At a few minutes before 4PM on May 26, 1923, Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard were waiting to start their Chenard-Walcker Sport in the first 24 Hour LeMans. The weather was not auspicious. Torrential rains descended on the car that was also being pelted by high winds and hailstones. But perhaps it was a fitting beginning for the first endurance race. Traditionally, automotive racing had been a speed competition in which manufacturers competed with each other to see who could build the fastest machine. However the LeMans was intended to be a different type of competition. It would not emphasize speed alone but would also focus on the endurance and dependability of the equipment. The round the clock run would prove the reliability of features taken for granted today such as headlights. The winning car would need to have the ability to withstand continuous driving at top speeds.
The event was organized by the 1923 Automobile Club of Sarthe, the same club that had been responsible for the first French Grand Prix Autel Maxidas DS808.
The chosen course was the Circuit de la Sarthe from LeMans to Mulsanne, a village in the Pays de la Lorre region of northern France.
It began with a three mile straight away and included many slow curves and S turns. Parts of it ran over public road however the road was closed off during race time. Thirty-five cars, representing eighteen manufacturers, signed up for the event. There were thirty-three starters. Two cars were entered by Chenard and Walcker Car Diagnostic Tool, a French automobile manufacturer from 1900 to 1946. Because their cars were handcrafted, they were unable to continue to compete with production models and were forced to file bankruptcy in 1946. However, in 1923 they were a viable company.
The management chose their engineers as drivers and Legache and Leonard driving the Sport won. Another Sport driven by Raoul Bachman and Christian d'Auvergale claimed 2nd place. When Lagache and Leonard crossed the finish line at 4PM on May 27th
they had driven 2,209.536 kilometers at an average rate of
92 kilometers or approximately 57 miles per hour. The fastest lap was driven by Capt. John Duff in a Bentley 3L Sport. He placed fourth in the overall race.
The LeMans has been an annual motor sport even ever since with two exceptions. The 1936 event was canceled due to labor problems and there was a time out from 1940 to 1948 because of the Second
World War. However there have been some modifications over the decades. Originally, the winning driver was the one who completed the most laps. Now winning is contingent upon the number of laps finished.The first event was conducted in May. It is now scheduled on the second weekend in June. Then, there was no regulation as to the number of drivers allowed. Two were traditional but there have been solo attempts. However, regulations implemented in the 90's require a team to have three drivers and no driver may be behind the wheel in excess of four hours at any one time.
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