Le Mans
24 hours

Fifty-six cars scorching through the French countryside for 24 hours at speeds of up to 210mph. The drivers are at the limit of their car, the track – and exhaustion. Spectators are on the edge of their seats. Next weekend is the 83rd running of Le Mans 24 Hours: the toughest circuit race in the world

Circuit de la Sarthe

Part public road and part permanent race track, the 8½-mile circuit is designed to test cars and drivers to the limit

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Track length

8.47 miles (13.63km)

Fastest lap

3min 13.9sec (Pedro Rodriguez, 1971 – before Mulsanne chicanes were added)

Speed record

253mph (Roger Dorchy, 1988 – before Mulsanne chicanes were added)

The race

  • Starts at 3pm on Saturday, June 13
  • One of the three most prestigious races in the world, alongside the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500
  • Three drivers share each car, driving for two to three hours at a time, day and night
  • After 24 hours of racing, the winner is the car that crosses the finish line in the lead on the final lap
  • Audi won last year: the victorious car completed 379 laps: 3,210 miles at an average speed of 134mph
  • Porsche has the record for most wins with 16 victories, followed by Audi with 13

Categories and regulations

Le Mans 24 Hours is four races in one. LMP1 cars compete for the overall win and must also cope with lapping the slower cars. Drivers in the three other categories battle for victory in their class

  • LMP1

    The big beasts of Le Mans 24 Hours, hitting more than 200mph and then braking to 75mph in 120 yards. They lap the rest of the field dozens of times

    • Top speed: 210mph
    • Minimum weight: 870kg
    • Most are hybrids with a petrol or diesel engine plus an electric motor
    • Engine size unlimited for hybrids but fuel use is limited

    Look out for: The battle between Audi and Porsche. They've been wheel-to-wheel all season

  • LMP2

    These drivers must be expert multi‑taskers, fighting among themselves, lapping the GT cars and spotting faster LMP1 cars in their mirrors

    • Top speed: 190mph
    • Minimum weight: 900kg
    • Capped costs: chassis prices are limited to £328,500 and engines to £58,500
    • Each car must have one amateur driver

    Look out for: All-British team Strakka Racing in a car made of 5% 3D-printed parts

  • GTE Pro

    The battles between these Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes and Aston Martins are just as closely fought as those in the faster categories

    • Top speed: 185mph
    • Minimum weight: 1,245kg
    • Less downforce makes them 40sec a lap slower than LMP1 cars
    • Must be based on a road-going car

    Look out for: The Ferraris of the AF Corse team fighting for victory against the British Aston Martins

  • GTE Am

    This category is open to cars similar to those in the GTE Pro category, but the teams must have at least two amateurs in their driver line-up

    • Top speed: 182mph
    • Minimum weight: 1,245kg
    • Cars must be at least a year old
    • Paul Newman and Nick Mason are among Le Mans' previous amateur racers

    Look out for: Patrick Dempsey, the star of Grey's Anatomy, is competing with his Dempsey-Proton Racing team

The battle for victory

This year's Le Mans 24 Hours winner is likely to come from one of four teams. Here are the contenders:

  • Audi R18 e-tron quattro

    The defending champion, Audi has won nine of the past 10 races. Engine: V6 turbodiesel + 4MJ motor, power: 820bhp
    Special weapon: Kind to tyres – drivers can push harder for longer

  • Porsche 919 hybrid

    The most successful team in Le Mans 24 Hours history with 16 overall wins. Engine: V4 petrol turbo + 8MJ motor, power: 890bhp
    Special weapon: Most powerful hybrid system makes it the fastest car over one lap

  • Toyota TS040 hybrid

    The current world endurance champion was unlucky not to win here last year. Engine: V8 petrol + 6MJ motor, power: 990bhp
    Special weapon: A super-capacitor, so hybrid system stores and delivers power quickly

  • Nissan GT-R LM Nismo

    The front-engined and front-wheel-drive Nissan could spring a surprise. Engine: V6 petrol turbo + 2MJ motor, power: 1,250bhp
    Special weapon: Top speed – fastest car on the straights in pre-race testing

British drivers to watch

Eight British drivers are in front-running teams at Le Mans this year, so there are good odds that at least one will make it onto the podium. Here are four to watch:

  • Oliver Jarvis, Audi

    Age:31
    Lives:Burwell, Cambridgeshire

    A former Le Mans rookie of the year, Jarvis is still searching for his first win there

  • Anthony Davidson, Toyota

    Age:36
    Lives:Brackley, Northamptonshire

    The former F1 driver is the current world endurance champion but has never won Le Mans

  • Nick Tandy, Porsche

    Age:30
    Lives:Bedford

    A race-winning machine in lower formulas, Tandy is stepping up to LMP1 cars this year

  • Jann Mardenborough, Nissan

    Age:23
    Lives:Cardiff

    Won a Gran Turismo driving game competition. Four years later, he is a top-level racer

Words by Dominic Tobin. Designed and developed by Jeremy Christopher
Graphics by The Sunday Times Graphics department: Jeremy Christopher, Matthew Cornick