The history of the queen of car races
‘Le Mans’ is, in every way, an exceptional car race. Every second Saturday in June, at exactly four o’clock in the afternoon, more than 90 vehicles set out to make as many laps as possible within the space of 24 hours. The fastest cars are manned by the most experienced drivers, who relieve each other at the wheel every couple of hours. But there are also lighter sports cars, driven by adventurers who have scraped together funding and do their best to complete the gruelling race with only a few friends acting as their mechanics. Therein lies the difference with Formula 1 racing: on the circuit at Le Mans, the love of motorsports still reigns supreme, and runs into far fewer commercial obstacles.
Koen Vergeer has documented the history of the queen of car races from 1923 to the present. Le Mans is a book one reads in top gear: in transferring his contagious enthusiasm to the reader, Vergeer’s prose is clear and compelling. He succeeds in combining his passion for racing, for the anecdotes and the dramas, with a host of fascinating technical details, and he relates the stories of a number of the most dramatic yearly contests. Special attention is paid to the period 1969-71, when the Porsche 917 (immortalized in the film ‘Le Mans’ with Steve McQueen) appeared on the scene – in a way that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.
As he shifts back and forth from past to present, Vergeer creates a kaleidoscopic image of the tragedies and triumphs of Le Mans over the years: of mechanics sneaking through the woods along the track to illegally bring a driver tools to fix his own stalled car; of the battles between the various car makes; of the drivers who have caught the Le Mans ‘bug’ and keep coming back to the race even when they’re past it; of the amazing accidents (like those suffered by the Mercedes team in 1999, when, on three separate occasions, their cars suddenly left the ground while travelling at top speed – fortunately injuring no one), and of the legendary victories of Jacky Ickx and Tom Kristensen, both of whom won the 24 hours at Le Mans a total of six times.