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Les Mans Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

Steeped in history Le Mans 24 Hours is one of the most famous races in the world, and this year this iconic motoring spectacle celebrates its 100th anniversary. We speak to record-breaking endurance racing driver and former Le Mans Champion, Phil Hanson, about what it’s like to take part in this famed race.

Phil was crowned World Endurance Champion, the youngest driver to achieve this, won the European Le Mans Series and was the youngest ever Brit to win the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, in September 2020. He’s the first driver to ever win Le Mans and hold both the WEC and ELMS titles in the same year.


Le Mans is one of the most popular dates on the racing calendar and every year crowds flock to the town of Le Mans in France to experience the race. This year is expected to be the largest to date with more than 300,000 spectators set to attend. To put that in perspective that’s double the crowds on a race day at the Silverstone Grand Prix and three times the capacity of Wembley Stadium.

“There’s nothing quite like the crowds at Le Mans. It’s almost a week-long event, with the race spanning across two days, starting and finishing at 4 pm local time. Fans camp or base themselves around the entire track at many of the historic corners”. Phil commented. “That said, when I think of the fans at Le Mans, the first thing that comes to mind is the driver's parade the day before the race. 100,000 fans flood the streets of Le Mans and we are paraded through the crowd, throwing team kits and merchandise out to the fans who are off in one big party.”


The first ever Le Mans 24 Hours was held on the 26th of March 1923, 33 drivers converged on France for the maiden event in the town of Le Mans and raced a circuit and town roads. The inaugural race was won by French duo Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard. The race has been held every year, apart from a hiatus for a general strike in 1936 and during the 2nd World War.


Phil said: The 100th anniversary of Le Mans is special for so many reasons including celebrating the history of the event and the cars, teams and drivers that have all taken part across the generations. What makes this celebration more special will most likely be the buzz surrounding this year's event. I believe it will have close to, if not, record attendance. After the past few pandemic-impacted years, with limited attendance or no fan presence at all, it makes this year feel all the more momentous.”


The race is notoriously gruelling, with 3 drivers splitting shifts over 24 hours. Phil said:Each driver is required to complete six hours minimum drive time during the race as I am one of three drivers per car. Typically we drive 2-3 hour stints, doing our longest driving in the night and middle part of the race, backing off to shorter durations with more frequent rest in the later stages of the race. In previous years, I have often driven closer to 9 hours, as the driving is never evenly shared amongst teammates.”


There have been many winners over the years from the likes of Graham Hill, Fernando Alonso and Dane Tom Kristensen who achieved five back-to-back victories between 2000 and 2005.

Add to this list, Phil Hanson, LMP2 winner of Le Mans in 2020. Phil said: “On winning I simply felt relief. To finally cross the line and realize my dream when leading the race for so many hours, I felt massive relief. I had been battling engine issues in the final hours, which made those stints that bit more stressful, knowing my race could potentially end at any moment from the lead. Winning Le Mans required every piece of the puzzle to come together, and that year, it did.”


Phil, who races for United Autosports said: "As in 2020 and 2021, I’ll arrive at Le Mans leading WEC. Filipe and I won Le Mans in 2020, going on to claim the Driver’s title, while in 2021 we finished virtually last after issues. So I know only too well that the points advantage we take there means very, very little because Le Mans ultimately takes no prisoners. United and myself know exactly what it takes to win at Le Mans. It’s a case of executing the perfect race; a fast car, fast drivers, no mistakes, perfect pit stops and bullet-proof reliability. Every single piece of the puzzle must come together in order to achieve our goal of winning.”


Le Mans 2023 takes place 10-11 June 2023.


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