Since 2014, Shell has been the Official Fuel Partner of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), providing Shell V-Power LM24 ‘superfuels’ to competitors in all rounds of the series including its showcase event, the Le Mans 24 Hours.

But did you know that at Le Mans every winning car this century has crossed the line using Shell fuel? And that this year will see the 60th Le Mans winner to use Shell fuel out of 84 editions of the race since 1923?

Of the 59 wins to date, a total of 46 have come through Shell’s partnerships with automotive OEMs. Shell develops the solutions that empower its technical partners to achieve great strides in performance and efficiency – while making legendary moments in motorsporting history.

The evolution of the fuels within the cars is unseen and little talked about in comparison with technology such as disk brakes, turbocharging or even effective windscreen wipers – everyday technologies that were all tested and proven at Le Mans.

The Grand Prix d’Endurance (to give the Le Mans 24 Hours its more formal name) was founded because it was felt that regular Grand Prix cars – the forerunners to today’s Formula 1® – were becoming too specialised to have any relevance to road car development.

Thus a race which included daylight and night time driving was decided upon, with cars which were required to have headlights, on-board starter motors, convertible roofs and mud guards. At the first race in 1923 it was French motor manufacturers who showed everyone the way home but in the thick of the action for much of the race was a man called John Duff in a 3.0 litre Bentley that used Shell lubricants.

Le Mans race car being filled with fuel

Duff’s exploits inspired W.O. Bentley, the company founder, to pursue victory at Le Mans. The legendary team he built became known as the ‘Bentley Boys’ – a group of wealthy, swashbuckling chums who raced almost as hard as they partied including Duff, Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin, Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato and Sydney ‘Sammy’ Davis.

Despite their devil-may-care personae, the Bentley Boys were fearsome competitors who drove for a professional team that W.O. Bentley ruled with a rod of iron. Shell was an integral part of that team which would win Le Mans no fewer than five times, first in 1924 and then a run of four consecutive victories from 1927-30.

By the time that Bentley’s winning streak had come to an end, Shell was already providing fuel to all competitors in the race. Not only that but it was spearheading innovation.

Shell Dynamin fuel was first used in 1930 – the first high performance fuel to go on sale around the world and the fore-runner of today’s Shell V-Power. This high-tech fuel was to be delivered through the first automated refuelling system to be installed at Le Mans – a system of gravity tanks mounted on the roof of each pit garage came into effect in 1931.

In 1934, Dr. Rössig, head of the Shell Technical Centre in Hamburg, designed a Fast Refuelling Device that could safely deliver 200 litres of fuel in 37 seconds. Even today, more than 80 years later, whenever the Le Mans cars make a pit stop the equipment remains fundamentally true to Dr. Rössig’s design.

As for the fuels themselves, they have kept in step with the development of the cars. In 1973-76 Shell and Porsche worked hard to develop suitable fuels for the new technology of turbocharging. Again with Porsche, Shell with M2000 became the first successful lead-free racing petrol.

In the course of the first 70 years of the Le Mans 24 Hours, Shell partners Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Jaguar, Ford, Porsche, Matra-Simca and McLaren all took victory through innovation which, in turn, inspired Shell to equal their endeavour in partnership.

Partnering with Audi when it elected to compete at Le Mans in 1999 drove two key advances in engine technology: direct injection petrol engines, which debuted with victory in 2001, and then diesel fuel which scored a debut victory in 2006.

Throughout the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours, the organisers of the event have sought to maintain the relevance of the event by reducing the permitted fuel consumption and embracing efficiency as well as speed.

Le Mans car racing on the track

The most dramatic change in the rules was made for the 2014 season, when the permitted level of fuel consumption was cut by 30% from the previous year. This required 18 months of preparation with Shell and the competing manufacturers co-designing the current Shell V-Power LM24 fuels from scratch.

Unlike the fuels used in Formula 1®, which must retain 99% of the same compounds used in current pump product, the Shell V-Power LM24 diesel and gasoline fuels were designed from a clean sheet of paper. They are in effect prototypes of fuels that will be on sale in the course of the next decade, being used by the next generation of efficient hybrid engines.

The ‘calorific content’ of the fuel currently in use at Le Mans is remarkable – how much energy can be squeezed from every litre. So too is their construction, which makes great use of advanced biofuels that are sustainably resourced.

The 30% reduction in consumption from 2013 to now has been achieved – and more than 60% has been cut in the last decade. Yet the speed and the spectacle has remained at the forefront, making Le Mans the most celebrated race of the year to millions of fans around the world and the vast crowds of more than 260,000 at the trackside.

That is certainly progress.

If you would like more information about the opportunities to partner with Shell in any sphere of your product development or customer offering, please contact Shell Automotive:

Shell Customer Service Centre
Brabazon House
Threapwood Road
Concord Business Park
M22 0RR

Tel: 08708 500 924