Horological review of the 84th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Time and timekeeping play a major role in Le Mans. It is therefore only natural that watchmakers have their place in this race and that many have come again this year to accompany the teams and drivers they back. These are the four categories of cars competing in the race: prototypes LM P1 and LM P2 and GT LM GTE Pro and LM GTE Am. The results can be obtained by clicking on the following link.
Only the best for Rolex
Render unto Caesar…! Let us begin this review of the horological forces on the circuit by looking at the official timekeeper. Since 2001, Rolex has been the watchmaking partner and the official watch of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The famous logo with the crown is can be found all over the circuit and in the paddocks. The winners of each edition of the race will receive a commemorative edition of the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona chronograph with a special engraving. These lucky individuals might just receive the brand new version of this legendary watch, which was originally conceived for car drivers. The timepiece has a new monobloc bezel made of black Cerachrom — a hyper-resilient, high-tech ceramic patented by Rolex. It features an engraved tachymetric scale with gradations made of a fine coating of platinum deposited by PVD treatment. The 40-millimeter Oyster case comes in 904L steel, in yellow or grey gold. It houses an in-house movement, the automatically wound Caliber 4130, which benefits from the company’s own exacting certification, “Chronomètre Superlatif,” and accuracy in the range of plus-minus two seconds per day.
Chopard, Oris, Jacques Lemans and Rebellion…
We start this little watch tour with the top category in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the LM P1 prototypes designed specifically for this event and for the FIA WEC and ELMS WTSCC endurance championships. The battle will be fierce between the two German carmakers Porsche and Audi who are entering hybrid cars equipped with energy recovery systems. Last year Porsche, an emblematic presence in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, won its 17th title, ending the hegemony of the Ingolstadt carmaker that boasts thirteen wins from fifteen participations. This year it has two 919 Hybrid entries adorned with Chopard colors which are no stranger to this historic sporting event. To mark Porsche’s return to the world endurance championships in 2014 and to celebrate its win, Chopard unveiled a special Superfast Chrono Porsche 919 limited “victory edition.” (Read our article on Porsche's victory)
Oris is the official watch and timekeeping partner for the Audi Sport Team Joest at the World Endurance Cup (WEC) and at the German Championship DTM since 2014. It’s quite an achievement for this independent manufacturer, which managed to sign on with the most emblematic of automobile makers to race at Le Mans. A nice comeback for a brand that is very much tied in with auto sports and for a long time as well, be that Formula One races or vintage races. For the occasion, Oris created a collection of sports watches, “Oris Audi Sport,” in the colors of the R18 Hybrid prototypes.
Another key player in LM P1, is the Swiss stable, Rebellion Racing. It is closely linked to the Rebellion Timepieces, a watch brand with auto racing deeply embedded in its DNA. And besides, this year it became the timekeeping partner of the Formula One Manor Racing stable. Its exceptional high complication timepieces are inspired by auto racing circuits, and the brand takes a no-compromise approach to haute horlogerie, as the the latest T-1000 or Wraith Drive can testify to. This year, Watchonista, your favorite webzine for watchmaking news, is backing Rebellion Racing and so its logo appears on the body of the R-One AER (front picture). Rebellion will also be making an appearance in the LM P2 category, having signed a marketing and sporting partnership with the French stable Thiriet by TDS Racing for the 24 Hours and the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) championship.
The challenger in the category is the Bykolles Racing team, the premier Austrian stable involved in endurance driving and in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year, it is still associated with the Jacques Lemans manufacture, a name that is obviously predestined to be the stable’s official timekeeper. The brand, founded in 1975, produced a beautiful collection of sports watches and boasts a prestigious ambassador, the American actor, Kevin Costner.
In category LM P2: Tissot and .. HYT at Panis Barthez
The LMP2 category is open to independent teams of auto makers and engine builders. Among its cars are those in the Signatech-Alpine stable, which are also involved in the world endurance championship and have revived the legend of Alpine since 2013. Do you remember the stunning victory of the Renault-Alpine A 442B #02 in 1978, driven by the two Frenchmen Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Joussaud? This year it will be using the prototype A460 with a closed cockpit and will continue running under the Tissot banner, a watchmaking company that is very committed to motorsports, notably the MotoGP. For the occasion, the company has come out with two new special editions of the emblematic Tissot PRS 516, sporting the colors of the French team.
On the starting grid, the Swiss manufacturer will find the French watchmaker B.R.M, well known for its watches steeped in motorsport inspiration and imbued with the famous “racing spirit” dear to its boss Bernard Richards. As an official partner of the leading sponsor Gulf, B.R.M has long supported many teams involved in the Le Mans race, including the famous Pescarolo Sport, Oak Racing and JMB Racing. This year B.R.M is partnering the Extreme Speed Motorsports team which is entering two Ligier JS P2 cars with Nissan engines. The Ligier JS P2 will also spearhead the new team Panis Barthez Competition supported by the HYT manufacturer well known for the hydro-mechanical watch, whose time is indicated by a translucent fluid in a formed tube. The team was founded by two key figures of top-level French motorsport, F1 driver Olivier Panis and the goalkeeper and experienced driver Fabien Barthez, and is participating in the ELMS Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ferrari, Aston Martin and Chevrolet
Three manufacturers dominate the Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance (GTE) category: Ferrari (Italy), Aston Martin (UK) and Chevrolet (USA). This category is divided into two groups: the LM GTE-Pro for professional drivers and the LM GTE-Am for amateur and gentlemen drivers. While this year marks the return of Ford, a four-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960s with its legendary GT40, the other American manufacturer Chevrolet will have two Corvette C7.R entries on the starting grid with its official team Corvette Racing. Last year Corvette Racing concluded an exclusive partnership with B.R.M, which signed four limited editions of its iconic V6-44 and V12-44 models sporting the famous Jake logo, the mascot of the American team. Larbre Competition is also entering a Corvette C7.R which proved its competitiveness during the 24 Hours of Le Mans test day on 5 June. It is also supported by B.R.M.
Hublot will be present on the circuit as well, by way of the global partnership it signed with Ferrari. It has been the official watchmaking partner for Ferrari since 2012 and the timekeeper for the Scuderia Ferrari and the Ferrari Challenge. The brand created a collection of exclusive timepieces for the Maranello-based company, a collection that includes the extraordinary MP-05 LaFerrari for the launch of the eponymous supercar in 2013. It also sponsors a number of stables including the latest Ferrari 488 GTE in the LM GTE-Pro category and the 458 Italia in the "Am" category. So the tifosi will spot the name of the Nyon manufacture on the red racecars embossed with the famous cavallino rampante of the AF Corse team, which won in the Pro category in 2014, and of the Scuderia Corsa.
Richard Mille is a regular at Le Mans. Mille is the official partner of the now inescapable Le Mans Classic, an extension for vintage cars, of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (the next edition will take place next July 4-6). This year, the manufacture committed fully to automobile competition by investing in the august Formula One category thanks to its partnerships with McLaren-Honda and Haas F1. The brand succeeded Jaeger-LeCoultre as the partner of the British car maker Aston Martin and its stable Aston Martin Racing. The latter is lining up two Vantage GT8s in the LM GTE-Pro category and two V8 Vantages in the LM Gte-Am category.
The latter is lining up two Vantage GT8s in the LM GTE-Pro category and two V8 Vantages in the LM Gte-Am category. Richard Mille is also a man of serious convictions who has taken the SRT41 (Sausset Team Racing) team challenge head on, namely to invite a quad-amputee driver to take the wheel of a Morgan LM P2, a first in the history of car racing.
Finally, much to the chagrin of all fans of sports cars, the American actor, Patrick Dempsey, famous for his role in the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, will not be on the starting line this year. As a genuine fan of mechanical sports, he has participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a driver and even came in second at the 2015 edition in the LM GTE-Am category. He will nevertheless be on hand with his Dempsey-Proton Racing team. He will be integrated in the Pro category with a 911 Porsche RSR (#77), which will be proudly flying the colors of the TAG Heuer manufacture, of which he is one of the most prestigious ambassadors.
Finally, like last year, the watch brand Memorigin will be the official partner of the KCMG stable, 2015 winner in the LM P2 category. The brand is present in two categories: LM P2, with an Oreca 05-Nissan, and LM GTE Am, with a Porsche 911 RSR. Memorigin is based in Hong Kong and makes high-end Chinese watches.