Le Mans 100 – A Century at the World’s Greatest Endurance Race
The cover and Jacket of Le Mans 100. A Century at the World’s Greatest Endurance race.
The Le Mans 24-Hour race is arguably the greatest motor race in the world. It started in 1923 on some public roads at Le Mans, France and continues to this day. While there maybe a few older races, notably the Indianapolis 500 and the Isle of Man TT, Le Mans still commands more attention than either of those. Even as long ago as the late 1990s there were reportedly more press credential requests for the Le Mans 24- hour race than the Olympics! It has had the interest of major car manufacturers since it’s inception and has a world- wide following. The hundred- year history of this race is quite amazing. Glen Smale has written a new book to chronicle that history.
The race started in 1923, and all but three of the 33 starters were French cars. Amazingly 30 would finish, the highest finishing record in the races 100-year history ! The circuit was laid out over public roads and highways in the area near Le Mans France, about 125 miles from Paris. It continues today over the same roadways, albeit with some improvements and circuit changes over the years. Except for a hiatus during the second world war, the race has continued and in 2023 was the centennial edition hosting some 300,000 plus spectators.
The race has witnessed some amazing events over its history, starting with the 91% finishing rate of the first race in 1923. Given the state of the automotive industry at that time, a staggering feat. Further highlights include Luigi Chinetti winning twice in the 1930’s driving Alfa Romeos, then returning post war in 1949, with a Ferrari 166MM. Not only did he win the race, driving some 20+ hours himself, but it was the first victory of Ferrari, and he remains the oldest driver ever to win at almost 48 years old.
1955 marked the horrendous accident of the Mercedes of Pierre Levegh which ended up in the crowd, killing some 85 people. Mercedes withdrew from racing at that event and did not return for some 30 years. Racing itself faced difficulties after this event but continued none the less. The country of Switzerland banned racing completely due to this event, so there were some far reaching consequences.
The 1960’s highlighted the famous “feud” and racing battles between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, being played out at the Le Mans Circuit. While Ferrari dominated the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ford eventually got it right and dominated the race from 1966-1969. The story is famously documented in the recent film, “Ford vs Ferrari”.
Porsche’s ascendancy to supremacy started in 1970 with the infamous model 917. The Steve McQueen film “Le Mans” made in the 1970’s is now a cult film depicting the race from those times. Porsche success continued after the 917 and they have the most wins in history with 19. They are followed by Audi with 13 and Ferrari with 10 after winning the Centennial edition in 2023 with their 499P.
The 2000s have seen a marked increase in automotive technology. Diesel power, and most recently hybrid cars with both gasoline and electric power plants. The cars have become much more sophisticated and reliable.
While plenty has been written about the Le Mans 24-hour race much of it is in disparate places spread across many books and publications. Automotive writer, reporter and enthusiast, Glen Smale has remedied that with a new book just released called “Le Mans 100, A Century at the World’s Greatest Endurance Race.” This is an official book of the 100 years packed with photography, narrative and race results for every race held since 1923.
Smale is a life- long racing enthusiast who has written several previous books about Porsche at Le Mans. He has also authored books on various cars such as the Ferrari GTO the Ferrari 512, the Porsche 917, and Porsche 962, among others. He is well versed in Le Mans, having covered the race for various publications for the last 15 + years. He is well qualified to put together this chronicle of the 100 years. Included are some excellent archival photographs to match each year.
The format is laid out with a small section for each year in its entirety, with a descriptive story, photos and top three results. There are also several more sections that detail some touchtone events in the history.
The foreward is written by none other than “Mr. Le Mans” himself, Tom Kristensen. He adroitly chronicles his view of the history of the place and race. He knows of what he speaks, as he has won the race 9 times, more than anyone else.
It’s a book compiled by a meticulous author with a passion for Motorsport, Le Mans 100 is the ultimate chronicle of a marquee race.
Title: Le Mans 100, A Century at the World’s Greatest Endurance Race