Watch: 24 Hours of Le Mans Circuit explained
Track guide with onboard lap of Circuit De La Sarthe.
Circuit De La Sarthe or Circuit Des 24 Heures Du Mans is situated in Le Mans, Maine, France.
Built-in 1923 by Automobile Club de I'Quest, the circuit has been the venue for the main event on the WEC(World Endurance Championship) calendar with double points being awarded at the end of the event.
The circuit in itself consists of public roads and purpose-built sections, with a mix of long straights, chicanes and high-speed curves namely the Porsche curves.
The total circuit length is 8.469 miles/13.629 km, and the race itself is run for 24 hours making it the most grueling motorsport event.
There's a famous saying "You don't win Le Mans, you survive Le Mans"
Also, the weather in this part of France is variable and it's not uncommon to see rain showers during the race weekend, so that adds to the challenge especially if it happens at night.
So, lets now take a look at the lap of Le Mans circuit
Start/finish straight and dunlop chicane
The lap starts with the start/finish straight, its very important to get a good exit out of the final chicane to get a good run on the straight, for Turn 1 drivers take the car as left as possible and then turn sharply, this is followed up by an uphill section leading to the Dunlop chicane, the braking for Dunlop chicane is just before the second of the ad boards on the right hand side.
After the Dunlop chicane we head downhill into the esses, the first part is an easy right but then comes the banked left hander which is trickier, the drivers just dab the brakes before heading into the left-hander, though it is banked the car tends to understeer through it. This is followed up by a fast right hander which is usually flat but watch out for the barriers at the exit.
After the esses you prepare yourself for the famous high-speed Tetre Rouge, You can gain or lose lot of time through this corner, the drivers dab the brakes 50-100 metres before Tetre Rouge and then try to hit the apex kerb and let the car run out wide on the exit kerb, down onto the Mulsanne straight.
Its easier said than done as drivers have to watch out for track limits at the exit, carry a bit too much speed and you will be running out wide at the exit invalidating your lap, take it too slow you will be losing time all the way along Mulsanne straight.
After Tetre Rouge comes to the first leg of the Mulsanne straight, here you can adjust the settings on the steering wheel, talk on the radio with the engineer and is also a great place for overtaking.
As you reach the First chicane also known as Forza chicane you are looking at the left-hand side for the 200 metre marker board, drivers initially don't look at the corner with their eyesight fixed on finding the braking point, going into the Forza chicane drivers try to hug the kerbs as much as possible, exit out of here is very important to get a good run on the second leg of Mulsanne straight.
Onto the second leg of Mulsanne straight, we now approach the second of the chicanes, which is basically a mirror image of the first chicane, its slightly more open and is trickier, the car always tends to understeer as you go through the chicane, also the braking point for the chicane is very tricky as its in between two marker boards, which makes it very tough especially at night.
Exiting the second chicane, there's another short straight before we approach the famous Mulsanne corner. This is one of the trickiest points on the circuit, as cars approach into the corner at speeds in excess of 300 kph and then brake hard as they turn through the right-hand kink, the car suddenly feels very light with back end stepping out.
Also, the track surface changes just at braking point, and this change in grip makes braking very tricky. It's very easy to lose the back end through Mulsanne or just lock up the fronts and run straight on into the barrier. Its that easy to have your race over at this corner so drivers need to focus 100 percent for the whole of the duration to negotiate this corner.
Exiting Mulsanne corner with good exit speed is very important as this is followed up by a very fast flat-out section before reaching Indianapolis, a firm favourite among the drivers.
The entry speed into the corner is in excess of 300 kph and the driver's brake just at the entry or as they pass through the right-handed banking. It's very tricky because the track is very narrow and if you get it wrong at entry the consequences are dire.
The first part is a banked right-hander while the second part is a slow speed left hander which puts us onto a short straight before reaching Arnage.
This is the slowest point on the circuit and it's not uncommon to see drivers go straight on into the barriers at Arnage. The corner in itself looks very easy but it doesn't take much of a mistake here.
Also, most of the corners at this circuit are fast to medium speed so the brain is adjusted to those and then suddenly you come into Arnage, and that's when you can mess up your braking point and go straight on into the barrier quite embarrassingly.
Exiting Arnage there's a decent length straight before approaching the famous Porsche curves, these are one of the toughest corners with the car being on the knife edge throughout this section, the track gets really narrow with not much run-off and barriers close by, so drivers have to be precise with their steering input and modulate the throttle and brakes with pinpoint accuracy to get the most out of these famous curves.
Now coming into the final part of the lap we encounter two chicanes, famously termed as "The Ford Chicane".The first chicane is faster, the braking point is just as the run-off starts on the right-hand side, the drivers tend to hug the kerbs as much as possible, the second chicane is tighter and drivers need to ride the kerbs to get a good exit .
That puts back onto the start-finish straight and end of the lap.
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