Like the Bol d'Or a year ago, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is celebrating its centenary. And like the mythical motorcycle race, it will not be the 100th edition. Ten are missing in the final count, nine of which were consequential to the Second World War, between 1940 and 1948. Another, in 1936, was cancelled due to major strikes in the automobile industry.
When the armistice was signed in June 1940 between the 3rd Reich and the government of Marshal Pétain, the France was cut in two. Germany has just captured Le Mans during the Battle of France. An important strategic point, the city has a major marshalling yard and an airport since 1938.
The Allies knew this well and began bombing the prefecture of Sarthe from April 1942. On March 14, 1944, 15 locomotives and 800 wagons, capable of transporting Hitler's troops, as well as nearby factories that stored fuel for the German navy, were destroyed. The city was finally liberated in 1944 during the Battle of Normandy by General Patton's 3rd Army.
Even if Le Mans was rather spared by the bombings (unlike Nantes or Angers, for example), the damage is significant and the famous circuit has not escaped. We have to rebuild everything! "The state, which wants to revive the car industry, sees this very positively. After a first attempt in 1947, the race returned two years later. A hundred million old francs (about €150,000) are needed for the renovation work.
Seven new brands are at the start, including Renault and Ferrari. It is also the 166MM, with on board an Englishman and an American, which gives the first victory to the Prancing Horse brand. Thirteen years earlier, the race had not taken place because of the general protest movement and strikes that affected car factories.