1981 24 Hours of Le Mans
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|1981 24 Hours of Le Mans|
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|Index: Races | Winners|
The 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans was the 49th Grand Prix of Endurance, and took place on 13 and 14 June 1981. It was also the eighth round of the 1981 World Endurance Championship of Drivers and the fifth round of the 1981 World Endurance Championship of Makes.
The circuit had been widened at the approach to the Esses, adding grass runoff after the Dunlop Curve.
Porsche had a new program for the future Group C regulations in 1982, and had persuaded Jacky Ickx out of retirement. The main reason for entering Le Mans was to test a new engine for the upcoming new car. This 2.6L engine was derived from an Indianapolis 500 engine which never raced. The new engines were fitted in a pair of 936 chassis. Ickx shared one of the updated 936s with Derek Bell; Jochen Mass, Vern Schuppan and Hurley Haywood drove the other.
Shortly after going into semi-retirement, NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough made his only start. This made Yarborough one of the few drivers in history to participate in the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The race was run in very hot weather, but the engine test was successful: after the first hour, Ickx and Bell had built a large advance and remained at lead for the rest of the race. They won by an even greater margin than in 1976- 14 laps. Ickx had won Le Mans for the 5th time- surpassing a record set by fellow Belgian Olivier Gendebien in 1962.
The race was marred by the death of Jean-Louis Lafosse, who violently crashed his Rondeau in the early stages on the Hunaudieres while following the Lola T600 of de Villota/Edwards/Fernández. No cause has ever been determined although a piece of debris is seen flying away from the car just before the Rondeau suddenly steers to the right, along with pre-crash photographs showing evidence of damage from an off-track excursion, suggesting suspension failure as a possible cause.
Thierry Boutsen, who would go on to drive in Formula One, had earlier escaped a large accident in the second hour, destroying his WM-Peugeot but without causing injury to himself; race marshal Thierry Mabillat was fatally injured in the accident; and 2 of his colleagues, Claude Hertault and Serge David, were seriously injured but survived; the latter lost an arm.
- Pole Position - #11 Porsche System - 3:29.44
- Fastest Lap - #12 Porsche System - 3:34.00
- Distance - 4825.348 km
- Average Speed - 201.056 km/h
- Index of Thermal Efficiency - #31 Jean-Philippe Grand