NBA legend LeBron James performed the starting honours to get the 24 Hours of Le Mans underway on Saturday.

A 300,000 sell out crowd has pitched up at the Sarthe's Bugatti circuit to follow motorsport's mythic test of endurance first run in 1923.

Toyota have won the last five editions but new regulations to the premier Hypercar class has attracted several new and old constructors to throw their hats into the Le Mans ring.

One of the Japanese marque's new rivals are Ferrari, making their return after a 50 year absence.

And their two cars secured pole in Friday's qualifying, but Toyota's No.8 car, last year's winner, took the lead shortly after the start.

When the winner takes the chequered flag at 1400GMT on Sunday it will have covered over 5,000 kilometres - roughly the distance separating Paris from New York.

Adding to the suspense this year is the weather, with storms, strong gusts of wind and heavy rain forecast in the region until Sunday night.

In all there are 16 Hypercars vying for the win in the Le Mans centenary compared to only five last year - but Toyota remain favourites to notch up their sixth successive win after cleaning up in the first three rounds of the world endurance championship.

"We're thrilled to have competition at last," said Pascal Vasselon, Toyota's technical director.