Chapter Editor:Jason will do the 2016 update
Initial version Courtesy of Neil Dobson from www.racetours.co.uk
Over the last couple of years there have been some noticeable changes to the spectator areas at Le Mans. These include better provision for disabled access, installation of more big screens and the raising of embankments to provide panoramic views of the track. For the most part these changes should be applauded as they have increased the accessibility of the event for the majority. On the down side the character and charm of the circuit has been sacrificed to some extent. However, out on the public road sections of the course there are still some fantastic opportunities for the plucky race fan to see the action in its purist form. Read on to discover the intricacies of this famous circuit and be prepared to do some walking!
Navigation: The General Enclosure is easily accessible on foot. It stretches from the exit of the Porsche Curves to the exit of Tertre Rouge, approx 2.5 km. There are pedestrian crossing points at the start of the pit straight (outside the media centre), the end of the pit straight (adjacent to the main entrance), after the Dunlop chicane and in between the Esses and Tertre Rouge. Access to the further reaches of the circuit requires a bit more planning. The enclosures at Arnage and Mulsanne are accessible by car and there is limited parking at both (see the relevant sections below for directions). Alternatively, a free shuttle bus (Navette) runs during the race - see Transport in Le Mans chapter for more details.
Usually around a dozen big screens will be installed for the race, giving the spectator the opportunity to watch live action, whilst keeping up to date with what’s going on on other parts of the track. The can be found in following locations:
These are referred to as tribunes at Le Mans. They are situated at the exit of the Ford Chicane, opposite and above the pitlane, at the exit of the Dunlop Chicane and The Esses outfield. It is worth noting that access to the tribunes is not restricted during Wednesday and Thursday’s qualifying sessions; the separate tribune tickets become valid from Saturday morning. A grandstand seat will provide a guaranteed good view of the start and finish of the race and a place in the shade to regroup on Sunday morning, especially useful considering the temperature regularly gets into the 30s through June. However, if you prefer to sample the circuit in its entirety a seat in a tribune may not represent good value for money for you.
There are concrete steps running the length of the pit straight in front of the tribunes. These serve as a free seating area enabling those without grandstand seats to view the action from this spot. Its extremely crowded at the beginning and end of the race but try to squeeze yourself in for the closing stages and you will be rewarded; once the last of the competitors rolls into park ferme the marshals open up the gates in the 8ft wall that borders the track, signalling a mass track invasion. Follow the crowd down to the finish line to see the winners presented with their trophies on the podium.
The Dunlop Chicane, within very easy reach of the ACO village, was modified for the 2006 season to bring the track speeds down. However, the new tighter left-right chicane still provides many thrills and spills, arguably more than before the modification. Position yourself on the infield 50 yards down the hill from the entry to the chicane for a clear insight into the undulations and racing line of this section of track. Watch the drivers attempting to keep their braking tidy during the fast right-handed approach, all under the backdrop of the famous Dunlop Bridge. Another prime spot is on the outfield at the chicane exit (in front of the Dunlop tribune) where many a driver will be caught out getting on the power too early.
The famous Esses cut their way through a natural amphitheatre that provides spectacular views of this challenging sweeping section of track. Take up position on the infield banking beyond the point where the Bugatti circuit peels off to the right. Here you will be able to follow the cars all the way down the hill from the Dunlop Bridge and up through the left handed section of the Esses. Then watch as they blast away from you, sweeping right and disappearing into the trees. Tertre Rouge Tribune, situated on the outfield, provides an elevated view of the Esses and must be sampled during Wednesday or Thursday night qualifying when this flood lit section of the circuit will look particularly impressive. Walk a hundred yards further down the track and you will find yourself amongst the trees at the exit of the Esses. A bit of careful positioning and you will notice that this is one of the few locations at Le Mans that offers a photo opportunity genuinely unimpeded by catch fencing. Thanks to the ACO having kindly removed a number of trees around here over the winter, there is a much better view now than in the last few years. Catch a shot of the cars as they accelerate up the hill and on down to Tertre Rouge.
The area between the Esses and Tertre Rouge was completely redeveloped in 2007 at the same time as the Tertre Rouge corner itself was revised. Viewing here is excellent thanks to a huge embankment to the infield that runs the full length of the straight. Wide walkways slope gradually to the top of the spectator area where there can be found a number of ample viewing platforms suitable for disabled spectators. The ageing and cramped pedestrian underpass that has always served this part of the circuit was also replaced for 2007. In its place is a well-lit and wide underpass, again served by gradual concrete slopes on both sides of the circuit. The cars are full throttle for this short burst and ear splittingly loud. Worth bustling your way down to the front of the busy enclosure if that’s your thing!
The Tertre Rouge corner marks the point where the purpose built racetrack joins the public road and the surrounding viewing areas signal the extremities of the ‘General Enclosure’. The layout of the corner was heavily modified for the start of the 2007 season to increase the size of the run off area. The right hander is shallower than its former self and the cars now carry a great amount of speed through the heart of the corner, the drivers letting the cars drift out from the apex as they make the transition onto the public road section of the course. The embankment mentioned in the previous section runs all the way round the inside of Tertre Rouge and offers views all the way up to the Esses, down through Tertre Rouge and on to the Mulsanne. Refreshment and merriment lie only yards away when at Tertre Rouge; exit the General Enclosure, turn left under the circuit and you will find a lively trackside bar dubbed the ‘Stella Bar’ by many a seasoned campaigner!
Access to the Mulsanne is prohibited, the track being kept secure by race officials (stationed at the various posts) and the local police, both of whom will take a dim view to any attempts to break through the trees to the circuit. Nevertheless, there are still viewing opportunities waiting to be exploited, it will just require a little endeavour and organisation.
It is possible to get within a few feet of the action at the Auberge des Hunaudieres or Shanghai des 24 Heures restaurants situated a couple of hundred yards before the braking zone of the first chicane. The legendary Auberge des Hunaudieres used to offer dramatic trackside seats from where you could enjoy good food and drink. Unfortunately green covers attached to the catch fencing obscure the view (although if you are lucky they will have been eased down!) and getting a table can be problematic during track time as the restaurant tends to be taken over by corporate hospitality. However, there is still an open air public bar at the rear of the property; clamber up onto the benches for a glimpse of the cars going flat out down the Mulsanne. To get to Hunaudieres (and the Shanghai des 24 Heures) during track time refer to the circuit map and stick to the following instructions. Head South East on the N142 (Route du Mans) running parallel to the Mulsanne Straight. Turn right on to Chemin de Ceasar and you will enter the network of minor roads. The restaurant will be temporarily signposted and there will be French police or race officials willing to direct you. They may be blocking the final turning so you need to be ready to tell them you are eating at Hunaudieres and they will gladly let you through. Eventually you will end up in a field at the back of the restaurant where you can park for free.
The less well known Hotel Arbor presents a better spectating opportunity. It sits alongside the Mulsanne straight on the circuit outfield only a couple of hundred yards after the second chicane. Parking is permitted in the hotel car park for a fee of 10 Euros per person. From there, the chicane can be found only a short stroll away through the trees. This is an excellent spot to watch from, particularly as there never seems to be anybody else there! Parking is at the discretion of the hotel and information listed here is purely based on their setup in previous years.
Your General Admission ticket will give you access to the Mulsanne Enclosure although getting there is another issue. The 90-degree right-hander marks the end of the Mulsanne straight and the spectator area follows the track for about 200-300 meters as the cars accelerate down the narrow section towards Indianapolis. The view over the corner itself is helped by a small embankment that just gives you enough elevation to take some photos over the catch fencing. The entry to Mulsanne corner is a very heavy braking zone so you can expect to see plenty of overtaking and maybe the odd driver overdoing things and utilising the run off area.
To get to Mulsanne follow the directions to Arnage (see below) then continue down the D139 (this will be one way during the race). In approximately 1.5 Km you will reach a crossroads. Look out for a ‘P Mulsanne’ sign directing you to turn left. Take the left turn and follow the narrow lane for into the outskirts of Mulsanne village. The final left turn that leads to the parking area is easy to miss so once again look out for the ‘P Mulsanne’ sign. The left turn is just after an area of open ground and approximately 400m before the junction with the N138. It takes you up a dusty track to the large parking area under the trees, some 300 meters after the corner.
As with the Mulsanne corner the complex at Arnage is accessed by a separate enclosure, admission being covered by your General Admission ticket. Although a fair distance from the ACO village, this zone is reasonably accessible and well worth the effort. The enclosure runs from the apex of the cambered Indianapolis left-hander to the entrance to the extremely tight 90-degree right-hander of Arnage. There is grass banking alongside the track that allows you to get close to the action, especially at Arnage, where you are right on top of it. You won’t know what Le Mans is all about until you’ve seen some night racing from here. Watch the cars burst out of the trees towards Indianapolis, the fastest part of the circuit. They swoop through the fast right curve towards the tighter left of Indianapolis proper where several drivers land in the gravel after overestimating their ability. This is followed by the short straight before jumping on the brakes for Arnage, desperately trying to shed some speed for the uncompromising corner, brake discs glowing in the dark. You can hear the cars accelerate up through the gears long after they disappear back into the surrounding forest. This is what endurance racing is all about. Just try to get to Arnage for Wednesday or Thursday night qualifying or ideally after 2am on Sunday morning because the crowds at peak times can be a real drag.
To get to Arnage corner follow Rue de Laigne in a southerly direction, passing the Maison Blanche campsite on your left and the Bleu campsite on your right. At the roundabout turn right onto Rue de Ruadin and follow the road for approximately 1.5 Km. Before entering the built up area of Arnage village take a left turn signposted ‘P Arnage’. Follow this road for approximately 2 Km until you arrive at Arnage corner. Follow the one-way system as it bends to the right. Parking can be found on the right hand side in two fields.
For those who are coming to Le Mans with tour companies - beware of the overpriced “excursions” to Arnage and Mulsanne which they will try to sell you. There is a shuttle bus from the front of the circuit which will take you there for free - see Transport in Le Mans chapter, Navettes.
In 2015 the ACO and the local council finally approved the changes to the road at Arnage corner. There has been rapid work, which has affected the campsite, but for the locals and especially for race week it removes a large bottleneck. There is now a road that cuts through the old Indianapolis-Arnage banking. The result is that although the banking is split, it appears to be higher offering greater views, and from the attached plan, moving further round the inside of Indianapolis, giving more views down towards Mulsanne.
The stretch from just after Indianapolis to Arnage will now no longer be open as a public road during the rest of the year. This will have an impact on the viewing enclosure and campsite at Arnage, although there will be an enlarged viewing area at Indianapolis. The gravel trap at Arnage corner will also be increased in area, but most of the gravel run off on the inside of the circuit at Indianapolis will be replaced by tarmac.
The Porsche Curves are a series of sweeping corners starting where the racetrack curves to the right to leave the public road. An enclosure here called Porsche Exterior offers a view of the outside of this up hill corner and can be accessed from the road leading to the Beausejour campsite. Looking back up the road section of the circuit its possible to see almost as far as Arnage in the distance. There is also a viewing area on the inside of the circuit at the Porsche curves, accessed via the Beausejour campsite. For 2016 new run-offs at the entry to the Porsche Curves and at the final right-hander have been installed. Furthermore there are now new impact absorbing SAFER (Steel & Foam Energy Reduction) barriers on the outside of the first part of the double left at the beginning of the sequence.
The final challenge on the circuit is the double left right complex known as the Ford Chicane. Stick to the outfield where you will find shallow banking (just high enough to see over the armco) that stretches right into the Maison Blanche campsite as far as the exit to the Porsche Curves. The Maison Blanche grandstand nestles conveniently over the Ford Chicane offering excellent raised views of this action packed area of the circuit. If you can't get into the grandstand try getting down to the catch fencing in front of it to get some close up views of the cars powering onto the pit straight.