Countdown to Le Mans EP2: A lap around La Sarthe
Tetre Rouge? Run down to the Esses? If those sound unfamiliar, this is for you!
Image from Alchetron
As you all know, knowing the track enhances the viewing experience even more than just watching it without any prior knowledge. Whether this is your first Le Mans, or you just needed someone to pull memories from the back of your mind, I have got you covered.
Image from ACO
1. Pit straight
The pit straight is the area that will be the busiest throughout the race. La Sarthe’s pit straight is not outstandingly long, actually shorter than most of the straights in sector 2 and sector 3. Still, the pit straight is one of the most iconic and busiest areas on the track. Surrounded by two towering pit and grandstand structures, the pit straight is the place where the 24 hour race starts and ends.
THe Dunlop Chicanes and the famed Dunlop Bridge. Image from Le Blog Allopeneus
2. Dunlop curve and chicanes
Dunlop curve is a slight kink that is connected from the pit straight, which leads into the Dunlop chicane. The Dunlop curve is the first corner that the drivers take, and it is crucial to get a tidy line to enter the chicane at the right place. The chicane was originally not a part of the circuit but was added to slow down the cars going into the Esses in 1987. As drivers approach the chicane at high speeds, it is not an uncommon sight to see drivers being too optimistic and end up being stuck in the gravel as well.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
After slowing down at the chicanes, racing drivers now race down the Dunlop bridge into the Esses. This area is what you call the ‘run down into the Esses’ which you will hear quite a lot from the commentators throughout the race. The Esses has quite of banking, allowing brave drivers to push and get a good run towards Tetre Rouge and, eventually, the famous Mulsanne straight. Despite the banking, the Esses is also known for its rather bumpy surface, which can easily unsettle the car. Definitely a high risk, high return corner.
Image from Youtube (Captured)
4. Tertre Rouge
Tertre Rouge is probably the single most important corner of the La Sarthe as it is the corner going into the famed Hunaudieres. You might be thinking, “It is a long straight anyway, so you can pretty much catch up easily, won’t you?” But it is actually the opposite. A good run going through Terte Rouge will help one gain the extra few kilometres per hour at the end of the straight, which often makes a huge difference when the straight going into the first chicane is nearly 2km long.
Image from ABC
5. Mulsanne straight (Hunaudieres)
Mulsanne straight, also known as the Hunaudieres is the heart of La Sarthe. Originally being a 6km straight driven flat out, the Hunaudieres has been an iconic feature of both the race and the circuit. Due to the length of the straight, it led to the development of both racecar aerodynamics and engine output. For example, turbocharging really shone here at Le Mans pioneered by Renault with their A442s, refined by Porsche with their 935, 956, and 962s, and entered a new dimension with Audi’s turbodiesel engines.
Cars entering into the first chicane. Image from Total 911
Of course, a 6km straight means insanely high top speeds, which forced them to add two chicanes for safety reasons. Yet, these chicanes also provide another factor in the entertainment as some brave drivers risk diving into the chicane to gain a position. With the engine running at max revs and slipstreaming happening everywhere, the Hunaudieres is undoubtedly the ultimate testing ground for automotive engineering!
Mulsanne corner. Image from Wikimedia Commons
6. Mulsanne kink and corner
While Mulsanne kink is one of the fastest corners that the drivers take, the Mulsanne corner, being a 2nd gear corner, is the direct opposite of it. The Mulsanne kink slightly splits out from the main Hunaudieres and is taken flat out. But drivers still need to be on the edge of their nerves, as they will soon be braking from nearly 200mph for LMP1 cars into Mulsanne corner. Mulsanne corner is a tight 2nd gear hairpin, and while some bold moves can be made there, you can also easily go wide and end up in the gravel.
Image from ACO
7. Indianapolis and Arnage
After exiting from Mulsanne corner, you accelerate once again to the straight, with most cars reaching 6th gear by the time they approach Indianapolis. Indianapolis is no simple corner, as it is consisted of two parts, a slight right kink and a 90 degree turn to the left. But it is not over there, as drivers soon enter Arnage, the slowest corner on the track. Getting a wrong entry from Indianapolis is surely enough to mess up with the rhythm all the way going into Arnage, making these sequences of corners highly crucial as well.
Image from Dailysportscar
8. Porsche and Corvette curves
These sequences of corners are named after two famed manufacturers, Porsche and Corvette, each having a long history at Le Mans. The combination of fast right, left, left, and right-handers allow little error due to the small run-off area and tall walls around it. Being greedy might cause one to understeer into the wall, ending their race effectively, but if done with proper finesse, it can help save significant time. You might often see two cars racing side by side into these curves, and that is undoubtedly some of the most breathtaking moments at Le Mans.
Image from Ford
9. Ford chicanes
Ford, who also has a significant history at Le Mans with their GT40, Mirages(Ford powered), Rondeaus, and their ‘new’ GT, also has a corner dedicated to them. The Ford Chicanes might not be the most difficult nor the fastest corner, but it can offer drivers some surprises. While keeping a tidy line helps drivers get a good run into the pit straight, being too late on the brakes will force the car to run wide into the curbing, potentially damaging the suspension or causing a puncture. Undoubtedly the last thing you want to happen when you have just passed the pitlane entry.
And this is the whole lap of La Sarthe. And the beauty of the 24 hours of Le Mans is that drivers do this lap more than 300 times like clockwork. Oh by the way, you want to remember the layout of the circuit even better? Why not see Kamui Kobayashi’s record-breaking lap of this amazing circuit? And if you’re feeling confident enough, go and try it yourself on your favourite racing game as well!