivers and their ilk having to race for 500 miles round a very simple circuit in places like Daytona and Indianapolis.
When it comes to sheer long term endurance though, there are few events in the world of motor sports that come anywhere close to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Known to the locals as 24 Heures du Mans, and often colloquialised by native English speakers to the Le Mans 24 hour race, this event has been taking place since 1923 at a track that is very challenging.
The endurance aspect is not so much for the drivers, who under current regulations cannot personally stay at the wheel for more than 4 hours at a time, but the cars, which are placed under great strain when operating at such a high level over the extended period of time, and it is often mechanical reliability that is the race’s deciding factor.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans started in 1923 in a town in the French countryside 130 miles from Paris.
The storied endurance race pitted Peugeot, Renault, Matra, and other European brand against the likes of Ferrari (NYSE:RACE), Audi and Porsche in cars piloted by relatively unknown drivers.
The race lasts for more than 3,000 miles, and it does not draw celebrities like the Formula 1 races.
This iconic motorsports event is not aired in the US on any major network or cable channel.
“Every kind of racing has its Kentucky Derby, like the Monaco Grand Prix for Formula 1,” said John Paolo Canton, head of communications for McLaren North America.
“Le Mans is that for sports cars. If you look at all the great sports car brands, they became all the great brands because of their wins at Le Mans. Porsche wouldn’t be Porsche if it weren’t for Le Mans.”
A top finish at Le Mans boosts company branding, plays a Key role in research and development, and translates into sales for the automaker that wins.
This year is especially interesting for American viewers since Ford (NYSE:F) will run the 2016 GT supercar it raced at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January.
Le Mans has been the gold standard, because if you win Le Mans you are the best.
The race started at 3:00p local time Saturday, 18 June and runs straight through with no stops until the same time Sunday.
This year’s run evokes a famous rivalry in the 1960’s between Ford and arch-rival Ferrari, in which Ford brought the original GT40 to Le Mans and became the 1st American car to win the overall title and beat Ferrari on what was virtually its home turf.
These were the days when auto-racing success was synonymous with patriotism and national pride.
A win meant Ford proved Americans could compete and even beat the European automakers in making relevant exciting sports cars. Now, 50 years Ford is hoping its modern GT can repeat the performance.
Automakers as Jaguar, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz use the extreme conditions of the race as a live, real-time research lab.
The race works by the number of laps completed in the 24 hour frame.
The car in each category that completes the most laps from start to finish wins. So the fewer pit stops it makes and the more seconds it can shave off lap times the better. Which is where the research comes in.
It is not all science and technology at Le Mans.
There’s a reason why Audi, Corvette (NYSE:GM), Ford, and Aston Martin want to do well there, as a top finish at Le Mans adds a halo of success and very real racing credentials to the brand that wins.
It did just that with the excellent Chevrolet Corvette, which has won various categories in recent years.
Automakers spend tens of millions of dollars on developing racing teams. Ford also declined to say how much it spends developing its racing team, though the fact that the Le Mans cars themselves cost multimillions of dollars gives you some idea as to the amount of money it takes to maintain a racing team.
Placement on the top podium can translate into sales.
“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” the old auto racing adage goes.
At Ford, the issue is legacy.
Just a sports car Vs. a car that wins at Le Mans, that is Marketing Magic.
Have a terrific weekend.
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