Located in the little town of Le Mans, France, just 150 miles west of Paris, is one of the most famous races in the world. The first race was held in 1923 (99 years ago) and this year is the 90th race. The race was not held during World War 2.
The track is called the “Circuit de la Sarthe. It is an 8.5 mile circuit that incorporates both local roads and specially built track. The circuit includes the famous Mulsanne Straight which is the longest straightaway on a race track at about 3.7 miles.
What makes it different? There are several reasons.
Like the Name Says, it is 24 Hours Long
As you can gather from the name, this is a 24 hour race. It’s not just one driver. Each car has a team of three drivers. Each driver must drive at least 6 hours and not more than 14. And, each driver can be behind the wheel for more than 4 hours at one time.
4 Races in 1
There are actually 4 classes of cars on the circuit at the same time: LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am (Amateur). The LMP1 and LMP2 cars are “Le Mans Prototype” cars. These cars cost millions of dollars each, and can reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour (the record on the track is 257 mph). In the LMP2 class, one of the drivers must be an “Amateur”. Audi, Nissan and Porsche are major contenders in this class, but there are also some independent cars in this group.
The GTE Pro and GTE Am cars will look more familiar to us. These cars include Porsche 911’s, Aston Martin’s, Ferrari’s, BMW’s and Corvettes. One of the more famous cars to be raced here was the Ford F40, which Ford Motor Company built to compete with Ferrari, and was made famous in the movie “Ford vs Ferrari”. In the GTE Am class, two of the three drivers on each team must be an Amateur. Many of the cars in these classes also compete in the IMSA circuits, and can be seen at Virginia International Raceway, Lime Rock in Ohio, and Watkins Glen in New York.
Endurance, not necessarily Speed
This race is part of the World Endurance Championship series. Other races like this include the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and the Sebring race. The winner is not the one who crosses the finish line first, it is the team that has driven the longest distance. Many of these cars will travel over 3,000 miles in one race.
A “Who’s Who” of drivers
This race is something of an All-Star race. It is not unusual to have famous drivers from other race leagues including IndyCar and Formula 1.
The race is generally held in June, on a weekend close to the summer solstice. By scheduling the race for this time, the drivers benefit from the maximum amount of daylight. This year, the race is scheduled for June 11 and 12. The race typically starts mid-afternoon on Saturday and ends mid-afternoon on Sunday.
Getting to Le Mans is easy, with flights into Paris, and then taking a high speed train to Le Mans. Total transit time from Paris is a little over 3 hours.
Going to the race doesn’t necessarily mean spending 24 hours at the track (although some hardcore fans can be sleeping trackside). There are plenty of hotels, some converted French Chateaux, to stay in. And a quick search also shows several villas for rent in the area.
There are also several different packages available to see the race, including race tickets, hotel and VIP access.
While You’re There…
While you are at the track, you can also take advantage of the Porsche Experience Center at the track. Here, you can take a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the Cayman GT4, or the Boxster Spyder on a 3 kilometer (2 mile) track. For information on going to the race, or just going to the Experience Center, give me a call, or schedule and appointment.
Other Nearby Sightseeing Opportunities
These are some of the other nearby opportunities:
As I mentioned earlier, Paris is only 3 hours away by car, or 2 hours by train. Not only are there hundreds of things to do an see in Paris, but this is also a starting point to sights outside of the city like the Loire Valley and Monet’s Garden.
Mont St. Michel
The famous Abbey is only 2-3 hours away by car.
The Beaches of Normandy
The Beaches are 2-3 hours away by car or train. Guided tours are available.