A Guide To Le Mans

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Source: lemans.org

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, most active motor race and covers approximately the same distance as 18 Formula 1 races and over 6 times the distance of the Indy 500 – some 3,300 miles in total.

The distance covered is dependant on the conditions and if there are any off-track excursions by the competitors requiring recovery.

Tickets

Your general entry ticket is only €82.  By way of comparison, general entry to the F1 at Silverstone will be £199.  Also your ticket will get you into the circuit from the 11th June!

Why from the 11th June?

Le Mans is a week long affair with practice and qualifying sessions starting on the Wednesday and continuing on Thursday until midnight where the pole sitters will be decided.  A ‘must do’ on Friday 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 Friday too.

Where should I watch from? 

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 already then they are probably sold out by now.  That said, 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! The top 3 in each class are shown via 1, 2 or 3 lights on the side of their car, quickly indicating which position they are in.

What can I do when I’m not watching the racing?

There are many bars around the spectator areas providing reasonably priced food and drinks. As for entertainment there is a concert each night, this year Kool and The Gang will headline.  You can also take a trip up to the iconic ferris wheel and fun fair whilst there are many retail stands to get all your team merchandise.

So what about the cars? 

There will 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 and finally GTE AM – same as in Pro but with ‘gentleman drivers’ and some restrictions to aero and engine.

Drivers

Each car has 3 drivers (so 180 in total!) 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 2 drivers have driven the car following their teammate getting injured on their way to the grid.

Pit stops

These can differ from 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 with wheel guns.

Should more people need to work on the car it will be pushed back into the 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?

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 safety cars deployed from different points around the circuit.

Next on the list is a reasonably new method; the slow zone.  Around the track are boards with SZ on, indicating 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 a FCY – Full Course Yellow, basically the whole track becomes a slow zone.

In summary…

  • Yellow Flag: Car off track – not in a dangerous place
  • Safety Car: Generally used if heavy rain or fog
  • Slow Zone: Car off track, in a dangerous place / workers on track / debris
  • FCY: Multiple incidents or lots of debris / track cleaning

Other flags you will see…

  • Blue: Faster car approaching
  • Yellow and Red Stripe: Reduced adhesion – oil or fluids on track
  • Green: Signals end of a yellow flag zone or re-start after a safety car

That’s a brief look at Le Mans. If you have any questions, please pop over to @FromTheTribune and post us a message!

Article courtesy of Prescott Motorsport

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