24 HOURS CENTENARY – MAKES, MARQUES and IMPRINTS ⎮ While contenders for overall victory generally monopolise the attention, battles are just as intense in the other prototype classes that have made their own marks on the history of the race over the years.
Here are 10 highlights from the legacy of the "other" prototypes at the 24 Hours in the following classes: 2 litres during the 1970s, C Junior then C2 during the 1980s and today's LMP2.
1966 | The 906, a new dimension for Porsche
Also known under the name Carrera 6 and powered by a 6-cylinder flat engine derived from the 911, the 906 was one of the very first competition Porsches to bear the mark of Ferdinand Piëch, grandson of founder Ferdinand Porsche, who had just taken the helm in the development of the manufacturer's racing cars. In 1966, the 906 pulled off an extraordinary group photo finish. Fourth overall, Jo Siffert/Colin Davis won the 2-litre prototype class, followed by Herrmann/Herbert Linge (5th), Udo Schutz/Peter de Klerk (6th) and Günter Klass/Rolf Stommelen (7th). The car signalled the birth of a generation of prototypes that would lead the German marque to the overall win: the 906, 907, 908, and 910…until overall victory for the 917 in 1970 and 1971. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): the Porsche 906 shared by Jo Siffert and Colin Davis.
1975 | Moynet, female triumph
A major figure in the Free French Air Force during World War II, a test and racing driver, and a politician, André Moynet (1921-1993) decided in 1968 to design his own prototype, powered by a Simca inline 4-cylinder engine. The car took the start in the 24 Hours only once, in 1975, but that sole participation proved a huge success. Driven by an all-female driver line-up of Christine Dacremont, Marianne Hoepfner and Michèle Mouton, the Moynet LM75 won the 2-litre class and finished 21st overall. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright: ACO/Dominique Breugnot).
1977-1980 | Chevron and ROC, the 2-litre "friendly agreement"
Established in 1976, the Group C regulations were divided into two classes: more than and less than 2 litres. During the second half of the 1970s, one could find in the class independent Formula 2 manufacturers who were also using 2-litre engines at the time. For example, British Chevron whose B36 prototype won four consecutive class victories between 1977 to 1980. Three of them (1977, 1978 and 1980) were thanks to French team ROC (Racing Organisation Course) with a Chrysler a 4-cylinder inline engine, renamed Talbot in 1980. In 1977, ROC scored its best overall result with sixth place for Michel Pignard, Jacques Henry and Albert Dufrène. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): the ROC team's win at the 1978 24 Hours, with at the wheel Michel Pignard, Laurent Ferrier and Lucien Roussiaud.
1983-1990 | Mazda and Spice, from Group C Junior to Group C2
In 1983, Group C regulations provided for a class initially called Group C Junior. Faithful to its rotary motor technology, Mazda was the first to win, with its 717 C. In 1984, the class was rechristened Group C2. Like the Group 6 2-litres of the 1975-1980 period, cars by independent constructors built by former drivers became contenders. For example, Tiga founded by Tim Schenken and Howden Ganley (winner in this class in 1985); third at the 1980 24 Hours, Gordon Spice won the class in 1987 and 1988 at the wheel of his own car; and British team PC Automotive earned a third victory in 1990. PHOTOS ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): the Mazda (#60, Takashi Yorino/Yojiro Terada/Yoshimi Katayama) and the Spice (#111, Ray Bellm/Gordon Spice/Pierre de Thoisy) C2 class winners in 1983 and 1988, respectively.
2008-2009 | Porsche, a winning return in LMP2
Built in 2005, the Porsche RS Spyder first made a splash in the U.S. in the former American Le Mans Series. Three years later, it won the 12 Hours of Sebring under the nose of Audi and Peugeot's LMP1 prototypes thanks to Roger Penske. The car showed the German marque was still able to design a winning prototype. The RS Spyder was successful in Europe as well, with two consecutive victories at the 24 Hours under the banner of Van Merksteijn Motorsport in 2008 and Team Essex in 2009. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): the Porsche RS Spyder winner in 2008 was driven by the Dutch trio of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Peter van Merksteijn and Jos Verstappen.
2010 | The Honda HPD to the power of 5,000
At the initiative of its American subsidiary (HPD for Honda Performance Development), Honda entered a prototype in the American Le Mans Series in the 2000s. The HPD followed the Porsche RS Spyder at Le Mans thanks to British team Stakka Racing. Fifth overall, the ARX-01c was the first LMP2 prototype to cover 5,000 km at the race. Two years later, the HPD fielded by American outfit Starworks Motorsport won the 24 Hours. Its first season at the highest level in the world in LMP2 ended in victory at Le Mans and the class title in the reborn FIA World Endurance Championship. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): the Honda HPD of Starworks Motorsport driven by Ryan Dalziel, Enzo Potolicchio and Tom Kimber-Smith, seventh overall and LMP2 winner in 2012.
2011 | Nissan's triumphant return
Nissan became British team Greaves Motorsport's engine supplier in 2011. The Japanese marque's return was celebrated with a win that would make its 4.5-litre V8 the benchmark LMP2 engine: four consecutive victories with four different teams (OAK Racing in 2013, JOTA in 2014, KCMG in 2015 and Signatech Alpine in 2016) and as many constructors (Morgan in 2013, Zytek in 2014, ORECA in 2015 and Alpine – based on an ORECA chassis – in 2016), before the switch to a single LMP2 engine (a naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8) designed by Gibson Technologies. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): Nissan's first appearance as an engine supplier in LMP2 culminated in a win thanks to Tom Kimber-Smith (who won again in 2012, see above), Karim Ojjeh and Olivier Lombard.
2017 | The historic one-two
After repeated troubles suffered by Porsche and Toyota's hybrid LMP1 prototypes, an LMP2 figured for the first time in the top spot in the race on Sunday morning before being overtaken by a Porsche 919 Hybrid. Jackie Chan DC Racing still became the first LMP2 team to claim a step on the overall podium, with second place for Oliver Jarvis/Thomas Laurent/Ho-Pin Tung and third for Alex Brundle/David Cheng/Tristan Gommendy. The performances amounted to a stunning one-two in the LMP2 class. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): Jackie Chan DC Racing's two ORECAs pass under the chequered flag.
LMP2 | Teams and marques
During the last decade, the LMP2 class has been a platform for constructors to bolster their brand. A perfect example is Alpine who, for its return to endurance racing in 2013, lent its name to the ORECA LMP2 chassis run by the Signatech team, leading to three class wins (2016, 2018 and 2019). The same year, French outfit OAK Racing scored a one-two with a chassis sporting the name of British constructor Morgan. In 2023, for the Centenary, French team IDEC SPORT Racing will adopt the colours of resurrected French constructor Delage who took the start in the first 24 Hours in 1923. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - IDEC SPORT Racing).
LMP2 | The newbies of the 2020s
The LMP2 class has become the preferred springboard over the last several years for young drivers looking for a career in endurance racing, whether they come from the discipline's pyramid or the single-seater sector. Some winning standouts include French drivers Thomas Laurent (age 19 in 2017) and Charles Milesi (20 in 2021), and British driver Phil Hanson (21 in 2020). This pattern is confirmed by the entry list for this year's Centenary: Roumain Filip Ugran (age 21), British driver Frederick Lubin (18), Danish driver Malthe Jakobsen (age 19), Dutch driver Tijmen van der Helm (age 19), American driver Joshua Pierson (age 17) and British driver Olli Caldwell who will celebrate his 21st birthday on 12 June, the day after the race. PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/Archives): Charles Milesi in 2021 at the wheel of Team WRT's ORECA, LMP2 winner in 2021.
PHOTO AT THE TOP (Copyright - ACO/Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 17-18 JUNE 2017 24 HOURS OF LE MANS: the #38 ORECA of Jackie Chan DC Racing earned the best overall result for an LMP2 prototype (2nd place).