Le Mans 24 Hours has been around since 1923, but what is the 24 hours of Le Mans? It is, quite simply, the most cutting edge endurance road test on earth. Until the late 60s, nearly every vehicle driven at the grueling 24-hour race was later made available to the general public.
Those days are long gone.
Today, racers drive two major types of automobiles during the showdown: rocket swift “Prototype” sports cars and more modest, realistic “Grand Touring” cars. More years than not, the Prototypes take the grand prize, but you’ll never take one for a spin in your neighborhood. It’s illegal and you’re not (yet) a billionaire. You’d be lucky to ever burn rubber in one of the GTs, but who cares. Here they are: the six sickest cars racing at Le Mans this year.
Audi R18 – LMP1
Audi has been killing it at Le Mans. The manufacturer provided the winning car last year, and 5 of the last 6 years, losing to a Peugot in 2009. Peugot finished up 2, 3, 4 and 5 last year, but has since withdrawn from sportscar racing. Meanwhile, Audi charges ahead full speed, pumping out unstoppable Prototype R’s. The R18, a creation born in 2011, is the latest. It is the first Audi to feature hybrid power. Furthermore, it looks like a Tron spaceship in lingerie. Tell us you disagree.
Ferrari 458 – GTE Pro & GTE Am
The Ferrari 458 is the second most beautiful Ferrari ever designed. Only the F12 Berlinetta is more beautiful, and that was only released earlier this year. So, the 458 might be the queen of the Le Mans beauty pageant. It’s also one of the prettiest things you ever might see cruising city streets – probably in Monte Carlo or Punta del Este. It’s also fast, hitting 62 mph (100 km/h) in under 3.4 seconds, and that’s the street legal version. When you get a full pit crew fine tuning the 458 Italia primed for competition, you put the car in contention.
Porsche 911 RSR – GTE Pro & GTE Am
How can you talk about street racing, ever, without mentioning the Porsche 911. It’s the car you wanted once, maybe when you were 11, maybe you still want it today. I do, but maybe not in that color – an iconic bright orange or green that goes back to its customary color scheme introduced in 1973. The car is flashy, and also practical. The car’s unique aerodynamics push the car into the asphalt, helping it grip and accelerate and drive into my dream garage.
Like all cars at Le Mans, The DeltaWing is a two-seater. That’s about the only thing it shares in common with any of the other competitors. It looks like an SRS Blackbird and it aims to use half the gas and half the tires of its rivals. The DeltaWing is “the 56th car” at Le Mans 24 Hours this year – the last car admitted into the field, a spot traditionally held for experimental vehicles. The DeltaWing is just that, an insane experiment in automotive design. It’s also fast, achieving the fastest 8.5 mile lap of the day during test day at 3 minutes, 47.98 seconds. There’s a slim chance this car wins, but it points to what we can expect on the roads and racetracks in the future.
Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 – GTE Pro & GTE Am
The Corvette finished first among GT cars last year, and 11th overall ahead of fiberglass Prototypes built just for the occasion. It’s a reliable car that will take you more than 3,000 miles in 24 hours if you’re an accomplished driver, or it will just take you to your private jet and then Pepper Potts will drive it away. She will hit 60-mph in 3.3 second at the first green light. Although it is assumed that the Corvette will make an appearance at any race, the C6 ZR1 isn’t to be dismissed. It can still hold its own with any car in its class.
Aston Martin Vantage V8 – GTE Pro & GTE Am
Last year, the Aston Martin Vantage finished last in the GTE Pro standings and 3rd to last in the GTE Am standings. This year, the British automaker is plotting an ambush on the competition. British constructors have surprised before. During the legendary 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours contest, the GTE Pro class McLaren F1 GTR took top honors. 2012 is anyone’s game. The Aston Martin likely won’t pop champagne this time. Whatever the outcome, we still hope it drives off the tracke and into our garage.