24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most well-known motorsport events in the world. But how is Le Mans winner determined? It's not by who crosses the finish line first, as with traditional racing, but who drives the furthest total distance.
Le Mans is a nonstop 24 hour race held on a mix of dedicated racetrack and public roads. No single driver competes for the entire duration, however.
Instead, teams have 3 drivers, who are not permitted to drive for longer than 14 hours at a time. Usually drivers are switched out every 45 minutes to 4 hours. This is done during pit stops for refueling and other maintenance items that such a demanding event requires.
As noted above, how the Le Mans winner is determined is not by which team hits a target first, but which team covers the most distance in the 24 hour period.
This is a lot more difficult than it might sound, as well. There are straightaways, as well as tight curves and chicanes. There are multiple classes competing at the same time, and they are driving at very high speeds almost constantly. For example, some of the fastest cars hit 200mph on a particular straightaway!
Driving that fast, even in a straight line, requires skill. The driver cannot make a mistake, or lose control of the vehicle. If they do, there is almost certainly going to be a wreck, and at those speeds, the results are most likely going to be catastrophic. Not only will the car most likely be disabled and out of the race, but the driver has a huge chance of sustaining serious injury.
This is an endurance event that tests driver's abilities to maintain focus and precision over an extended period of time. It can be draining to take a long roadtrip, averaging 70mph, with scenery that never seems to change. Le Mans is an entirely different beast, pushing drivers to their limits repeatedly without time to slow down, lest they fall behind the competition.
Not only is it taxing on drivers, but the cars themselves have to be able to withstand the abuse they undergo throughout the event. The car needs to be able to run, and run well, for the entire 24 hours. There are, of course, pit stops permitted, but obviously massive failures could ruin the event completely for a team.
Obviously, winning Le Mans is a big deal, and a huge accomplishment for the entire team involved.
What it means to be determined the winner of the Le Mans is that, for their class, a team covered more miles, or kilometers, than their competitors. There is no cutoff score, like in many other motorsports, such as a total number of laps.
In other words, no one knows what it takes to win Le Mans when it starts, because no one is sure what the furthest distance will be. Drivers have to drive fast, smooth, and keep the car intact so it can last the entire duration of the event.
24 hours is not a long time, but it is for a single motorsport event. Consider that many cars need time to cool off after being run hard. Think about simply driving your street car hard for 20 minutes on a track; it's very likely it got hot, perhaps even too hot, and needed a cooldown period.
The vehicles competing at Le Mans are engineered and optimized for the grueling demands of the race, but no car is infallible no matter how well designed it is. It still takes expert skill and caution to maintain a car for that long while simultaneously pushing it to its limits.
The Le Mans winner is determined by calculating which vehicle traversed the furthest distance.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is held in France and is literally a nonstop daylong event. Teams with 3 drivers compete, swapping out drivers every few hours or sooner. There are rules preventing a single driver from being behind the wheel for more than 14 hours at a time.
The Le Mans is a true test of motorsport prowess, from technical skill to engineering abilities.