24 Hours of Le Mans isn’t just a race, it’s a ruthless car-tech proving ground

The 24 hours of Le Mans is arguably one of the most grueling races in motor sport, and one of its most celebrated. Since 1923, cars and drivers have had their limits tested at this event to see not only who is the fastest, but to prove they can survive 24 straight hours of full-on racing.

Every year, this quiet French village transforms into the focal point of the automotive world. And though we live an ocean away, the 24-hour event changes the cars we drive on a daily basis. Many of the innovations that propel each race car end up in regular production vehicles after they prove their worth. From engines to headlights, to windshield wipers, Le Mans puts every nut, bolt, and processor to the test before it makes its way to the car in your driveway.

Survival of the fittest

The old adage of “to finish first, first you must finish” rings true here more than at any other racing event. Indeed, the object of the race is to win, but for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the main challenge is just making it to the end. On race weekend, 60 cars in 4 different classes will drive the eight and a half mile circuit from 3pm Saturday to 3pm Sunday. No matter what place they end up in, those left standing will be regarded as heroes.


In racing, cars will eventually run out of two things: fuel and tires. Having to stop to replace both costs precious time away from the track, so vehicles are made to be as efficient as possible within the regulations for each class. The top classes in the World Endurance Championship, in which the Le Mans race is a part of, are Le Mans Prototypes, which are far departures from the homologated GT-class cars.

For the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the main challenge is just making it to the end.

Audi has been a fixture of this race for over a decade, and the current R18 race car is the culmination of all its learned throughout the years. Starting with the R8 — the race car that gives the road car its name — the team went from turbo engines, to diesel, to a turbodiesel hybrid, all in the name of fuel efficiency. The powertrains see improvements each year, so much so that the V6 TDI now consumes 33 percent less fuel than it did when introduced in 2011 and 46 percent less energy than the V12 TDI that was used in 2006. Meanwhile, the average speed has increased by nearly four percent. That may sound like a small increase, but it makes a huge difference in a 24-hour endurance race.

Between the 524 horsepower from the TDI and the 476 horsepower developed by the hybrid system, the R18 has about 1,000 hp on tap throughout the race.

The more they squeeze out of these powertrains during the race, the more they can apply what they’ve learned to the hybrids on your dealer lots.


All that power and efficiency is ultimately useless if the tires can’t keep the cars on the track, either due to frequent swaps, or worse. Michelin has been a part of Le Mans longer than the concept of removable rims, and this year 33 of 60 cars had Michelin rubber on their wheels, including the Corvette C7 and the Ford GT.

Pushing cars at high speed over 8 miles and 33 turns is punishing on a tire, which also has to balance longevity with grip. Le Mans is where tire manufacturers like Michelin have to prove that their tire compounds can endure dramatic changes in temperature and withstand the demands of cars from LMP1 to GT-class racers. A poor tire can undermine everything an endurance race car has been developed for, from speed and agility to fuel economy. What good is a hyper efficient vehicle if it hydroplanes off the track or has to come in for a new set of wheels every other lap?

It always rains at Le Mans, too. Michelin is also tasked with providing tires that can displace water effectively to mitigate the hazardous rain at the event.

We see the benefits in the real world with better, long-lasting tires for our sports cars, sedans, and SUVs. This saves us money and bringing us peace of mind when the weather gets a little too damp for comfort.


Back in the Audi garage, the R18 sports the latest equipment to tackle one of the 24 hour race’s biggest, most inevitable obstacle — the night. Audi has developed laser light technology that is already in road cars today. This light is cleaner and can reach farther ahead of the vehicle, giving drivers increased situational awareness. An LED matrix can optimize the shape and focus of the beams as well. In terms of road cars, this keeps the road ahead illuminated while preventing drivers in parallel lanes from being dazzled from the rear.

Miracles on wheels

These are just a few examples of what makes Le Mans the testing grounds of innovation. Countless things like aerodynamics, suspension, and in-car displays see time on the circuit, honed for the cars that we can drive without a racing license. Le Mans is a legendary race where in just 24 hours, thousands of tiny miracles happen, and within a few of those moments, our world of technology grows just a little bit bigger.


Driving Daimler’s 40-ton eCascadia big rig isn’t just fun, it’s electrifying

Daimler Trucks brought its all-electric eCascadia semi-truck to the 2019 CES, and invited us to take the wheel. What does it feel like to drive one? Simply electrifying, of course.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (February 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in January and February, from new original series to classic films.

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.

Peloton’s tech lets truckers play follow the leader to boost fuel economy

Peloton Technology can help semi trucks save fuel by running close together on the highway. Using short-range wireless communications, the trucks get a kind of super cruise control.

Ford has a plan to future-proof the hot-selling F-150 pickup truck

Worried about the threat of rising gas prices, Ford will add the F-150 to its growing portfolio of electrified vehicles. It is currently developing a hybrid F-150, and it will release an electric version of the next-generation truck.

Ford’s Mustang-inspired electric crossover will spawn a Lincoln luxury version

Lincoln will get its own version of parent Ford's first mass-market, long-range electric vehicle. While Ford's version will have styling inspired by the Mustang, Lincoln will take a more traditional approach.
Home Theater

Spotify adds simplified Car View mode for Android users

What was once just a test is now a reality: Spotify is rolling out a new, simplified in-car user interface for all Android users called Car View, which automatically engages when the app detects a car Bluetooth connection.

Boutique carmaker Karma Automotive, legendary design firm Pininfarina team up

Karma Automotive is partnering with legendary Italian design firm Pininfarina on future luxury cars. The first product of that partnership will appear later this year, Karma said, without offering other details.

Sibling rivalry: 2019 BMW Z4 takes on the 2020 Toyota Supra

BMW and Toyota forged an unlikely partnership when they set out to build a sports car platform together. Here, we examine the similarities and differences between the 2019 Z4 and the 2020 Supra.

Tesla cuts workforce by 7 percent, ends referral program to trim costs

Tesla has announced plans to trim its workforce by seven percent, and it will end the referral program that rewards customers who help it sell cars. These measures are ways to cut costs and boost profits.

Worried about commuting in winter weather? Nissan has the answer

The Nissan Altima midsize sedan is now available with all-wheel drive. To advertise that fact, Nissan's Canadian division slapped some tank-like tracks on an Altima to create a one-off show car.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.

Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving car program has come a long way (but not far enough)

Many companies talk about self-driving cars, but Lyft and Aptiv are already using a fleet of them to transport paying customers in Las Vegas. Hop in for a close look at the tech of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face.

Michigan OKs digital license plates with Rplate’s connected car platform

The state of Michigan approved the use of digital license plates on motor vehicles registered in the state. Reviver Auto, the manufacturer of the Rplate connected car platform, worked with Michigan's Department of State to pass the bill.