24 Hours Centenary – The race draws drivers from all motorsport disciplines

24 Hours Centenary – The race draws drivers from all motorsport disciplines

24 HOURS CENTENARY – THE LE MANS EXCEPTION ⎮ While the race is in a league of its own for the world's prototype and GT experts, it has also proved enticing to drivers from all other major motorsport disciplines seeking a prestigious victory.

Formula 1, Indianapolis, rally, NASCAR…the 24 Hours of Le Mans is arguably the most diverse and unifying car race in the world.

Le Mans and Formula 1 | Reinventing a tradition

During the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s, it was common to see Formula 1 stars at the Le Mans circuit. The trend dropped off to some degree later on, with F1 drivers competing at the 24 Hours after their careers in single-seaters had ended.

In 2015, Nico Hülkenberg took advantage of a lack of date conflict with Formula 1 to win the 24 Hours for his rookie participation. Three years later, Fernando Alonso revived the great tradition of drivers in the 1950s-1970s with two consecutive wins at Le Mans in 2018 and 2019 with Toyota, two victories in F1 (2005 and 2006) and the endurance drivers' world title in the 2018-2019 Super Season. In 2021, Alonso became the first driver to take the wheel of an F1 (Alpine) at the 24 Hours circuit, and has been vocal about his desire to return to Le Mans for the new Hypercar era.

Le Mans and Rally | From the road to the circuit

Le Mans has also attracted several World Rally (WRC) champions, including Swedish driver Björn Waldegård in 1971 (retirement), eight years before he clinched his first rally drivers' world title. Two-time WRC champion (1980 and 1982), German driver Walter Röhrl took the start in the 24 Hours in 1981 (7th) and 1993 (retirement).

1995 WRC champion, Scottish driver Colin McRae made his sole appearance in the 24 Hours in 2004, with Ferrari, finishing in the top 10 overall (9th) and third in his class behind Corvette Racing.

The best overall result for a WRC champion was Sébastien Loeb's second place finish in 2006 representing Pescarolo Sport for his second and final participation to date. Last year, his WRC successor Sébastien Ogier finished in the LMP2 top 10 (9th and 13th overall).

Let us not forget the female drivers of the 1970s, most of whom first cut their teeth in rally: Anny-Charlotte Verney, Marianne Hoepfner, Christine Beckers, Marie-Claude Beaumont, Yvette Fontaine and of course Michèle Mouton, 1982 WRC vice-champion and class winner for her sole start in the 24 Hours (1975).

Le Mans and Indianapolis | Two legends

Le Mans and Indianapolis: a circuit of more than 13 kilometres combining permanent and temporary sectors and an oval circuit of four kilometers made for very high speeds. They are the two oldest circuit races in the world in terms of runnings. In June, the 24 Hours will join the Indy 500 after its centenary was celebrated back in 2011.

Only two drivers have won both races. The Brit Graham Hill triumphed at the 24 Hours in 1972, six years after winning the 50th running of the Indy 500 in his rookie participation. In 1967, American driver A.J. Foyt accomplished a feat never achieved before or since in motorsport, claiming the top step on the podium at the two races just 10 days apart. His performance at Le Mans included setting the first distance record beyond 5,000 km. It was his sole appearance in the race.

Several previous Indy 500 winners have taken the start in the 24 Hours these last few years, among them Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. This year, Roger Penske is one of the favourites. He is the most successful team owner ever at Indianapolis with 18 wins and will serve as Porsche's standard bearer for its return to the top Hypercar class in June.

Le Mans and NASCAR | Garage 56

The most important American championship in terms of overall popularity, and essentially held on oval circuits, NASCAR's main event is the Daytona 500, considered by competitors as their Super Bowl.

In 1962, Fireball Roberts became the first Daytona winner to take part in the 24 Hours. A few months after his victory, his only appearance at Le Mans ended in sixth place at the wheel of a Ferrari 250 GTO. In 1972, five years after Foyt's win at the 24 Hours, he won the Daytona 500, becoming the only driver to triumph at that race and Le Mans.

In June, Garage 56 at the 24 Hours Centenary will welcome Hendrick Motorsports, the most successful team in NASCAR's history, and its top notch driver line-up. Seven-time NASCAR champion and win record co-holder in the discipline, Jimmie Johnson will join forces with 2010 24 Hours winner Mike Rockenfeller and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button.

PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO/Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), 1962-2018 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, 24 Hours winner Mike Rockenfeller and former F1 world champion Jenson Button (from left to right) will join forces in Garage 56 this year; winners Fernando Alonso (at right) and Sébastien Buemi on the pit straight in 2018; Sébastien Loeb representing Pescarolo Sport in 2005 and 2006; Graham Hill (at left) has won the car racing Triple Crown with victories at the 1972 24 Hours (here with Henri Pescarolo), the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 and F1 world titles in 1962 and 1968; Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt (at left in a Ford shirt) and the first ever Champagne spray on the podium in 1967; the Ferrari 250 GTO with which Fireball Roberts finished sixth in 1962 is now owned by gentleman driver and 2021 LMGTE Am winner François Perrodo; for the Centenary, Garage 56 will host a Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Hendrick Motorsports, the most successful team in the American NASCAR championship.

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