All three of the major endurance races will celebrate notable anniversaries in 2012. The most famous race of them all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will celebrate its 80th running in 2012, while in America both the Rolex 24 Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring race will celebrate key anniversaries as well.
In 1923, no fewer than 33 cars entered the First Grand Prix d’Endurance des 24 Heures, a challenge set out by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the same motoring club who, almost a century later, is still in charge of this famous event held in the west of France. Traditionally now, every year some 55 cars start their 24-hour race on Saturday afternoon when the Rolex clock strikes three pm. Hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world come to enjoy this race and be part of the festivities. This annual event is important for teams and also marks a yearly pilgrimage for many fans.
Le Mans has earned its place in history – only the Indianapolis 500 has a longer story. Le Mans has always been a challenge for man and machine. “The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a unique event on the motor sports calendar,” reflects eight-time winner Tom Kristensen. “Every time I drive through France on my way to Le Mans it gives me shivers. It is a very emotional place to race.” The Danish driver debuted in 1997 and is still one of the top stars for this 24-hour event. “Every year tens of thousands Danish fans come to France just to support me. It is amazing,” says Kristensen.
Although most famous for his Le Mans wins, Kristensen has also won the 12 Hours of Sebring several times. The 12 Hours of Sebring, held at a former military airport in the south of Florida, will celebrate its 60th edition this coming March. For a long time, this race was part of the world championship for sports car racing, and for 2012 this anniversary race marks the opening round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship.
Also in Florida, another race will have grand celebrations next January. In Daytona Beach, the 50th edition of the Rolex 24 Hours will be held. Soon after opening the famous speedway in 1959, owner Bill France wanted European-style sports car racing on his high-banked track. In 1962, American racing icon Dan Gurney was the first winner, and over the years, the most famous racing car drivers have celebrated their win in Florida by receiving their Rolex Cosmograph Daytona timepiece.
“Racing at Le Mans, and also at other long endurance races, is a true team sport,” continued Kristensen. “Not only do we have a line-up of three drivers but also an entire team of technicians working before, during and after each event. Everything is scheduled and whenever there is a calamity, there are back-up plans and a large crew trying to solve these issues. It will always be a balance between speed and endurance and the driver is just one part of the team.”
Sports Car Digest will honor all three races in 2012 with historic race profiles and more.