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Prime 10 Le Mans drivers

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This is without doubt one of the massive ones. Many drivers have made their names within the Le Mans 24 Hours and a few are synonymous with the occasion.

Greater than 350 have stood on the outright Le Mans podium, so choosing the highest 10 from the occasion’s first century was one of the vital difficult duties we’ve taken on…

For this record, we thought of the drivers’ success and influence particularly on the 24 Hours. We’ve centered on outright winners however acknowledge the various high-quality performances which were a part of the essential class battles across the Circuit de la Sarthe.

There are a few non-winners who might have made this record, however we determined to offer them a bit all of their very own – plus many others:

 
Le Mans Prime 10s:

10. Woolf Barnato

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Barnato is considered one of solely eight drivers within the historical past of Le Mans to have a 100% wins document

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Begins: 3 (1928-30)
Wins: 3 (1928-30)
Poles: N/A
Quickest laps: 0

It’s onerous to not embody individuals who gained the 24 Hours each time they began it. Eight drivers have a 100% document however just one contested the race 3 times.

One of many well-known pre-war Bentley Boys, Barnato had entry to spectacular household wealth however put a whole lot of effort into no matter he tried. He purchased a controlling share in Bentley following the marque’s first Le Mans win in 1924 and threw himself into motorsport.

W.O. Bentley regarded Barnato as a disciplined and error-free driver, which his document in an period of generally unreliable vehicles tends to help.

Barnato had already scored quite a few Brooklands successes earlier than his first Le Mans look in 1928, sharing a 4½ Litre mannequin with Australian Bernard Rubin. They noticed off challenges from Stutz and Chrysler regardless of having to nurse a cracked chassis, which had brought about the demise of a sister automotive.

Armed with the spectacular Pace Six, Barnato and Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin had been at all times more likely to win in 1929. They duly dominated and led a Bentley 1-2-3-4, a trio of 4½ Litre fashions ending behind the duo’s new and mighty 6.6-litre machine.

The 1930 race was much less simple, with the manufacturing facility crew of three Pace Sixes and two Dorothy Paget-run ‘Blower’ Bentleys taking up the monstrous 7.1-litre SSK of Christian Werner and Rudolf Caracciola.

PLUS: Top 10 pre-war grand prix drivers

In an epic battle, all three groups led however solely the works squad made it to the top. One Pace Six was misplaced in an accident however the different two pressed on to complete 1-2, Barnato finishing his hat-trick alongside Glen Kidston in the identical chassis that had gained in 1929.

9. Jan Lammers

Lammers makes the cut despite just a single outright victory to his name

Lammers makes the lower regardless of only a single outright victory to his identify

Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Begins: 24 (1983-2018)
Wins: 1 (1988)
Poles: 0
Quickest laps: 1

He’s the one one-time winner on this record, however the widespread Dutchman was typically a star of the occasion and, appropriately, began 24 Le Mans. That places him seventh on the all-time record.

Lammers’ most well-known Le Mans second is his good win for Jaguar in 1988 with Andy Wallace and Johnny Dumfries. Not solely did he placed on an early cost to get among the many works Porsches that had certified 1-2-3, Lammers nursed the XJR-9LM to the end with the gearbox on the verge of failure.

PLUS: The disaster lurking behind Jaguar’s 1988 Le Mans win

All the time a contender within the Tom Walkinshaw Racing Jaguars, Lammers added a second place in 1990 earlier than becoming a member of Toyota. He set quickest lap in his TS010 in 1992 because the Japanese producer failed in its bid to beat Peugeot.

After 1993, Lammers was not often in vehicles that had been more likely to contend for victory. However in his personal Racing for Holland Lola and Dome equipment, he typically created early curiosity by getting caught into the pacesetting Audis.

“Jan was such a whole driver,” says Wallace. “He knew how you can take care of the automotive and how you can rally the troops.”

8. Raymond Sommer

Sommer drove for more than 20 hours in his maiden Le Mans triumph

Sommer drove for greater than 20 hours in his maiden Le Mans triumph

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Begins: 9 (1931-50)
Wins: 2 (1932-33)
Poles: N/A
Quickest laps: 2

Dwelling hero Sommer was one of many quickest Le Mans drivers earlier than the Second World Battle. He was twice credited with the quickest lap and possibly ought to have gained the race no less than 3 times with Alfa Romeos.

Sommer was comparatively inexperienced and had contested the massive race simply as soon as previous to driving for greater than 20 hours to win the 1932 version alongside Luigi Chinetti in an 8C 2300.

Staying as a privateer reasonably than taking a manufacturing facility seat restricted his possibilities in grand prix racing, however there was little doubting his means. Sommer shared an Alfa with GP ace Tazio Nuvolari in 1933 and performed his half in a victory that might have been snug had it not been for the notorious gas leak that created one of many nice Le Mans finishes. It was he and never Nuvolari who scored the quickest lap.

That was the final time Sommer would end the 24 Hours however he remained a menace all through the last decade and invariably led.

Maybe his cruellest miss got here in 1938. Sharing the distinctive 8C 2900B coupe with Clemente Biondetti, Sommer’s frantic tempo broke the quickest French entries. At one stage the massive Alfa led by round 100 miles, however then a entrance tyre blew with lower than 4 hours to go.

Sommer saved the following second however it appears doubtless a valve was damaged whereas he did so. Each Sommer and Biondetti battled to proceed however it was in useless – they usually needed to watch because the main Delahayes ultimately overhauled the stationary Alfa.

PLUS: Fast Failures – The great Le Mans robbery

7. Olivier Gendebien

Gendebien and Hill combined for a formidable partnership

Gendebien and Hill mixed for a formidable partnership

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Begins: 8 (1955-62)
Wins: 4 (1958, 1960-62)
Poles: N/A
Quickest laps: 0

A flexible driver, Gendebien competed in rallying and began 14 world championship GPs however it’s for his endurance racing exploits that he’s greatest identified. And in addition to hat-tricks on the Targa Florio and Sebring 12 Hours, the Belgian had an excellent document at Le Mans.

His first two visits resulted in school wins in Porsche and Ferrari equipment, the second of which additionally yielded third total. He failed to complete in 1957 however then got here a sequence of 4 wins and a near-miss in 5 years.

Gendebien shaped one of many nice sportscar partnerships with Phil Hill. They gained the 1958 race in a 250 Testa Rossa and nearly repeated it the next 12 months within the epic Aston Martin-Ferrari contest. Having survived the early battles, Hill/Gendebien held the benefit over the chasing DBR1s till overheating struck their V12 late on Sunday morning.

With Aston Martin gone, Ferrari ought to have had a neater journey in 1960, however a gas miscalculation meant two of the works vehicles ran dry. Gendebien alone managed to coast again to the pits and, sharing with Paul Frere, went on to win by 4 laps.

Reunited with Hill, Gendebien’s uprated Testa Rossa was at all times within the combine in 1961 and outlasted the principle opposition to win once more. Armed with the one-off four-litre 330 TRI/LM, the duo thrashed the sector in 1962, after which Gendebien retired.

Although not the quickest driver of his period, Gendebien’s mechanical sympathy and knack for pacing himself made him a formidable endurance competitor. Few have bettered his 50% strike charge from eight Le Mans begins.

6. Andre Lotterer

Lotterer is the only active driver on this list

Lotterer is the one lively driver on this record

Photograph by: Eric Gilbert

Begins: 11 (2009-present)
Wins: 3 (2011-12, 2014)
Poles: 1
Quickest laps: 4

The high-tech LMP1 battles of the 2010s offered a number of the hardest-fought Le Mans races. The reliability and high quality of the producer operations from Audi, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota meant that the 24 Hours generally grew to become a flat-out blast.

Lotterer’s sheer pace was a serious asset in such competitors. Not solely did he take pole in 2012, his spectacular race tempo is underlined by 4 quickest laps. That places him tied with Mike Hawthorn for second on the record and it’s in all probability truthful to say that he didn’t have the clear quickest automotive for all of these.

Lotterer’s Le Mans profession was spectacular from the beginning, ending seventh on his debut in an ageing Kolles-run Audi R10 in 2009 when co-driver Narain Karthikeyan injured himself beforehand and left the German and Charles Zwolsman Jr to run as a duo.

Lotterer then shaped one of many nice Le Mans partnerships with manufacturing facility Audi colleagues Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler. An in depth second in 2010 was adopted by victories in 2011-12, the previous scored by simply 13.9 seconds as Lotterer beat Peugeot’s Simon Pagenaud within the closing stint.

The trio had the sting in 2013, too, solely to be thwarted by alternator failure, however got here again to win in 2014. At the same time as Porsche stamped its authority on Le Mans in 2015, Lotterer confirmed his pace and took his fourth quickest lap in 5 years – in addition to one other podium end.

After Audi’s withdrawal from LMP1, Lotterer joined Porsche and regarded set to win in 2017 when the 919 Hybrid he shared with Nick Tandy and Neel Jani misplaced oil stress late on Sunday morning. He then scored a pair of fourths with Rise up in 2018-19.

Again with the Porsche Penske LMDh operation, can Lotterer add to his tally now that he’s in his forties?

5. Phil Hill

Hill won every time his car finished at Le Mans

Hill gained each time his automotive completed at Le Mans

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Begins: 14 (1953-67)
Wins: 3 (1958, 1961-62)
Poles: 1
Quickest laps: 3

Extremely regarded by his friends, the 1961 Formulation 1 world champion was nearly actually a greater endurance ace than a GP driver. It’s true Ferrari normally had a bonus throughout Hill’s interval of success, however there have been quite a few crews who had the possibility to win and Hill was typically within the automotive that got here out on high.

After 4 failures to complete (Hill didn’t even get to drive the Ferrari he shared with Peter Collins in 1957 earlier than a piston seized), Hill shaped a high-quality partnership with Gendebien.

Armed with ever-improving variations of the 250 Testa Rossa, the duo gained Le Mans twice in three begins between 1958 and 1961, then added a 3rd success with the 1962 330 TRI/LM by which Hill broke the lap document. Solely in 1960 did Ferrari break up them, co-driver Wolfgang von Journeys working out of gas early on.

After a 12 months with the promising however underfunded Aston Martin Challenge 215, Hill joined Ford’s onslaught. The GT40 Mk1 was quick however fragile, Hill setting the quickest lap earlier than the gearbox failed.

It was an analogous story for Hill’s closing three Le Mans. The American took pole within the rapidly ready seven-litre Mk2 in 1965 and the Chaparrals of 1966-67 additionally confirmed pace, however none made it to the end.

However, in his decade and a half of Le Mans appearances, Hill had each proved his sportscar prowess and gained each time his automotive completed.

4. Henri Pescarolo

A home hero with a record 33 Le Mans 24 Hours starts to his name

A house hero with a document 33 Le Mans 24 Hours begins to his identify

Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Begins: 33 (1966-99)
Wins: 4 (1972-74, 1984)
Poles: 1
Quickest laps: 0

One of many true legends of Le Mans, Pescarolo holds the document for the very best variety of begins and continued his affiliation with the race lengthy after he retired together with his personal crew that nearly took victory in 2005.

The house hero’s first begin got here in 1966 with Matra. Finishes had been onerous to return by, notably galling after an amazing efficiency was thwarted late on in 1968, however the squad was prepared by the point the three-litre world sportscar laws kicked in for 1972.

Matra skipped the championship to deal with Le Mans, whereas Ferrari did the alternative. The end result was a crushing Matra 1-2 within the 24 Hours, Pescarolo (initially reluctantly) sharing with Graham Hill, who thus accomplished his triple crown.

Archive: How Graham Hill completed his legend at Le Mans

It was all about Ferrari versus Matra in 1973. The 312 PBs certified first and second however Matra was higher ready. After a back-and-forth wrestle, Pescarolo and Gerard Larrousse had been assured of victory when the Ickx/Brian Redman Ferrari blew up within the closing levels.

Matra had issues just about its personal means in 1974, Pescarolo taking his sole Le Mans pole after which finishing his hat-trick as he and Larrousse gained by six laps.

Pescarolo then entered a fallow interval – although there was a category victory in 1976 with the GTP Inaltera – till 1984. Maybe previous his greatest, Pescarolo teamed up with Klaus Ludwig in Joest’s Porsche 956 and took a well-known win, recovering from an early low gas stress delay and a suspension restore.

Regardless of some aggressive equipment over the subsequent few years, Pescarolo by no means once more stood on the general podium, however there was a category win in 1992 and he completed ninth total on his closing begin in 1999, by which era he was already into crew administration.

3. Derek Bell

Bell took nine podiums, including five wins, split across three different manufacturers

Bell took 9 podiums, together with 5 wins, break up throughout three completely different producers

Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Begins: 26 (1970-96)
Wins: 5 (1975, 1981-82, 1986-87)
Poles: 0
Quickest laps: 0

Bell was the right foil for sportscar star Ickx however is an endurance legend in his personal proper. 5 Le Mans victories high a glittering CV that additionally contains three Daytona 24 Hours successes and make him essentially the most profitable British driver within the first century of the French traditional.

Having proved himself alongside Ronnie Peterson within the 1970 occasion with a Ferrari 512 and Jo Siffert in a JW Automotive Porsche 917 in 1971, Bell grew to become a Gulf/Mirage stalwart. He and Ickx gained the 1975 occasion in a GR8, although the strict gas consumption guidelines saved some main gamers away.

His Alpine-Renault efforts of 1977-78 went unrewarded and it was at Porsche that Bell actually solid his Le Mans credentials. He and Ickx dominated the 1981 occasion in a 936 powered by the defunct Indycar engine that ended up within the 956. They led a 1-2-3 on the 956’s Le Mans debut the next 12 months and got here near a hat-trick in 1983.

Two of Bell’s best Le Mans drives got here when he didn’t win and 1983 was a kind of. Bell and Ickx had already placed on a restoration cost when the brake discs cracked within the closing levels. Given the selection of fixing them and dropping the race or urgent on in a bid to catch the ailing sister automotive within the lead, Bell attacked and hurled the 956 round at near-lap document pace, ending an in depth second in a dramatic end.

Autosport 70: The greatest forgotten Le Mans finish

Porsche’s manufacturing facility crew skipped Le Mans in 1984 – the one 12 months Bell didn’t race within the 24 Hours between 1970 and 1996 – and was crushed by Joest the next 12 months, Bell ending third with Hans-Joachim Caught.

They teamed up with Al Holbert for 1986 and 1987, seeing off a rising Jaguar problem to win each occasions within the 962. Bell and Caught may need gained in 1988 too, had new co-driver Ludwig not run out of gas early on or Porsche been extra conscious of the main Jaguar’s transmission hassle within the closing hour.

Bell raced on into his fifties – and received yet one more probability to win. Sharing a David Worth-run McLaren F1 GTR with son Justin and Wallace, Bell impressed within the moist 1995 version. They had been in rivalry for victory when a clutch downside struck they usually completed third. That was Bell’s ninth Le Mans podium, scored with three completely different marques.

2. Tom Kristensen

Kristensen has become known as Mr Le Mans - but just misses out on top spot

Kristensen has change into referred to as Mr Le Mans – however simply misses out on high spot

Photograph by: Drew Gibson / Motorsport Images

Begins: 18 (1997-2014)
Wins: 9 (1997, 2000-05, 2008, 2013)
Poles: 1
Quickest laps: 3

“Toss a coin,” mentioned an skilled sportscar scribe when Autosport got here to decide on between Kristensen and Ickx for the primary slot. It’s so shut between the 2 largest Le Mans figures that you may make a robust case for both, however we didn’t need to depart this rating to probability.

Kristensen was a star just about from the second he arrived, on the final minute, to make his Le Mans debut with Joest’s WSC95. A surprising stint throughout the night time, which additionally yielded quickest lap, heralded his arrival and contributed to a well-known victory when the main Porsche 911 GT1 Evo caught hearth.

Introduced in to hitch Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela within the Audi R8 at Le Mans in 2000, Kristensen began an unbelievable run. The identical trio gained for 3 consecutive years, then Kristensen helped knit collectively the Bentley effort that triumphed in 2003, when the Dane additionally took his sole Le Mans pole.

Kristensen helped elevate the Workforce Goh squad to Le Mans success in 2004, then took his sixth consecutive success (his seventh in complete and fifth in an R8) with Champion Racing the next 12 months.

Maybe Kristsensen’s biggest victory got here in 2008 when he, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello drove flat-out to maintain the quicker Peugeots in sight within the dry, then brilliantly stormed forward when rain arrived.

Even because the youthful technology of Audi drivers got here by, Kristensen remained an element at Le Mans and scored podiums in his final three visits, together with his ninth victory in 2013 with McNish and Loic Duval on their technique to the WEC crown.

PLUS: How Kristensen became Mr Le Mans

Bizarrely, Kristensen’s largest leads at Le Mans got here in years he didn’t win. After the rival Toyota was punted off in 1999, the BMW V12 LMR he shared with JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller was 4 laps forward when a wierd suspension failure jammed the throttle and brought about Lehto to crash on Sunday morning.

In 2007, Kristensen/Capello/McNish appeared to have the race within the bag when a wheelnut got here off and a wheel parted firm at excessive pace with Capello on the helm.

Maybe the final word crew participant, Kristensen’s Le Mans document from 18 begins stands at 9 wins, two seconds, three thirds and two near-misses. Or, put one other means, each time he reached the end he stood on the rostrum…

1. Jacky Ickx

Ickx on his way to winning his first Le Mans and forging a legendary status

Ickx on his technique to profitable his first Le Mans and forging a legendary standing

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Begins: 15 (1966-85)
Wins: 6 (1969, 1975-77, 1981-82)
Poles: 5
Quickest laps: 5

So, why does Ickx beat Kristensen on this record, given he’s three shy of the good Dane’s wins document?

One purpose is that, whereas Kristensen was an excellent a part of a complete operation that conquered Le Mans, Ickx arguably had extra moments when he made an influence on the end result as a person. Partly that’s a operate of him working in an period of two drivers per automotive, reasonably than three, however it’s additionally attributable to some phenomenal race-turning drives.

Few would dispute that it was Ickx’s pace and racecraft that enabled the ageing Ford GT40 to beat Hans Herrmann’s Porsche 908 to victory on the finish of the well-known 1969 version. After which there was the 1977 24 Hours, the occasion Ickx selected because the race of his life.

After the Porsche 936 he shared with Pescarolo blew up, Ickx was switched to the delayed Hurley Haywood/Jurgen Barth automotive and placed on considered one of motorsport’s nice comeback costs, one which yielded victory when the phalanx of Alpine-Renaults wilted.

Race of my life: Jacky Ickx on the 1977 Le Mans 24 Hours

Sure, Porsche typically gave Ickx the equipment to do the job, however the Belgian normally led a robust group of manufacturing facility drivers – and nearly gained when he was ‘loaned’ to Reinhold Joest for a low-key assault in 1980. That turned out to be considered one of three second locations Ickx scored at Le Mans, to go together with his six victories.

Ickx additionally holds each the pole place and quickest laps Le Mans information, with 5 of every. And he did all that with fewer begins than a lot of the different main drivers on this record, in an period when automotive reliability hadn’t but reached the extent we all know in the present day.

Throughout his pomp Ickx was the undisputed king of the Circuit de la Sarthe in a means that even the good TK would wrestle to match.

Do you agree with our pick for the top 10 Le Mans drivers?

Do you agree with our decide for the highest 10 Le Mans drivers?

Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images



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