The legendary and demanding 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest active care race in the entire history of motorsport. Every year, success, defeat and tragic accidents in this long-distance sports car race in Le Mans, France, are only ever the blink of an eye away. We would like to explain in more detail below what the connection is between the 24-hour race and luxury watches.
The 24 hours of Le Mans
Le Mans – a name that evokes some very vivid images for many people. Be it with motorsport enthusiasts, who are always eagerly awaiting the starting signal of the race like attendees at The Oscars or with film lovers who remember scenes from the famous film named after the race and with Hollywood icon Steve McQueen. The 24-hour race on the Circuit des 24 Heures south of the city of Le Mans has been attracting people with its magical atmosphere since its first edition in 1923.
TAG HEUER GRAND CARRERA CAV5115.BA0902
Man and machine pushing the boundariesInitially organised to prove the reliability and resilience of vehicles, the Le Mans endurance races, in addition to many technical feats, have unfortunately seen tragic accidents and even the biggest ever catastrophe in motorsport, when the car of French racer Pierre Levegh was launched into the spectator area after a collision, costing the lives not only of himself but also of 83 other people. Despite this tragedy, interest in the endurance race didn’t falter and the Le Mans race developed over time into the highlight of the World Sportscar Championship series. However, after the FIA Sportscar World Championship folded in 1992, there was no accompanying racing series that could meet the requirements of the AOC (Automobile Club de l'Ouest). But in 2012, this dry spell came to an end, with the permission of the FIA, the AOC established the FIA Endurance World Championship, a series of races in which the cars start with the same technical specifications as in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Battle of the giantsThe recently released film “Le Mans '66” tells the story of one of the greatest rivalries ever fought on the track. None other than Enzo Ferrari himself ran the Ferrari racing team back in the 1960s – and Ferrari dominated the racing series. This was around the same time that Henry Ford expressed interest in buying the Italian luxury car manufacturer. But Enzo “Il Commendatore” Ferrari pulled out of the deal to sell the company. Ford was beside himself and tasked his engineers with building a car that would defeat Ferrari at Le Mans and thus humiliate the company.
That’s when the Ford GT was born. But the thoroughbred American sports car failed to deliver what its creators desired and the first attempt to get even was all wrong. Ford was exasperated. But Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles came up with a remedy. The car designer Shelby finally succeeded in developing an engine together with racing driver Miles, bringing Ford not just a simple victory, but a triple victory in 1966. All three Ford GT's not only crossed the finish line but even took first, second and third place – well ahead of the competition from Maranello.
Motor racing and luxury watches: Much more than a coincidence
At first glance, cars and watches don’t have very much in common. But on closer inspection, it becomes clear that both industries are united by the desire for absolute perfection and constant improvement. As well as the highly coveted winner's trophy, a magnum bottle of champagne and a place in racing history, the winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will also receive a luxury watch – none other than the popular Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. This comes as no surprise as wherever people and materials are being pushed to their limits, the famous Geneva-based company usually aren’t far away.
ROLEX DAYTONA 116500LN
Since 2001, Rolex has also been the official timekeeper of the endurance race. The name of the model that racers receive as a prize for winning relates to the town of Daytona Beach in Florida, on whose sandy beach many speed records were set and broken in the 1930s. Back then, Rolex equipped the high-speed pioneers with its robust sports chronographs so that drivers could always keep track of the time. At the end of the 50s the “Daytona International Speedway” was opened, one of the fastest circuits in America at that time. In 1966 the first 24 Hours of Daytona race took place there.
The Daytona competitors: The TAG Heuer, Chopard and Breitling racing teamsRolex was already involved in the Daytona Beach race as official timekeeper and has also been title sponsor of the race since 1992. Alongside Rolex, other watch manufacturers are also active in motorsports. Tag Heuer, for example, not only sponsor individual drivers and racing teams but also entire racing series. In addition to Breitling and Chopard, the brand has also expressed its close connection to racing and motorsports through some very special watch models. The Monaco von TAG Heuer is the result of a unique race to develop the first ever automatic chronograph. In 2019, the model celebrated its 50th birthday already. The TAG Heuer Carrera and the Rolex Daytona share common history and have been eternal rivals from the very beginning.
While the races in Daytona and Le Mans each year are all about advancing automotive technology, the “Mille Miglia” car race, for example, honours vintage racing cars. This classic car race was once held as a rally in the north of Italy, but the event, which was relaunched in 1977 as a regularity race to test the reliability and performance of vintage cars. Chopard has since paid tribute to the once highly dangerous tour with its Mille Miglia series.
CHOPARD MILLE MIGLIA 168459-3001
Breitling shows its connection to motorsport in an even more direct way and joined forces with the British luxury carmaker Bentley in the early 2000s. When Bentley launched the Continental GT, one of the world's most powerful Gran Turismos at the time and brought it to the starting line at Le Mans, Breitling was already getting involved. After Bentleys Continental dominated the 24-hour race in the French Pays de la Loire for several years in a row, Breitling launched the Breitling Bentley Le Mans (Ref. A22362) in honour of the car manufacturer. In fact, Breitling and Bentley haven’t just created this one special edition or the analogue timepiece in the dashboard of the 600+ bhp cars, but rather entire collections of luxury watches such as the Breitling Bentley 6.75, the Breitling Bentley Flying B or the Breitling Bentley Supersports.