Since its inception in 1923, the Le Mans 24 Hours race has held immense significance for manufacturers, as they strive to claim victory in this demanding event. France, the birthplace of modern motor racing, has hosted the world's longest continuous endurance race for decades. In fact, it hosted the first organised vehicle race, from Paris to Rouen, in 1894. The 24 Hours of Le Mans, however, is not only a French event – it is a test of endurance as much as it is of speed. It takes technological know-how, collaboration, and a vehicle that can keep going at high speeds for hours and hours in order to cover as much ground as possible in a 24-hour period. While many have attempted and fallen short, those who triumph in this ultimate test of endurance racing have etched their names into the annals of greatness. As we eagerly await the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship at the revered Circuit de la Sarthe, we have curated a list of the top five drivers and teams in the illustrious history of Le Mans racing.
Le Mans 24 Hours: Top 5 Drivers of All Time
Tom Kristensen, an Audi racer, concluded his career with an astounding nine overall victories and an additional five podium finishes in the renowned endurance race. He not only matched Ickx's achievement but also surpassed it with three more wins. Kristensen's remarkable string of wins and podium finishes earned him the revered title of "Mister Le Mans."
Jacky Ickx won eight Grand Prix races in 116 appearances between 1967 and 1979 and finished second in the F1 championship twice (1969 and 1970). However, it was his performance at Le Mans that cemented his status as a motorsports icon. He raced fifteen times at Le Mans, with six triumphs and three further podium finishes.
While British driver Derek Bell's Formula One career was brief and unremarkable, his endurance racing career saw him become one of the best drivers of all time, with two world championship crowns and five overall victories at Le Mans. Between 1970 and 1996, Bell raced in 26 Le Mans events. From 1981 to 1988, with three distinct Porsche models, the 936, 956, and 962C, Bell managed to achieve four victories and three podium finishes.
Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela
All five of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela's Le Mans triumphs occurred when the two were teammates. Between 2000 and 2007, Pirro and Biela won the Le Mans race five times. Their success included an impressive streak of three consecutive wins from 2000 to 2002, followed by another remarkable back-to-back victory in 2006 and 2007.
Le Mans 24 Hours: Top 5 Teams of All Time
It's hard to dispute Porsche's status as the best Le Mans car manufacturer of all time. It has created some of the best sports cars and won numerous class championships, making it the undisputed winner in terms of total victories. With victories in 1970, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2015, 2016, and 2017, Porsche has a 19-race win record in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1999, during the height of the manufacturer boom at Le Mans, Audi, which was known more for its triumphs in rallying and touring cars, entered the event. Despite being overtaken, the two open-topped R8Rs placed third and fourth in 2000. Audi has been victorious in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 13 separate occasions: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Given its early success, it is astonishing that Ferrari is only third on this list despite not competing in the premier class at Le Mans for over 50 years. Ferrari has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times, i.e. in 1949, 1954, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1965.
After a successful 1950 season with slightly modified XK120s, Jaguar decided to pursue Le Mans seriously. As a consequence, the C-type shifted the goalposts and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951. Jaguar has taken first place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on seven separate occasions (1951, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1988, and 1990).
The original Le Mans was a race for true trailblazers, and it looked considerably different than it does now. John Duff and Frank Clement won the 1924 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Bentley 3 Litre Sport. In 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, and 2003, Bentley took first place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.