Driving to Le Mans – a guide for UK drivers

Driving to Le Mans – a guide for UK drivers
Motor sport is loved by millions of people around the world, and one of the most popular events is the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

Drivers and manufacturers from many countries try to win the race every year – and each event is witnessed by 250,000 people over the space of a day.

This guide looks at everything you need to know about this ultimate text of endurance for man and machine.

Where is Le Mans?

The city of Le Mans is located in the north west of France, where the rivers of Sarthe and Huisne meet.

It is based in the Pays de la Loire region – one of the 18 administrative areas of the country.

Le Mans has a population approaching 150,000 – and is roughly two to three hours south west of Paris (around 210km).

Since 1923, the city has become famous across the world for hosting the 24 Hours of Le Mans race – one of the most prestigious racing events in history.

Surprisingly, the city is twinned with the city of Bolton.

What is 24 Hours of Le Mans race?

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most prestigious endurance motor racing in the world.

It is held annually near the town of Le Mans in northern France, and is organised by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO).

First held in 1923, it is one of the oldest active endurance races in the sport – and is one of the three races that make up the Triple Crown of Motorsport, along with the Monaco Grand Prix (Formula 1) and the Indianapolis 500 (NASCAR).

The race itself lasts 24 hours, during which teams of drivers for a certain manufacturer compete to cover the greatest distance around the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Teams normally consist of two or three drivers – however, this can vary depending on preferences, regulations and other factors, such as funding.

Drivers need to alternate throughout the race and rest in between stints. Each session behind the wheel can last several hours.

The track has a challenging combination of public roads and a dedicated racing circuit, that consists of around 60 to 70 cars.

Like many iconic tracks across the world, the circuit features long straights, tight chicanes, and a mix of high-speed and low-speed corners on different types of road.

It is viewed as the ultimate test for both the speed and durability of the vehicle and drivers.

The race 24 Hours of Le Mans attracts top manufacturers and racing teams from around the world, including Porsche, Cadillac, Toyota, BMW, Lamborghini, Alpine, Ferrari, Peugeot, Proton, Aston Martin, Corvette, and Ford.

Cars can reach speeds of well over 200mph and teams must balance the need to achieve as many laps as possible, with keeping the vehicle in good working condition to last 24 hours. Issues with fuel, tyres and brakes are common problems.

Traditionally held in mid-June on the shortest night of the year, the conditions for drivers are intense, with hot temperatures and rain commonly seen over the length of the race.

The winner of the race normally travels more than 3,000 miles – with the record being 3,360 miles.

For reference, that is 18-20 times longer than the average Formular 1 race.

Teams race against each other for overall and class winners. Classes are for vehicles with similar specifications.

How does the race work?

Following a qualification process, where the teams are ranked based on their fastest lap times, the grid lines up with the quickest at the front.

Unlike the majority of motor racing events, the race begins from a rolling start.

Cars line-up and follow a safety car at a slower pace – then once the race officials are happy for the race to start, the safety car pulls off the track and the race (and timer) officially begin.

For 24 hours teams try to complete as many laps as possible and travel the greatest distance. Each team will rotate drivers every few hours – and different classes of vehicles all compete at the same time.

The main classes include LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype 1), LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2), and various GT (Grand Touring) categories. Each class has its own podium, and the overall winner is typically the car that completes the most laps regardless of class.

Cars are not allowed to pit stop for the first hour of the race.

During pit stops, cars must be switched off during refuelling – and mechanics can only work on the vehicle when refuelling is complete.

Drivers can swap over during the refuelling process.

How long is the Le Mans track?

The 24 Hours of Le Mans race track - known as Circuit de la Sarthe - covers 13.6 km (8.4 miles), and uses both public roads and a race track in the French town.

Map to Le Mans

If you are looking to travel to Le Mans in France, here are a few routes:

London to Le Mans

South West England to Le Mans




2024 24 Hours of Le Mans race

Below are the event details for the 10-day 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans:

Dates: Friday 7th to Sunday 16th June 2024

Race days: Starts on Saturday 15th June at 1:35pm (official departure ceremony is at 3:30pm). And the rolling start takes place at around 4pm. The finish will take place at 4pm on Sunday 16th June.

There are many other events at this year’s race week.

How to watch Le Mans 2024

In the UK, the best way to watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans race is to see it live on Eurosport or on their website, Eurosport.com.

For subscribers to discovery+, it will also be streamed live across the whole week.

The official website also has its own highlights channel for events that take place during the event.

Who won Le Mans in 2023?

A Ferrari 499P, raced by Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielson for the Ferrari AF Corse team won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 2023.

Fuoco also set fastest lap.

It was Ferrari’s tenth victory at Le Mans – but the first one since 1965.

Le Mans records

Below are some of the top records currently held at Le Mans:

Most wins: Porsche (19), Audi (13), Ferrari (10), Jaguar (7) and Bentley (6).

Most consecutive wins: Porsche (7), Ferrari (6), Audi (5) and Toyota (5).

Most wins by nation: Germany (34), UK (17) and France (14).

Most teams win: Joest Racing (13), Porsche (12), and Scuderia Ferrari (7).

Most wins by a racer: Tom Kristensen (9), Jacky Ickx (6), Derek Bell (5), Frank Biela (5), and Emanuele Pirro (5).

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