The rescheduled 88th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will get underway at 14:30 (local time) on Saturday 19 September, when the world’s most advanced endurance cars will compete at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Rolex is celebrating its 20th year as the Official Timepiece of this twice-around-the-clock contest, reflecting its long-standing support of automotive excellence and association with motorsport that dates back to the 1930s.
After months of planning, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) confirmed in August that the race would be held behind closed doors for the first time in its 97- year history.
“It’s good to be going racing, even though we cannot all be there to celebrate our sport and this special event,” says Tom Kristensen, Rolex Testimonee and record nine-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
A condensed four-day schedule, as well as unfamiliar autumnal conditions, will place extra pressure on the competitors this year. “It’s going to be a challenge,” says Kristensen. “The teams won’t be able to check everything as thoroughly as they usually would, so there will be many unknowns going into the 24 hours. The drivers will have to rely on their senses more than ever – listening, watching and feeling as they adapt to their constantly evolving car.” On the additional four hours of darkness and the anticipated cooler temperatures – compared with a traditional June event – the Danish legend continues: “For sure, racing in September is going to be different. The drivers will have to be prepared to deliver consistently in the darkness for longer and it will be colder, which means that if the rain arrives, the track won’t dry so quickly.”
New qualifying format
This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans also has a new qualifying format. After a preliminary session for all 59 cars this afternoon, the fastest six from each of the four classes advance to Friday morning’s Hyperpole, which will establish the top starting positions. In an ultimate display of speed and concentration, the 24 competitors will complete one clear run of the 13.626-km circuit to set their fastest time. Kristensen adds: “The drivers have to execute that lap to perfection. It’s a very long distance, with many opportunities to make mistakes. It is truly a race against the clock, where every millisecond counts.”
The 2020 field comprises 29 Prototype and 30 Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance (LMGTE) cars, including defending FIA World Endurance Champions, the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing, who are aiming for a third consecutive race victory.
However, with a successful 2019–2020 season to date, the privateer teams will be determined to further prove their reliability and resilience by overcoming the manufacturer opposition. Eyes will also be on the LMGTE competition, as Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin vie for honours in both the Pro and Am classes, putting their technological expertise and engineering excellence to the test in one of motor sport’s toughest environments.
This prestigious race demands dedication and know-how, as drivers seek to strike the perfect balance between speed and durability while pushing their machines to the limit to complete the furthest distance in 24 hours. The overall winners are presented with a specially engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in recognition of their achievement.
Kristensen, who this year marks his 10th anniversary as part of the Rolex family, says: “As a Le Mans winner, when you look at your Daytona, it does not only tell you lap times but conveys the deep history of our sport and reminds you of a very special, hard-earned victory.”