In those days for Porsche, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Matra Simca and others manufacturers this was and still is toughest automobile race in the world and the one every manufacturer wants to win. This is where you prove to the world that your designers and engineers have conceived and built the best car, with crews who are totally committed drivers performing at their very best. Le Mans is where you come to fight it out and prove to the world who it at the top of sports car endurance racing. Each year for 40 odd weeks, Le Mans is just a village, but in the weeks running up to before the race, it is transformed into an 8.5-mile racecourse regarded as the toughest and fastest in the world. Its most famous feature is the Mulsanne straight, where cars have gone as fast as 251 mph before braking for a 90-degree right-hand turn at the end. For the hundreds of thousands of fans who journey here from all over the world, there is plenty to see, plenty to eat and drink, and there is a complete amusement park on the grounds. Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans, or the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is where sports car manufacturers have been fighting it out for over 75 years. Starting in 1923, they appeared here with huge open roadsters on tall, skinny tires, team managers in coats and ties, mechanics in coveralls and drivers in T-shirts, to see which team had the best combination of technology, guts and of course luck. The cars, the tires, and the garb have changed, but the teams still have to have that skilful combination of design, technology, guts and luck to gain sports car racing ultimate prise of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In the early days, of course, they used the famous Le Mans start, where the drivers had to run across the track to their cars at the sound of the starting gun, which were lined up at an angle to the track in qualifying order, jump in, belt up, start the engine, clutch in, transmission in gear, and go, without get run into by cars with faster runners in their seats. This was later discontinued as it became more and more dangerous. To this day, that's why Porsche ignition keys, drilled with holes to keep them lighter in weight, are on the left side of the steering column as it gave the drivers a few seconds advantage on the way into the car.
Think of just what happens during the race, drivers have to shift up and down through their gearboxes thousands of times during the day-night-day race. They have to get their lines through the corners exactly right whether on cold new tires or worn-out hot tires. They have to share the track with cars that are 100 mph slower or faster than they are. They have to change tires every forty five minutes, drivers every two hours, brakes three or four times during the day. One missed downshift can destroy an engine instantly. A missed line can put the car off the course and into the fence. A slower car in the wrong place can cause metal-to-metal contact. Any mistake in the pits, whether fuelling, changing tires, changing brakes or changing drivers, can cost precious seconds standing still when the car could be in motion. And that's under ideal racing conditions. If it rains, which it often does, or even gets foggy or misty during the relatively short night time hours, special wet tires have to be used until the weather changes, which it always does.