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Lapping Le Mans: Video Tracking Changes to the 24 Hour Circuit over 56 Years


With top tier brands like Audi, Porsche, Toyota and Nissan ready to slug it out at Le Mans this week with four different technology strategies, it is all too obvious that we are witnessing a modern Golden age era of endurance racing. Given that, comparing it with earlier halcyon eras seems appropriate. Thanks to the breadth and depth of platforms like YouTube, enthusiasts are able to do just that in the form of these in-car lap videos.

Though their long list of wins might suggest otherwise, Audi is a relative youngster at Le Mans. Its first outing was 1999, quite a distance in technology from today’s car but not that long ago given the sheer age of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In order to go back to earlier times, it is necessary to consider the racing heavyweights of those years and for that we turn to Jaguar and their D-type. This video in particular lets you ride along with Jaguar factory driver Mike Hawthorn in 1956, just one year after the most deadly wreck in racing history just one year before along the front straight of Le Mans.

Watching the lap above, it’s easy to see just how different things were. Hawthorne runs along at a surprisingly quick clip considering he’s lapping in non race conditions and passing any number of bicyclists, cars, and even pedestrians. A watchful eye will note the very stark differences in run-offs and protective fences of the track in that era.

Now fast forward to the modern era. Here we’ve got a 2012 Audi R18 e-tron quattro running flat out in race conditions. The track has changed, while the Audi seems like an alien space ship in comparison to the ’56 Jaguar.

As an interesting side note, check out this in-car video we shot of the circuit just last year. It’s a little less distracting than the lap with the Audi R18 with that otherworldly whine of the engine and hybrid drivetrain, but it will give you respect for just how fast Hawthorne was going in that Jaguar.

Here, we’ve not got to contend with people on track. We’re in a 2014 Audi A8L and weren’t out for a lazy cruise. The entire track was closed to any wandering spectators or other traffic, and yet Hawthorne gets around minutes more quickly. No, he didn’t have the Mulsanne straight chicanes to contend with on his 1956-spec circuit, but he does have to rather drastically avoid traffic, bikers and more.

What these three videos help to show is just how far racing has come. Be it speed, safety, efficiency or any other measurable factor, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a truly fantastic and historic petri dish for human progress and a stark reminder for just how much things have changed over the years.

Follow along this coming weekend with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At 3PM local time in Le Mans, Audi will take to the circuit for perhaps its most challenging race to date. We’re here in Le Mans all week and will be providing ongoing coverage of this massive and massively historic event from the earliest days of scrutineering to the drop of the checkered flag on Sunday.

Go Audi.

 

 

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