Enduring the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans with Cadillac Racing – Car and Driver

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We joined the Cadillac team as it returned to the iconic day-long endurance race, following the V-Series.R prototype race car on its journey to a podium finish.
For the first time in two decades, Cadillac returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, fielding three cars in the top class at this year’s edition of the world’s most prestigious endurance race. Cadillac has history at the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe—most notably with the unorthodox "Le Monstre" that ran in 1950—but hadn’t competed in the World Endurance Championship’s crown jewel since the Northstar LMP program of the early 2000s.
For 2023, the American automaker was back, thanks to new regulations allowing for crossover between the top classes in WEC and IMSA, America’s endurance series. We tagged along with the Cadillac Racing team for the grueling but rewarding marathon.
Compared to most racetracks, the Circuit de la Sarthe is colossal. Consisting of 38 corners and spanning 8.5 miles, the track is partly run on public roads, which remain open until just before the on-track action begins. The first 24 Hours of Le Mans was in 1923, and the race forms the Triple Crown of Motorsport along with the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500. Legendary locations like the Mulsanne straight, Hunaudières, Arnage, and the Porsche Curves have immortalized many racing drivers as heroes.
Qualifying occurs the week before the race, with the best cars battling for pole position in their respective classes on Thursday evening. Friday is one of the busiest days, the pit lane becoming frantic as teams strip down their cars, inspecting each element to ensure that they will last the entire 24 hours. Some teams entirely replace engines, either out of an abundance of caution or due to problems in qualifying. After a fire on Thursday, the number 3 Cadillac—driven by Sébastian Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Renger van der Zande—was forced to start fresh with a new motor.
On Friday, there is also a drivers’ parade through the city of Le Mans, which was founded during the Roman Empire. The narrow, ancient streets quickly become packed with fans hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite drivers, who ride along in vintage vehicles, waving to the throngs of people and occasionally hopping out to sign autographs and pose for selfies. The Corvette team and the fleet of classic Vettes that followed are among the most popular entries, with fans pleading for the drivers to rev the V-8 engines and even a few chants of "USA, USA" breaking out.
2023 marked 100 years since the first 24 Hours of Le Mans, and fans turned out in droves for the centenary, setting a new record with 325,000 spectators. While endurance racing isn’t as popular as Formula 1, its fans are among the most passionate in motorsport. Many brandish flags and banners for their team of choice, and a group of young women call to every driver by their first name, waving and jumping with unbridled enthusiasm. Other fans, like the couple pictured above, show their appreciation for the history of the event.
On Saturday, the cars line up on the grid before fans pour onto the front straight, swarming the vehicles. The grid is absolutely packed, busier than Times Square with barely any room to move. The three Cadillac V-Series.R race cars attract lots of attention with their striking red, blue, and gold liveries, as does the bright yellow Corvette which sat on pole position for the LMGTE AM class. After parking their cars, the drivers try to escape the hectic grid before they get mobbed.
The pre-race ceremonies last for hours, with a tense, anxious energy emerging from the stands as the start draws near. After the grid is cleared, the French national anthem plays as thousands joyously sing along. Military helicopters swoop above the track, with a soldier zip-lining down to deliver the French flag that will be waved to start the race. Delivering the command to start the engines and waving that flag was this year’s honorary starter, LeBron James, who drew cheers as he acknowledged the fans. A flyover follows, with jets spouting the smoke in the French "tricolore" behind them.
The race start is chaotic as all 62 cars dive into the first corner, inches apart. While the front straight is dry, rain begins pouring down at the Mulsanne chicane on the back end of the track. With the cars on slick tires, the drivers tip-toe through the deluge, but Jack Aitken in the No. 311 Cadillac is caught out by the tricky conditions, careening into the wall and damaging the front end. As he limps back to the pits, another car spins out and gets stranded in the gravel, bringing out an early safety car.
Due to the sheer size of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the race uses an unusual caution procedure. Many incidents are simply covered with waved yellow flags from the marshals, warning approaching drivers that a car is off track ahead. More serious incidents lead to "slow zones," where the cars must crawl along at around 50 mph and cannot pass. The full safety car is only deployed when major repairs are required for damaged barriers, which brings tractors and other heavy machinery onto the track.
Pit stops are also different than in other series. Unlike the sub-four-second stops in Formula 1, pitting at Le Mans usually takes around a minute if the tires are being swapped. The car must be precisely in its box to avoid a penalty, with teams repositioning the cars before starting their work to avoid penalties if the driver overshoots the box. Refueling comes first and cannot be done while changing the tires. The pit crew stands poised for when the fuel hose unhooks, and then sprints around the car, their wheel guns screaming as they attach fresh rubber. Many teams employ a trainer who leads the crew in a series of exercises to warm up their muscles ahead of the brief but high-intensity stops.
Every few hours the drivers swap out, with each driver only allowed in the car for four hours in a six-hour span. This adds an extra element to the pit stops, and since the three drivers are different sizes, the two smaller drivers bring foam seat inserts with them to ensure a comfortable driving position. A hollow honeycomb section in the center of the seat lets in some air, while a magnetic attachment atop the driver’s helmet can be hooked up to a hose within the car to blow cool air into the helmet.
Tires are critical to a good race. Michelin, which provides the rubber for nearly every car on the grid, is highly protective of its technology. The company assigns a designated engineer to each team who works through the data, ensuring the teams only see what they need for the race while protecting Michelin’s secrets. Before a pit stop, the tires reside in ovens—large black boxes that can be heated up to around 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, the drivers will need to work some temperature into the tires on the out lap to get them into the optimal operating window that provides maximum grip.
Battles rage throughout the race, but the drivers must be patient. As one driver told us, the race cannot be won at the first corner, but it certainly can be lost. The track conditions are constantly changing—rain falls sporadically throughout the evening, the temperature fluctuates, and the racing line gets grippier as the race goes on. Several crashes lead to a slew of early retirements, a disappointing end to the race for teams that have spent months preparing.
Not only do the pit crews change tires and load the cars with more fuel, but they also perform basic maintenance to help the drivers perform to the best of their abilities. One crew member leaps atop the front end to wipe down the windshield for better visibility and cleans the headlights while others pluck bits of rubber out of the cooling vents. Heavier damage requires replacing the front or rear ends, which are modular and come off after loosening a few screws. Worst case scenarios see the cars brought into the garage for more serious engine or suspension work.
There’s something magical about watching race cars rocket past at over 150 mph in the pitch darkness. Some drivers relish the nighttime, using the jet black sky to heighten their focus on the road ahead. Others struggle as the night draws on, growing tired and battling the glare from the headlights of their competitors. The top-class Hypercars flash their brights at the slower GT cars as a warning they are approaching at significantly higher speeds.
While the drivers can run off adrenaline while in the cockpit and get some shuteye while not driving, the mechanics and engineers have to stay on high alert. Some crew members find time to doze off between stops, laying on the hard concrete floor or propped up against spare parts. Others pass the hours by watching the race on the TVs or scrolling on their phones, powering through the night with energy drinks and candy.
The track remains jam-packed with fans well into the night, with concerts and an outdoor club keeping the less devout fans entertained while others stay next to the guardrails, intently watching the on-track action. Even in the wee hours of the morning, as the sun just begins to poke its first rays of light over the horizon, a loyal contingent of fans remains, although many have taken to sleeping on the grassy hills, either from exhaustion or heavy intoxication. The bass from the club continues to thump in the background.
This year’s race included an unusual competitor, a Chevy Camaro ZL1 stock car that was modified from NASCAR specifications to run in the day-long race. The Camaro was the entry for Garage 56, a space reserved for innovative vehicles that don’t conform to the standard classes. The Garage 56 car—run by Hendrick Motorsports—was hugely popular thanks to the thunderous noise emitted from its 5.8-liter V-8 that shook the ground every time it roared past. The Camaro was also quick, running faster than the GT cars for around 20 hours before falling back due to a driveline issue. Still, the car finished the race, completing 285 laps and placing 39th overall, a commendable result on its first attempt. You can read more about the Garage 56 car and the modifications made to it below.

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At 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, 24 hours after the cars set off on the opening lap, the checkered flag flies. The No. 51 Ferrari 499P takes the victory after a 50-year absence for the brand in the top class, followed by the No. 8 Toyota GR010. The No. 2 Cadillac snatches the final step of the podium, while the gold No. 3 car comes home in fourth, a strong result for the Cadillac Racing team in their first go at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 20 years. The No. 311 Cadillac, run by Action Express Racing, finishes 17th overall, hindered by the first lap incident. The lone Chevrolet Corvette C8.R earns a historic ninth class win, first out of the LMGTE AM cars and 26th overall.
As the cars trundle back to their garages, fans pour into the pit lane to watch the celebrations. After waving to the crowd and lofting their trophies into the air, Cadillac’s Alex Lynn, Richard Westbrook, and Earl Bamber begin the customary champagne spraying celebration. Soon they will head to their motorhomes for some much needed rest. The team will be back next year, looking to improve on their impressive third-place finish.
Caleb Miller began blogging about cars at 13 years old, and he realized his dream of writing for a car magazine after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and joining the Car and Driver team. He loves quirky and obscure autos, aiming to one day own something bizarre like a Nissan S-Cargo, and is an avid motorsports fan.

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