Le Mans is a very special type of race. Lasting 24hrs, the winning car is often the toughest, not the fastest. "To finish first, first you must finish", is the motto of many an endurance racer. First held in 1923, the race is run on the Sarthe circuit. This is made up of sections of purpose built track and closed off public roads. It's most famous feature is probably the straight named "Les Hunaudières", where in the past, the fastest racers would reach 250mph+. In recent years the straight has been slowed by the addition of two chicanes for safety reasons.
In the early years, Bentley and Bugatti were dominant (many Bentley's are still named after parts of the circuit, Arnage, Mulsanne, etc.). Ettore Bugatti famously described WO Bentley's 3 and 4 litre racers as the "fastest lorries in the world".
Post war saw the emergence of Jaguar as a dominant force, their C- and D-Types winning several times in the 1950's. The 1988 race saw Jaguar once again take a race win with their XJR-9LM. Ferrari too had several winners of the race as did Aston-Martin who won it just once in 1959.
The early part of the 1960's saw Ferrari as the dominant marque. Cars such as the 250GTO and 250LM were built with Le Mans in mind. As the decade wore on, Henry Ford II decided Ford should compete in the big race. The story goes he wanted to beat Ferrari at it's own game, after his attempt to buy the Ferrari company from Enzo had failed. Either way, Ford commissioned a sports racing prototype car from Lola which became known as the Ford GT40. It was so named because it was only 40 inches tall. The GT40 went on to become one of the most successful Le Mans racers ever, winning the race 4 times in succession between 1966-69.
The next big player in Le Mans history is Porsche. The German sports car maker had several class wins at LeMans prior to 1970, but had never won the race outright. The 917 changed all that. This formidable car was as fast as it was beautiful. It's initial debut in 1969 failed due to it's unstable aerodynamics, but Porsche soon found that by trimming the rear end of the 917L (long-tail car) to create the 917K (short tail), cured the aerodynamic instability problems. A 917K won the race in 1970 and again in 1971, giving Porsche the first of it's 16 victories at Le Mans. Their most recent victory was in 1998 with their 911 GT1'98 model.
Other manufacturers who have scored victories in the race include Mercedes-Benz, Matra, McLaren and Mazda (the only Japanese manufacturer to do so, in 1991). The 1999 race saw BMW score their first victory with the V12 LMR sports prototype, (although the 1995 winning McLaren F1 used a BMW engine), narrowly beating the Toyota GT1, which had fantastic speed but not enough reliability to give the Japanese maker it's first Le Mans win. Since 2000 Audi has been the dominant marque, finishing 1-2-3 in 2000, 1-2 in 2001, another win in 2002, and two more wins in 2004 and 2005. In 2003 Bentley won for the first time since 1930, but in fact the winning car was essentially an Audi in Bentley clothes (as Bentley is now part of the VW/Audi group). In 2006 Audi plan to field a new car, the R10. The main difference between it and the R8 (which is closely resembles) is that it has a turbo diesel engine. Audi feel that although it is slightly down on outright power compared to a similar petrol engine, the extra economy it allows will prove to be a race winner in endurance races. So far (as of March 2006) the R10 has won it's first race, the 12 hour race at Sebring in Florida, so Audi's diesel gamble looks like it will pay off at LeMans in 2006. (Which indeed it did, finishing in 1st and 3rd position in the 2006 Le Mans 24hrs!)
Le Mans has multiple different categories, so that in addition to outright victory, many cars are competing for individual class victory. Categories range from those for pure race cars, to those for race cars which are close to roadgoing specification.
In addition to my Le Mans cars, I also have several models of race cars that compete in different racing series including Touring car racing (typically race cars closely related to road going cars, usually saloons), Can-Am racing (a large engined "unlimited" racing series that ran in the USA and Canada from 1966-1974), Drag racing (a mostly American form of motorsport) and Single make race cars (race series where all the cars competing are essentially identical). All the models in this part of my collection are categorized under the various headings below.