The organizers of the Le Mans 24 Hours intend to celebrate the race's 100th anniversary in style, and Michelin - which won the inaugural event in 1923 - plans to mark the occasion with a 26th consecutive victory there since 1998. This year, all of the 16 Hypercar prototypes and 21 LMGTE Am runners are competing on MICHELIN Pilot Sport tires. Some 300,000 spectators are expected for the start at 4pm local time on Saturday, June 10.
The centenary Le Mans 24 Hours is clearly a landmark occasion. So, when the 62 cars line up on the grid in front of packed grandstands on the afternoon of Saturday, June 10, it will be hard not to have a thought for the 33 adventurers who braved rain and hailstones when they started the first edition back in the spring of 1923.
The idea of staging a non-stop, 24-hour race was proposed several months previously by the then General Secretary of the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) Georges Durand, the engineer-cum-journalist Charles Faroux, and businessman Emile Coquille. The trio named their event the 'Grand Prix d’Endurance de 24 Heures – Coupe Rudge Whitworth'.
On Saturday, May 26, 1923, a field of 33 cars sped away from the start-line with torrential rain and even hailstones falling on the part-dirt/part-asphalt, 17.262-kilometer circuit that passed through the villages of Hunaudières, Mulsanne, Arnage and Pontlieue. Twenty-four hours later, the #9 Chenard & Walcker Sport of Lagache/Léonard was in front at the checkered flag after covering 2,209km at an average speed of 92kph. The similar #10 car of Bachman/Dauvergne made it a one-two triumph for the French carmaker and Michelin's Confort tire.
Ever since, Le Mans has served as an exceptional life-size laboratory for car and tire manufacturers, spawning a long list of innovations. In the post-war period, Michelin used it to prove the value of its revolutionary radial technology which would go on to win over the industry and eventually come first in the 1978 race with Alpine-Renault.
With time, the twice-around-the-clock competition has naturally evolved, yet it continues to stand out as a unique proving ground for new concepts and technologies that favor sustainable mobility. This year, prior to the start, for example, the H24 hydrogen-fueled prototype will perform a parade-lap of the 13.626km French circuit on Michelin tires that contain 63 percent regenerated, recycled or biosourced sustainable raw materials. It is anticipated that the car will actually contest the race in 2026.
This year's Le Mans 24 Hours will see the 16 cars in the headlining Hypercar class compete on MICHELIN Pilot Sports developed entirely on the simulator. Toyota, Ferrari, Porsche, Peugeot, Cadillac, Glickenhaus and Vanwall will be able to choose from soft, medium and hard Michelin slicks, plus a 'Wet' option in the case of poor weather. All of these tires are capable of multi-stinting.
"Tire longevity and consistency are decisive factors at Le Mans," notes Pierre Alves, the manager of Michelin Motorsport's endurance-racing programs. "Not having to change tires during a refueling stop saves something like 20 seconds in the pits each time."
Given that roughly 32 stops for fuel are necessary over the 24 hours, triple-stinting the same set of tires amounts to a saving of seven minutes - equivalent to two laps! - compared with a single-stint strategy. Thanks to its trademark durability, the MICHELIN Pilot Sport may even succeed in covering four stints!
The 2023 race will also see Michelin provide the rubber for the 21 cars entered in LMGTE Am, since the four prestigious carmakers represented in the category have all nominated the French firm as their partner. The Porsches, Ferraris, Aston Martins and Corvettes will run MICHELIN Pilot Sport tires engineered to match the specific technical characteristics of their respective models. For information, the class will be superseded by a new formula from 2024.
In total, 37 of the 62 cars involved in the centenary Le Mans 24 Hours will race on Michelins, and a further 154 will compete on the Clermont-Ferrand brand's tires in the meeting's different support races, like the Road to Le Mans and Porsche Carrera Cup.
Festivities will begin with the traditional scrutineering formalities and an official Test Day on Sunday, June 4. That will be followed by mid-week Free and Qualifying Practice before the ever-popular Drivers' Parade through Le Mans' city center on Friday afternoon, with the race itself straddling Saturday and Sunday, June 10-11.