Racing has been a proving ground for automobiles since they were invented. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is famous for being one of the toughest challenges for man and machine in the world.
Here are some of the top automakers that have won Le Mans before, but did not participate in the 2021 event:
1. Audi took a break after 13 victories
German automaker Audi was once a force to be reckoned with at Circuit de la Sarthe. With 13 victories from 2000-2014, it’s second only to Porsche for total wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The R15+ TDI LMP1 prototype of 2010 still holds the longest distance record with 397 laps (3,362 miles).
In the wake of an emissions scandal known as Dieselgate, its focus shifted to electric Formula E competition. With the dawn of a new LMDh hybrid category, Audi announced a return to the event in 2023.
2. Jaguar has won Le Mans seven times
For most of the 1950s, Jaguar was a fixture on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The C-type won the race in 1951 and 1953 using the powertrain of the XK120 in a streamlined racing body. Afterward, the iconic D-type pulled off a three-year hat trick with consecutive victories from 1955-1957.
Jaguar’s racing activity subsequently dwindled until the early 1980s. Group C prototypes like the V12 XJR-series were the top class in road racing at the time. Jaguar and Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) used XJRs to win Le Mans in 1988 and 1990.
3. Bentley’s stints at Le Mans were over 70 years apart, but produced six wins
The famous “Bentley Boys” of the 1920s won the 24 Hours of Le Mans initially in 1924. The marque then went on to victory in four consecutive years from 1927 to 1930. After five wins, they pulled out of motorsports and didn’t return to Le Mans until 2001.
The Speed 8 racing program at Bentley was a collaboration with Audi, thanks to ownership of both by Volkswagen. The prototype car finished third in its 24 Hours in 2001, and won the event in 2003. Afterward, the company left the top category to focus on GT3 racing with the road-based Continental series cars.
4. Ford beat Ferrari in the mid-1960s and 2010s, for a total of five wins
Now immortalized in a movie, the original Ford v. Ferrari story was epic stuff back in the mid-60s. The Dearborn automaker went from zero to winning with the GT40 in the span of a few years, with some help from Lola and Shelby American. Using production-based power in a new mid-engine platform, they proved a Ford could beat the seemingly invincible Ferraris.
Exactly 50 years after their first Le Mans win in 1966, Ford’s revived GT program achieved victory again in 2016. The cars were campaigned by Chip Ganassi Racing and featured a 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6 instead of the traditional V8. Having already achieved its goal, Ford again pulled the plug on the GT program, for the time being.
With the new hybrid LMDh category and an electrified future before us, priorities are shifting. Audi has already confirmed their intent to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But perhaps more of these previous Le Mans-winning automakers will make the jump, given the new and dynamic circumstances.