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Special Report: 24 Hours of Le Mans: Le Mans’s Rich Tradition of Change

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A nighttime practice session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in western France. This weekend, the highest category of cars in the race, the LMP1 prototypes, is set to be the most competitive in a decade.

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David Vincent/Associated Press

Although the 24 Hours of Le Mans has been staged since 1923, remaining the world’s most famous endurance auto race, it has never stopped changing with the times.

The running this weekend of the race’s 84th edition is emblematic of that long history of evolution, with a number of changes setting it apart from Le Mans editions of the past.

What has not changed, though, is the race’s appeal.

It’s an event that “everyone wants to win,” said Pierre Fillon, the president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, or A.C.O., which organizes the race just outside Le Mans, in western France. “It has existed since 1923, and has a history that has become mythical.”

This year, the race’s popularity is reflected the number of participants: For the first time since 1955, 60 cars will be racing, up from 56 last year. The organizers built…

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