So, first time at Le Mans? Want to know what not to miss? Well check out our handy guide.
The “Grand prix d'endurance” as it is often referred to will be run for the 85th time over the 17th and 18th of June 2017. It is the oldest, active motor race and covers approximately the same distance as 18 Formula One races or 6 times the distance of the Indy 500 – some 3,300 miles in total. The distance covered is of course dependant on the conditions and if there are any off track excursions by the competitors requiring recovery.
Tickets – you will need one of these!
Your general entry ticket is a whole €82… yes that’s it! Just as a comparison, this year a general entry ticket to the F1 at Silverstone will be £199… Le Mans is the equivalent to 18 F1 races!!! Oh and don’t forget your ticket will get you into the circuit from the 11th June!
Why from the 11th June?
Well it’s a week long affair with practice and qualifying sessions starting on the Wednesday and continuing on the Thursday until midnight where the pole sitters will be decided. A ‘must do’ on the Friday if you can is the Drivers Parade in Le Mans city centre from 17:30. If you would rather get close to the cars then the pits are open all day on the Friday also.
Right, where are we going to watch from?
Answer is there are many places! Several grandstands can be found on either side of the main straight but you will need a ticket for these and chances are if you are reading this without one then they are probably sold out by now. But your general entry ticket will get you into the circuit, and give you access to many of the viewing areas around the track which are served by shuttles.
How do you keep track of what’s going on during a 24 hour race?
Well there are a number of choices - if your French is good the circuit commentary will work. If that is not an option then there is Radio Le Mans who broadcast on FM around the circuit and campsites. Next up is the WEC App which you have to pay for, but it does provide you with access to live TV and timing as well as a range of in-car cameras. Or there is a 3rd option, look at the cars – might sound simple but the top 3 in each class are shown via 1, 2 or 3 lights on the side of their car, the lights indicate what position they are in.
Porsche #2 showing 1st position
24 hours at a race track - Can I get something to eat and a drink?
Oh yes is the answer to that question! There are many bars around the spectator areas servicing not astronomically priced beverages, both alcoholic and non! You can also get a pizza, frittes and mayonnaise, waffles and pretty much anything else you may like – even a 3 course meal in the ACO centre… that will cost you though! As for toilets, well yes there are some but it’s a good idea to note where they are and don’t wait till the last minute before joining the que (always a good idea to have some loo paper in your pocket...!) As for off track entertainment there is a concert each night, this year its ‘Kool and The Gang’!!! You can also take a trip up to the iconic ferris wheel and fun fair and peruse the many retail stands to get all your team wear.
So what about the cars?
Well there’s going to be 60 taking the start of the race, split into 4 classes: LMP1 – top flight prototype racers including hybrid powered cars from Porsche and Toyota, LMP2 – “spec” cars from a set number of chassis manufactures and all running the same Gibson engine, GTE Pro - these are your Aston Martin’s, Porsche 911’s and so on (they may look like road cars but they are not!) and finally GTE AM - same as in Pro but with “gentleman drivers” and some restrictions to aero and engine (but none the less giving the Pro cars a run for their money!). If you would like to find out more about the cars, have a search on our site for one of Mark’s articles.
There are 180 of them! Each car has 3 drivers and there is a limit on the amount of time they can spend behind the wheel depending on their classification. Their classifications are platinum, gold, silver and bronze – these are designated by the FIA and generally relate to the driver’s experience and previous championship standings. There are no reserve drivers and on one occasion it has been known that 2 drivers have driven the car following their team mate injuring himself on the way to the grid.
These can differ from just a fuel only stop to a full service including new tyres and driver. There is a limit on the amount of mechanics and equipment a team can use in the pit lane, so you will see a well orchestrated “ballet” of mechanics and wheel guns. Should more people need to work on the car then it will be pushed back into its garage. You may hear the word ‘stint’ used, this is the time period between pit stops – generally 13 laps – 15 laps for the LMP1 cars.
What happens when things ‘go wrong’ out on track?
The race officials have various methods at their disposal starting with the normal yellow flag zone which most motorsport enthusiast will be familiar with. Next up is the safety car - as the track is just over 13.6km in length you will see not just 1 but up to 4 cars being deployed from different points around the circuit, this sometimes causes much consternation from the commentators. Next on the list is a reasonably new method, the slow zone. You may see around the track boards for the drivers with SZ on, no its not indicating a good point to have a snooze but the start of a slow zone. These are sectors on the track where cars must only travel at 60kph in that zone which is monitored via GPS. Finally, officials can call for a FCY – Full Course Yellow, basically the whole track becomes a slow zone.
So in brief,
Yellow Flag, car off track – not in a dangerous place
Safety Car – generally used now if the weather is poor such as heavy rain / fog
Slow Zone – car off track, in a dangerous place / workers on track / debris
FCY – multiple incidents or lots of track cleaning / debris.
Other flags you will see,
Blue – faster car approaching
Yellow and red stripe – reduced adhesion - oil or fluids on track
Green – signalling the end of a yellow flag zone or re-start of racing after a safety car (FCY is controlled via radio and FCY boards)
That’s a brief look at Le Mans, and we mean brief! If you have any questions, please pop over to our Twitter feed @FromTheTribune and post us a message and we will help you out.
Couple of great sources of information are Radio Le Mans and the Andy Blackmore Spotter guide – Google them!