- Circuit de la Sarthe
- For the French road bicycle racing stage race, see Circuit de la Sarthe (cycling)
Circuit des 24 Heures Circuit de la Sarthe Location Le Mans, France Time zone GMT+1 Coordinates Coordinates: Owner Automobile Club de l'Ouest
Ville du Mans
Operator Automobile Club de l'Ouest Opened 1923 Major events 24 Hours of Le Mans
French motorcycle Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans Moto
Circuit de la Sarthe Surface Asphalt Length 13.629 km (8.469 mi) Turns 38 Lap record 3:19.074 (Loïc Duval, Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, 2010, LMP1) Bugatti Circuit Surface Asphalt Length 4.273 km (2.655 mi) Turns 10
The Circuit des 24 Heures, also known as Circuit de la Sarthe, located near Le Mans, France, is a semi-permanent race course most famous as the venue for the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race. The track uses local roads that remain open to the public most of the year. The circuit, in its present configuration, is 13.629 km (8.469 mi) long, making it one of the longest circuits in the world.
Le Mans is a race where up to 85% of the time is spent on full throttle, meaning immense stress on engine and drivetrain components. However, the times spent reaching maximum speed also mean tremendous wear on the brakes and suspension as cars must slow from over 200 mph (322 km/h) to around 65 mph (105 km/h) for the end of Mulsanne in a short distance. Downforce in the era of Group C cars helped braking to some degree but presently cars are tending towards low downforce to seek higher speeds in the face of power limiting regulations.
The track, which basically was a triangle from Le Mans down south to Mulsanne, northwest to Arnage, and back north to Le Mans, has undergone many modifications over the years, with CIRCUIT N° 14 being in use since 2007.
In the 1920s, the cars drove from the present pits on Rue de Laigné straight into the city, and after a tight right-hander near the river Sarthe Pontlieu bridge, left the city again on the rather straight street now named Avenue Georges Durand after the race's founder. Then 17.261 kilometres (10.725 mi) long and unpaved, a bypass within the city shortened the track in 1929, but only in 1932 the city was bypassed when the section from the pits via the Dunlop Bridge and the Esses to Tertre Rouge was added. This classic configuration was 8.369 miles (13.469 km) long and remained almost unaltered even after the 1955 tragedy. Its frighteningly narrow pit straight was narrowed off to make room for the pits and was part of the road itself, without the road becoming wider just for the pits. The pit straight was about 12 feet wide (the pit straight was widened in 1956) and the race track and pits were not separated for another 15 years. The pit area was modified at a cost of 300 million francs, the signalling area was even moved to the exit of the slow Mulsanne corner, and the track was resurfaced.
With cars getting ever faster in the 1960s, criticism rose, especially when several drivers were killed, often in the testing session in April. Since 1965, a smaller but permanent Bugatti Circuit was added which shares the pit lane facilities and the first corner (including the famous Dunlop bridge) with the longer version. For the 1968 race, the Ford chicane was added before the pits to slow down the cars. The circuit was fitted with Armco for the 1969 race. The Maison Blanche kink was prone to criticism, a number of nasty accidents happened at the very fast kink over the years, such as John Woolfe being killed there in his Porsche 917 in 1969 and 3 Ferrari 512s (including 2 works cars) were involved in a pile-up there in 1970, with the latter shunt sealing the very fast classic circuit's fate. The circuit was modified 9 more times- in 1971 (a year where the prototypes were averaging 150+ mph (240+ km/h), which was also the last year the classic circuit was used) Armco was added to the pit straight to separate the track from the pits, and in 1972, the last part of the race track was revamped considerably- with the quick Porsche curves bypassing Maison Blanche and part of the first straight and all of the second straight between the pits and Maison Blanche. One of the Porsche Curves was affectionately named "Maison Blanche" and a short straight with a slight kink and 2 chicanes before the pits named the Ford chicanes were all added.
In 1979, due to the construction of a new public road, the profile of Tertre Rouge had to be changed. This redesign led to a faster double-apex corner as well as requiring the removal of the second Dunlop Bridge. In 1986, because of construction of a new roundabout at the Mulsanne corner, a new portion of track had to be built in order to avoid the roundabout. This created a right hand kink prior to Mulsanne corner. In 1987, a chicane was added to the very fast Dunlop curve where cars would go under the Dunlop bridge at 180 mph, now they would be slowed to 110 mph.
In 1990, two chicanes were added onto the Mulsanne straight (explained in more detail below), and in 1994, the Dunlop chicane was tightened, in 2002, the run to the Esses was revamped because of a reconstruction of the Bugatti Circuit. The Le Mans circuit was changed between the Dunlop Bridge and Esses, with the straight now becoming a set of fast sweeping turns. This layout allowed for a better transition from the Le Mans circuit to the Bugatti circuit. This layout change would also require the track's infamous carnival to be relocated because the area it had once occupied became runoff. The carnival was relocated to the Porsche curves, and in 2006, the ACO redeveloped the area around the Dunlop Curve and Dunlop Chicane, moving the Dunlop Curve in tighter to create more run-off area, while also turning the Dunlop Chicane into a larger set of turns. As part of the development, a new extended pit lane exit was created for motorcycles running the Bugatti Circuit. This second pit exit re-enters the track just beyond the Dunlop Chicane and before the Dunlop Bridge.
Le Mans was most famous for its 6 km (3.7 mi) long straight, called Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, a part of the route départementale (for the Sarthe département) D338 (formerly Route Nationale N138). The Targa Florio featured the even longer Buonfornello straight along the coast, though. As the Hunaudières leads to the village of Mulsanne, it is often called the Mulsanne Straight in English, even though the proper Route du Mulsanne is the one to Arnage. The Porsche 917 long tail had reached 380 km/h, but after engine size was limited, the top speed dropped until the Group C allowed powerful turbo engines. Speeds on the straight by the prototypes reached over 400 km/h (250 mph) during the late 1980s, and the combination of high speed and high downforce caused tyre and engine failures, as this circuit was extremely hard on both tyres and engines before 1990, less so in 1990 and beyond. Due to safety concerns after the extremely high speeds reached at the end of the straight and a number of hideously violent, sometimes fatal accidents in the 1980's (Jean-Louis Lafosse in 1981 and Jo Gartner in 1986) two roughly equally spaced chicanes were consequently added to the straight before the 1990 race to limit the achievable maximum speed. These were named after sponsors PlayStation and Michelin. In 1990 FIA decreed that it would no longer sanction any circuit which had a straight longer than two kilometres. The fastest qualifying lap average speed dropped only from 249 to 243 km/h in 1993, and it rose up to 247 in 2008, not far from the all time best of 250 and 251 set by the Porsche 917 and 956. Regarding the lap record in the race itself, 2008 saw the fastest ever.
Years Record year Distance record Average race speed Lap record (in race) Driver – car Lap record (qualifying) Driver – car Circuit N°1 – 17.262 km 1923–1928 1928 2,669.27 km
111.219 km/h 8:07 (127.604 km/h)
Circuit N°2 – 16.340 km 1929–1931 1931 3,017.654 km
125.735 km/h 6:48 (144.362 km/h)
Circuit N°3 – 13.492 km 1932–1955 1955 4,135.38 km
172.308 km/h 4:06.6 (196.963 km/h)
Circuit N°4 – 13.461 km 1956–1967 1967 5,232.90 km
Ford Mk IV
218.038 km/h 3:23.6 (238.014 km/h)
M.Andretti & D.Hulme
Ford Mk IV
3:24.04 (236.082 km/h)
Ford Mk IV
Circuit N°5 – 13.469 km 1968–1971 1971 5,335.31 km
222.304 km/h 3:18.4 (244.387 km/h)
3:13.6 (250.457 km/h)
in 1971 (practice)
Circuit N°6 – 13.640 km 1972–1978 1978 5,044.53 km
Alpine-Renault A442 B
210.189 km/h 3:34.2 (229.244 km/h)
3:27.6 (236.531 km/h)
Circuit N°7 – 13.626 km 1979–1985 1985 5,088.51 km
212.021 km/h 3:25.1 (239.169 km/h)
3:14.80 (251.815 km/h)
Circuit N°8 – 13.528 km 1986 1986 4,972.73 km
Porsche 962 C
207.197 km/h 3:23.3 (239.551 km/h)
3:15.99 (243.486 km/h)
Porsche 962 C
Circuit N°9 – 13.535 km 1987–1989 1988 5,332.79 km
221.665 km/h 3:21.27 (242.093 km/h)
3:15.04 (249.826 km/h)
Sauber Mercedes C9
Circuit N°10 – 13.600 km 1990–1996 1993 5,100.00 km
213.358 km/h 3:27.47 (235.986 km/h)
3:21.209 (243.329 km/h)
Circuit N°11 – 13.605 km 1997–2001 2000 5,007.98 km
208.666 km/h 3:35.032 (227.771 km/h)
3:29.930 (233.306 km/h)
Circuit N°12 – 13.650 km 2002–2005 2004 5,169.97 km
215.415 km/h 3:33.483 (230.182 km/h)
3:29.905 (234.106 km/h)
Circuit N°13 – 13.650 km 2006 2006 5,187.00 km
Audi R10 TDI
215.409 km/h 3:31.211 (232.658 km/h)
Audi R10 TDI
Audi R10 TDI
Circuit N°14 – 13.629 km Since 2007 2010 5,410.71 km
Audi R15 TDI plus
225.228 km/h 3:19.074 (246.463 km/h)
Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
3:18.513 (247.160 km/h)
Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Bugatti Circuit is a permanent race track located within Circuit des 24 Heures, named after Ettore Bugatti. The circuit uses a part of the larger circuit and a separate, purpose-built section. The sections of track on the Bugatti Circuit that are on the Circuit des 24 Heures include the Ford Chicane at the end of the lap, the pit complex, and the straight where the Dunlop Tyres bridge is located. At this point in the overlapping section of the tracks there is a left right sweep that was added for motorcycle safety in 2002. Vehicles turning to the left continue onto the Circuit des 24 Heures, toward Tertre Rouge and Mulsanne, vehicles turning to the right will continue the Bugatti Circuit.
The track is home base for Pescarolo Sport, founded by famous French driver Henri Pescarolo. The circuit also hosts the 24 Hours of Le Mans motorcycle race, and a round of the MotoGP Championship. The circuit also holds French motor club races and in the past has hosted rounds of the International Formula 3000 Championship and DTM (German Touring Car series).
As well as motor racing it is the venue for the 24 rollers, a 24h race on inline skates or quads.
The track was used for the 1967 French Grand Prix.
In 1988, Team WM Peugeot knew they had no chance of winning the 24 hour endurance race, but they also knew that their Welter Racing designed car had very good aerodynamics. Thus they nicknamed their 1988 entry "Project 400" (aiming to be the first car to achieve a speed of 400 km/h on the famous straight), although the official team entry was named WM Secateva. Roger Dorchy, Claude Haldi and Jean-Daniel Raulet would be the three drivers that year.
The Peugeot 2.8L V6 turbo charged PRV engine had its air intakes taped over to improve aerodynamics, and they also equipped the car with special narrow Michelin tires. The plan worked: on June 11th 1988, with Roger Dorchy behind the wheel, the WM P87 achieved the speed of 405 km/h (251.7 mph).
Taping over the air intakes obviously impeded engine cooling, and the Peugeot was only the third Group C1 car to exit the race after 59 laps with an overheating engine.
- ^ "ACO Homepage 24 Heures". ACO. http://www.lemans.org/en/aco/infrastructures/circuits-24-heures.html. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
- Official website
- Trackpedia's guide to driving Le Mans
- Satellite Picture by Google Maps
- History and track maps 1921–2006
- Trackpedia's guide to Le Mans Bugatti
- Track Reviewers reviews of Le Mans
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