*** ----> Zidane kicks off Le Mans 24 Hours | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Zidane kicks off Le Mans 24 Hours

AFP | Le Mans, France

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

French football great Zinedine Zidane acted as starter to get the mythic Le Mans 24 Hour race on its way at 1400GMT yesterday. Ahead of the 62 cars split into three categories on the grid lies the ultimate test of motorsport endurance - for the 186 drivers, their cars, mechanics and last but not least the crowd estimated at 250,000.

One major unknown for the 92nd edition was - despite being mid-June - the weather.

Zidane was wearing winter gear as he waved the ceremonial starter’s flag - a French Tricolor with ‘24’ embossed in gold on it - handed to him by French soldiers who had abseiled down with it from a hovering helicopter.

The temperature was a chilly 15 degrees celsius with plenty of rain forecast until Sunday at 1400GMT when the winner will take the cherished chequered flag after around 350 laps of the iconic 13.6kilometre Sarthe circuit in the west of France near the medieval town of Le Mans.

There was nothing ancient about the gleaming machinery setting off led by the elite category Porsche Hypercar, in pole after qualifying on Thursday.

Ferrari are the defending title holders after claiming the centenary edition 12 months ago. The Hypercar class is the most open in almost three decades with no fewer than nine different constructors presenting 23 cars. In the early stages, Ferrari’s number 50 car led from the team’s 51 car, which won last year. A Porsche was in third. Ferrari’s Formula One team principal Fred Vasseur predicted a close race.

“The fight is very, very tight, lot of good drivers. “Twenty-four hours with this weather, very, very tight, we are just focused on ourselves.” Porsche are six-handed - with their three factory cars in the Penske team of American motorsport titan Roger Penske. Penske, 87, was on hand hoping for a first ever Le Mans victory. “We have very high hopes this year.

It’s an honour to be here, it’s a totally legendary race in the world,” he said before the start.

Among a clutch of former Formula One drivers on the grid were 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button (Porsche Jota), Mick Schumacher (Alpine), the son of seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher, and Romain Grosjean (Lamborghini), whose F1 career ended when he made a miraculous escape after his Haas erupted in flames in a first lap crash in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix. But the main attraction prerace was a legend from twowheels, Valentino Rossi, driving a BMW in the third-tier LMGT3 class.