The 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is coming up this year, much to the excitement of fans. The world’s oldest active endurance racing event was first staged back in 1923. Some of the best drivers in history have walked away from Le Mans as icons of the sport.
The legendary race has produced some of the most impressive vehicles on four wheels. Here are the fastest Le Mans cars of the 2000s.
The race that started it all
Organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the first Le Mans race was held in 1923. At the time, the French had great enthusiasm for automobiles, and the race that has tested the mettle of generations of drivers was born out of that passion. The Circuit de la Sarthe, named for the river, is a 10.7-mile course built on the streets of Sarthe, a town near the city of Le Mans, France.
The event began as a trial for automobiles to evaluate their mechanical endurance. Though Le Mans is often connected to Formula 1 racing, it has a different format. It’s the third feature in the World Endurance Championship and is a vital race for the most dedicated drivers worldwide.
Over the decades, Le Mans prototypes (LMPs) have evolved with improved aerodynamics, braking systems, and fuel efficiency. And many automakers who produce these cars have already begun the shift to hybrid and electric powertrains.
The best Le Mans cars of the 2000s
The American Le Mans circuit started around 2000, with Audi and Cadillac as the major automakers to beat. From 2000 to 2008, Audi dominated, winning nine American Le Mans Series championships and two World Endurance Championships. The automaker also collected wins from 2010 through 2014.
Since 2015, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has witnessed the gradual return of many legacy auto brands like Audi, which dominated the 2000s. The automaker has set the standard for the sports-prototype scene since the beginning of the millennium.
The Audi R8 packed a twin-turbo V8 but didn’t win its first time at Le Mans in 1999, Top Gear reports. By 2000, the German automaker began to dominate the competition, often taking multiple top spots, not just number one. The Audi R18 appeared early in the 2000s, too, but wouldn’t come into its own until 2013, when it claimed its first victory as a hybrid prototype.
The R18 was a force to be reckoned with, according to Supercars.net. It was equipped with a potent motor, a poised chassis, and a grip-biased all-wheel-drive system. It was the start of a new endurance racing era. The R18’s design was used as a template for new LMP1 regulations.
In 2017, Porsche took the win with its Porsche 919 Hybrid. The 919 Hybrid harnessed 900 hp between a turbocharged compact V4 engine and two energy recovery systems. It got brake energy from the front axle and the exhaust, temporarily stored in a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. The gas engine powered the rear axle, but an electric motor ran the front with more than 400 hp.
Toyota claimed victories in 2019, 2019, and 2020 with its TS050 Hybrid. The prototype featured an all-new power unit made up of a twin-turbo direct-injection V6 engine paired with an 8MJ hybrid system.
The all-time top 3 automakers at Le Mans
Which automakers have the most wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Porsche takes the crown with 20 — five of those in the 1970s. The Porsche 917, 935, and 936 were shining examples of the automaker’s advancements in aerodynamics, engineering, and handling that decade. In the 1980s, Porsche also dominated with the 956 and 962.
But since 2000, Audi has won 13 times. Its path was made easier by the economic near-ruin of other automakers, which withdrew after 1999 from sports car racing. With spectacular prototypes like the R8, R10, R15, R18 TDI, and R18 e-Tron Quattro, Audi dominated through 2014. Will it return to dominance in 2022 after Toyota’s four-year winning streak?
Of Le Mans’ three winningest automakers, Ferrari has claimed nine titles since its first in 1949. But the Prancing Horse hasn’t won since 1965. The competition changed dramatically in 1953 after the World Sportscar Championship. Teams like Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Mercedes-Benz, and others began sending multiple prototypes from their factories to compete. As a result, rivalries were fierce, and that passion pushed innovations in racing technology.