Fifty years ago on June 11, 1967, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney established the first 5,000+ km distance record at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Of the 23 driver line-ups to have reached that mark since, the current top 3 record-holders are at the peak of their performance levels and exemplary of the legendary status of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller (2010), working the record - Initially dominated by Peugeot, the 78th edition of the 24 Hours experienced a radical shift on Sunday morning when the #2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP driven by Nicolas Minassian-Franck Montagny-Stéphane Sarrazin was forced to retire. While chasing down the Audi of leaders Bernhard-Dumas-Rockenfeller, the French constructor's remaining two cars in turn succumbed to connecting rod troubles, and as a result, Audi went on to clinch its fourth one-two-three in 10 years. The three winners claimed their first overall podium finish. At the time, Romain Dumas was the first French driver to win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 11 years, after the fourth and final victory for Yannick Dalmas in 1999.
Earl Bamber, Nico Hülkenberg and Nick Tandy (2015), the surprise trio - The second fastest driver line-up's story is quite remarkable. In 2015, the trio was at the wheel of the third Porsche 919 Hybrid entered in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the other two driven by Romain Dumas-Neel Jani-Marc Lieb and Timo Bernhard-Brendon Hartley-Mark Webber, the German manufacturer's regular driver line-ups in the World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC). Bamber and Hülkenberg were debuting at Le Mans and Tandy was competing in his third 24 Hours...and all three were at the wheel of an LMP1 prototype at Le Mans for the first time ever! Yet, they held the lead from the ninth hour through the checkered flag. Nico Hülkenberg, who inherited the wheel first offered to French driver Jean-Eric Vergne then to the Spaniard Fernando Alonso, is the first active Formula 1 driver to win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot in 1991.
Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep (1971), separate ways - Distance record-holders for 39 years, the Austrian and the Dutch driver set out on diametrically opposite paths after their shared win at Le Mans. After a third participation in the 24 Hours with Alfa Romeo in 1972 (retirement), Marko's career came to an abrupt halt the same year at the French Formula 1 Grand Prix. As he was in sixth position, he permanently lost the sight in one of his eyes when a stone projected by the Lotus driven by Emerson Fittipaldi perforated the visor of his helmet. These days he heads up the Red Bull ladder series, the colors of which are represented on the helmets of Swiss driver Neel Jani and New Zealander Brendon Hartley, winners at Le Mans in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Van Lennep pursued an impressive career at the 24 Hours, with five top 5s in six participations - all with Porsche - from 1970 to 1976. He retired from competition after a second Le Mans win in 1976, that time along with Jacky Ickx.
In anticipation of the next installment, click below to learn more about the distance records set at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (full of list of the 23 driver line-ups to have reached and surpassed the 5,000-kilometer cap is included in the second article):
PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): In 2015, only two laps lacked for Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Nico Hülkenberg (from left to right) to beat the existing distance record at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.