Twenty-four hours of tense, highly competitive driving flat-out. That’s the challenge of Le Mans, universally regarded as one of the world’s toughest motor races. Rain or shine, day and night, there’s no let-up for the drivers; they drive every single lap on the limit.
First held in 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest of all motor sport endurance races, is always won by the team demonstrating the finest combination of endurance, reliability and speed in their vehicle, together with personal passion, determination and stamina. Legendary in its own right, the race has made icons of cars and drivers.
The odds against lasting the 24 hours, let alone covering the 5,000 kilometres or more necessary to have a chance at winning, are huge. For the drivers who live up to the challenge, the rewards are impressive: a specially engraved Rolex Cosmograph Daytona and a place in sporting history.
Today, winning a Cosmograph Daytona at the 24 Hours of Le Mans constitutes the ultimate award, a coveted trophy that confers a particular aura. Created by Rolex in 1963, this legendary model has established an extraordinary track record in the world of motor racing thanks to its reliability and performance. Known simply as the “Daytona”, the watch has risen to the rank of icon as the most famous and most coveted chronograph in the world.
Rolex has a long and proud connection with motor sports, an association that encompasses the cardinal elements of the sport – endurance, speed and tradition. In recognition of the elevated standing of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex has been the Official Timekeeper of the race since 2001 and enjoys a close partnership with the founders and organizers of the race, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO).
THE BIRTHPLACE OF LEGENDS
Rolex Testimonee Tom Kristensen, Derek Bell, A. J. Foyt, Henri Pescarolo; Bentley, Audi, Porsche; Mulsanne Straight, Tertre Rouge, Dunlop Bridge: revered drivers, dominant marques and renowned locations; over its 90-year history, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has established itself as an iconic contest, and many of the individuals and automobile brands that have participated are a major part of that legend. Through its magnetic appeal, the event always attracts a wide cross-section of participants and followers. Last year’s edition drew drivers from 16 to 65 years of age, rookies and veterans of the competition, from stars of film and television with a passion for motorsport to experienced Formula 1® World Championship drivers.
The relationship is symbiotic. The 24 Hours of Le Mans thrives on the passionate, talented personalities and the remarkable, technologically advanced cars that compete each year; in turn, the participants relish the demanding platform upon which they perform.
TOM KRISTENSEN – LE MANS LEGEND
Tom Kristensen, nine-time winner of the race and a Rolex Testimonee, said his fervour for the race never once diminished during close to 20 years of competition at the highest level on the Circuit de la Sarthe. The Dane’s first win came in 1997, his last came on the 90th anniversary of the first race in 2013. Following a hard-fought second-place finish in 2014, his 14th podium at the race, Kristensen decided to hang up his helmet and retire from endurance motor sport.
Kristensen’s experiences in the race taught him that nothing should be taken for granted. He asserts that no driver can ever “conquer” the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
To succeed personally, a driver needs to give everything, during every minute of the race. To win the race, so much more needs to be right: from the car to the strategy, from the physical to the mental. The whole team needs to execute the race masterfully and collectively.
“Le Mans”, he says, is “the jewel in the crown of any racing season; it’s where the most energy goes. The challenge is unique and you have to perform at your best if you want to win. It’s really tough, but the drivers love that about Le Mans.”
Even in his retirement, Kristensen will be present at the 83rd edition of the race in June and will grace the circuit that has made him legend. He has been invited by the ACO to serve as Grand Marshal, and in this symbolic role will drive the pace car ahead of the field for the warm-up lap.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is contested on the 13.629 km Circuit de la Sarthe, located in western France. With its combination of road and racetrack, it is one of the fastest motor circuits in the world, with prototype cars reaching close to 340 km/h (211 mph) on the fastest sections.
Each year developments in automotive technology and aerodynamic design enable the most advanced entries to compete for longer periods and at higher speeds, despite the introduction of restrictions on the amount of fuel each car can use. With a significant proportion of each lap spent at full throttle, there is immense stress on power and drive components, and, consequently, tremendous wear on the brakes and suspension as cars must slow from high to low speeds in compressed distances when they approach corners or chicanes. Success in such a contest requires 24 hours of constant attention. Achieving this across the whole team is critical. Consistency is vital. Cars need to be driven as fast and meticulously in the final lap as in the first.
Together with the Rolex 24 At Daytona®, its North American equivalent where Rolex has been title sponsor since 1992, and the 12 Hours of Sebring where Rolex is also the official timepiece, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has for many years formed part of the Triple Crown of international endurance competition.