Driving to Le Mans: the ultimate road trip guide
- By Rory FH Smith
A version of this article was first published on YesAuto UK.
Taking a road trip through France to the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a rite of passage for any car enthusiast or motorsport fan. Located just a few hours from Calais and Paris, driving the back roads to the legendary Circuit de Sarthe is the way to go. Here's what route to take, where to stop and what to drive it in.
We won't be too prescriptive on this as the usual pilgrimage down to Le Mans sees a rich mix of everything from classics to the latest supercars take on the journey. That said, there's something special about journeying down in a car that has connections to winning races at Le Mans. With that, cars from the Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Bugatti, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota stable all have particular relevance.
From London to Le Mans, it's just over 360-miles via the autoroute and toll roads, which is the least interesting but fastest way to get from door to door. For those looking for a little more excitement, try to keep off the autoroute and stick to the back roads, which cut their way through the French countryside.
Once across the channel, the autoroute is hard to ignore for the 130-mile blast from Calais to Rouen. But once you've made it to the medieval city, it's easy to switch to the D438, which runs parallel to the autoroute for much of the journey.
Here, enjoy cutting your way through the French countryside, taking in the tree-lined avenues, rolling hills, farmland and old villages that inspired the opening sequence of the 1971 Steve McQueen film, Le Mans. While you certainly won't be alone on a Le Mans weekend, take in the vast numbers of supercars, classics and racing fans driving the route with you. Just be sure to watch for the significantly increased Police presence en route.
In the town of Alençon, drop off the D438 and pick up the D338 for the final 30-mile dash to Le Mans town centre - the heart of the pre-race celebrations, including the driver parade. Once caught up in the heady mix of high-octane engines, racing drivers and over 50,000 fans, you'll forgive the endless tailbacks and traffic jams.
Known as the capital of the Normandy region, the old Medieval town was also home to the French Grand Prix, hosting the race at the nearby Rouen-Les-Essarts track sporadically between 1952 and 1968. In 1994, the circuit was closed and by 1999 all elements of it had been erased by the Rouen authorities, who demolished the grandstands, racing signs and Armco. Still, it's possible to drive around the old circuit albeit on public roads and even spot some of the old cobbles that formed part of the racetrack coming through the asphalt.
WHERE TO STAY:
To live the true Le Mans' experience, there's only one option for accommodation - camping. Campsites have been the choice of the vast majority of Le Mans goers for
Hotel Château du Grand Lucé
And for those looking for the opposite to camping, there's Hotel Château du Grand Lucé which is more akin to Versailles and sits 17-miles away from the circuit, making it a handy, high-end escape for anyone looking for some respite from the racing.