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A great deal of it has got to do with the range of differing championships that Le Mans was open to once upon a time.

From the early days up until the 1950s the classes were defined by engine size; there were very few 'Le Mans Specials' and quite often it was the slow(er) but steady(er) reliable cars that won e.g. In 1952 the 3 litre Mercedes' of Lang, Riess, Helfrich and Niedermayr beat the 5 Litre Nash into 3rd and the 8 litre(!) Cunningham back into 4th. OK, so they were streamlined Mercedes but you have to admit that had the Germans decided to build an 8 litre it probably would have caned the opposition, instead they decided on a diferent way to win.

By the 60s there were more and more 'specials' so the ACO decided that they would split the categories into S (sport) and GT and they dispensed with the engine size categorisation. It existed this way for a few years until things started getting silly and the big litre engines got more reliable. S became S (closed coupe racing cars) and SP (sports prototype; limited number open top racing cars and not road legal GTs) and the larger contingent of GTs. It was probably about this time that the GT runners realised they were never going to win outright and needed to 'improve their standing' so, where once there had been a big winner and individual small class winners, there now became a greater emphasis on winning your class.

I admit the 70s and 80s are a bit confusing with Group 5, Group 6, Turbo classes, non-turbo classes and then IMSA, World Sportscars, Group C and national GT championship cars all running side by side but this was probably when Le Mans was at it's most diverse (partially set off by the OPEC crisis in the early 70s when the ACO opened the gates to anyone who wanted to enter out of fear of the event being scrapped).

These days we have LMP1 and LMP2 which are differentiated by engine size, air restrictor and tyre widths. Basically LMP1 is more HP but heavy and LMP2 is the opposite. Alongside that we have GTS (closed supercars which are almost sillouettes of their road equivalents) and GT (the 'real' road cars).

So there you have it. Hope that helps........

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