Fans of the world’s most celebrated endurance race were treated to a sensational edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Action-packed racing filled the track while a spectrum of emotions overwhelmed the trackside. As passes and breakdowns plagued the course, pit crews and fans were either cheering their drivers for gaining a position or lamenting their ability to finish the race.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing. It started in 1923 near the town of Le Mans and has been held annually ever since. The racecourse runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe, which includes a combination of closed public roads and a racing circuit. Normally, car racing involves completing a determined number of laps in the quickest possible time. But the goal of this endurance race is to complete as many laps as possible in a 24-hour time period.
This type of racing involves so much more challenges than other types of contests. It will test the drivers’ skills, concentration, and consistency. On the car manufacturer’s part, it will determine how well they designed and constructed their cars to run at full efficiency for a full 24 hours without sustaining mechanical and electrical failures. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is considered as the “Grand Prix of Endurance”, and rightfully so, because it tests both driver and racecar to the extreme, pushing them to, and beyond, their limits. Finishing the race, whether you come in first or last, is a testament to both man and machine, worthy of honor and praise.
Sixty cars lined up on the grid to start the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #7 and #8 LMP1 cars of Toyota took pole and second on the starting grid. The #1 and #2 cars of Porsche took third and fourth respectively. Toyota established a healthy lead in the early hours of the race. The #2 Porsche, however, had to take a three-and-a-half hour stop to repair its front axle. Four and a half hours into the race, the #8 Toyota also needed to make repairs that, unfortunately, dropped them out of contention.
Race leader #7 Toyota suffered a clutch failure ten hours into the race forcing its retirement. This gave the lead to the #1 Porsche car. However, with four hours to go, it suffered failure as well and was forced to retire, giving the overall leader spot to the car behind him – an LMP2 car! But with two hours to go, the #2 Porsche passed the #38 car and took the checkered flag.
The podium ceremony was filled with emotion as Rolex Testimonee Mark Webber was this year’s Grand Marshal. “It is a great honor for me to be Grand Marshal at this unique and incredible circuit,” he said. “Starting the race will be an incredibly exciting experience. Having raced at the Circuit de la Sarthe, I know first-hand how the drivers and teams will be feeling as they prepare for the long and exhausting 24 hours; to finish, and have a shot at victory.”
Webber presented the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans trophies to the drivers of the #2 LMP1 Porsche car: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, and Brendon Hartley. As the Official Timepiece of the race since 2001, Rolex rewarded the winners with a specially engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watch, regarded as the ultimate racing driver’s watch, it has been witness to legendary feats of endurance and worn by those who continue to push the boundaries to the limits.
“This is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Brendon Hartley. “You cannot write stories like that. It feels great to win the race, and the watch. It is steeped in history just like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Having raced in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, I’ve always dreamed of winning this watch.”
The watch that the winners received was the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in stainless steel. It has a black bezel and dial with the robust and comfortable Oyster bracelet with flat, three-piece links. It houses the 4130 self-winding, Swiss chronometer certified movement. It has a power reserve of approximately 72 hours. The 40 mm steel Oyster case carries a black monobloc Cerachrom bezel in ceramic, engraved with a tachymetric scale. The screw-down winding crown features the Triplock triple waterproofness system, giving the watch a 100-meter water resistance level.
This year’s race was particularly special, especially for Rolex Testimonee and legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, who proudly celebrates his twentieth anniversary of his first ever victory at Circuit de la Sarthe. That win marked the start of a successful racing career for the Dane, as he went on to win eight more times at Le Mans, a feat unmatched by any other driver in the race’s history.
“It does not eel like twenty years ago since my debut win — in some ways it feels like it was only yesterday. When I reflect on my record of wins, at what many consider to be one of the greatest races in the world, with the different cars, teams, and teammates during all those years, it makes me feel incredibly proud. It was the best journey of my life.”
In 2017, the FIA World Endurance Championship will race on four continents and continue to bring the “Spirit of Le Mans” to motor sport fans in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, US, Japan, China, and Bahrain. In line with its passion for speed and drive to push back the boundaries of what is possible, Rolex partners the FIA World Endurance Championship as well as the three world-class endurance events that have come to form the Triple Crown of endurance racing” the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Engine speed and reliability, along with team and driver stamina, are magnified during these challenging races, which require unique concentration, skill, and mental strength.
Rolex and motor sports have worked together since the 1930s. They are both driven by the same passion for performance and precision. For over eighty years, Rolex has partnered with the leading motor sport series in the world, including Formula 1, and of course, the iconic endurance and classic events. AS the 24 Hours of Le Mans demands so much from the teams, drivers, and machines, Rolex demands of itself the conviction to continue innovating and creating chronometers that winners of Le Mans will proudly wear on their wrists, not just on the podium, but everyday for years and years to come.