Welcome to CAR’s low-down on the famous Le Mans circuit, the venue for this weekend’s 24-hour race. Join us as we delve into its history, its character and its evolution through the decades.
How long is the Le Mans race circuit?
The contemporary track is 8.47 miles long, with sections of permanent track joined to closed sections of public road.
What’s the lap record at Le Mans?
The fastest lap around the modern track was set in 2008, when the no.8 Peugeot 908 of Lamy, Sarrazin and Wurz set a time of 3min 19.394sec – at an average speed of 152.9mph. It’s no wonder La Sarthe provides some of the most memorable views in world motorsport.
Driving that fast on public roads sounds fun!
Yes, but the public road sections are notoriously ‘dirty’ – and for the first part of the race also lack the soft rubber laid down by the cars racing on the sections of permanent track. This means traction can be an issue, especially if it rains as is forecast for 2010.
Are there plenty of overtaking spots?
Yes, but heavy traffic in the region typically means the road sections are as bumpy as a car maker’s sales chart in recession. Coupled with the fact that the roads are only closed a few hours before the race starts, it makes for some interesting racing as the drivers adjust to the changing surfaces.
Has the Le Mans circuit changed much over the years?
The track dynamics have changed several times, and the layout we see today is largely a product of increasingly stringent safety regulations. For example, FIA regulations state that no straight shall be longer than 2km, meaning the famous 5km Mulsanne straight now features a pair of chicanes which serve to keep speeds down to a ‘sensible’ level. The Mulsanne is still one of the must-see vantage points on the track.
So it’s not been entirely neutered?
Far from it. Health and safety has historically been a factor in the design of the circuit. Corners named Dunlop Curve and Tetre Rouge were created to cut the town of Le Mans out of the track’s route. This meant spectators didn’t put themselves in danger by getting too close to the action. But you won’t be disappointed by the spectacle on offer in 2010 as we see if Peugeot can retain their silverware on home soil.