Le Mans Sports Cars
Probably the world’s hardest car race, the 24 hours of Le Mans is all about endurance motorsport, concentrating on the ability of manufacturers to build sports cars that are reliable rather than the fastest machines on the track.
Because the nature of endurance racing requires cars that last the distance and spend as little time in the pits as possible, Le Mans sport cars are the perfect example of an auto manufacturer’s innovative drive in producing reliable and fuel-efficient vehicles.
The total entry to Le Mans has usually consisted of approximately 50 competitors, and although all cars compete at the same time, there are separate classes. A prize is awarded to the winner of each class, and to the overall winner. Custom-built Le Mans Prototypes form the top two classes divided by speed, weight, and power output.
Le Mans Prototypes
Comparable to Formula One cars, a Le Mans Prototype is the fastest closed-wheel racing car used in circuit racing today, considered a class above production-based grand tourer cars which compete alongside them in sports car racing.
There was a time that depending on the series in which they competed, these cars were referred to as Sports Racers, Sports Racing Prototypes or even World Sport Cars, but Since 2004, all series have switched to referring to these cars as Le Mans Prototypes.
The importance of the Le Mans Prototype as a motorsport category is that it involves technologies and developments that are relevant to series production. As the most important aspect at Le Mans is efficiency, the innovations created to give these cars a competitive edge end up being implemented in production vehicles.
Aerodynamics in 2011
The Le Mans in 2011 saw significantly smaller engines than those of previous years as rule makers aimed to achieve a substantial reduction of engine power in Le Mans sport cars this year.
One of the keys to Le Mans is top speed, caused by the long straights that dominate the circuit. In securing victory at Le Mans, efficiency is king in competing sports cars, especially in relation to aerodynamics. This was definitely a key focal point in development as the regulations prescribed smaller air restrictors and lower manifold pressure.
The regulations have resulted in reduced engine performance and teams were challenged to make the aerodynamics even more efficient, improving on both the drag coefficient and downforce values.
While both open and closed-cockpit designs are allowed, closed car designs have clear advantages when improving aerodynamics leading savvy auto manufacturers to contest Le Mans with closed coupes again.
Innovation and celebration at Le Mans
Innovation is nothing new at Le Mans. The 24 hour race was the first known occasion at a major race of a winning driver celebrating by spraying champagne instead of drinking it. It also set the stage for the first victory of a diesel-powered race car in the endurance race since its inception in 1923.
With competition in 2011 being fiercer than ever, new technologies and innovations to come out of this year’s race are sure to influence the quality and efficiency of production vehicles for years to come.
Audi South Africa are leaders in motorsport innovation whose eight overall victories in eleven attempts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans demonstrates its core philosophy of “Vorsprung durch Technik”. Book an Audi test drive
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