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Le Mans 24 Hour - A history of the track

The Cicuit

The circuit on which the 24 Hours of Le Mans is run is named the Circuit de la Sarthe, after the department that Le Mans is within. It consists of both permanent track and public roads that are temporarily closed for the race. Since 1923, the track has been extensively modified, mostly for safety reasons, and now is 13.629 km or 8.1 miles in length. The Bugatti circuit provides the pit lane facilities and the first corner with the famous Dunlop bridge.

Initially entered the town of Le Mans, then the track was cut short to better protect spectators. This led to the creation of the Dunlop Curve and Tertre Rouge corners before rejoining the old circuit on the Mulsanne.

The track has been changed many times over the years. The Circuit des 24 Heures is probably best known for the famous Mulsanne straight, a part of the RN138 known locally as Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, now including 2 Playstation chicanes. You can still eat feet from the Cars at the Chinese at Hunaudières.

The addition of the chicanes was another safety precaution after the WM P88-Peugeot of French driver Roger Dorchy had been timed at 405 km/h (252 mph) during the 1988 race.

The circuit stays on public roads through the slightly banked Indianapolis and Arnage corners until it branches off for the Porsche Curves which bypasses the old Maison Blanche section and then finally heads back to the Bugatti circuit at the Ford Chicane.

The public sections of the track differ from the permanent circuit, especially in comparison with the Bugatti Circuit which is inside the Circuit de la Sarthe. Due to heavy traffic in the area, the public roads are not as smooth or well kept. They also offer less grip because of the lack of soft-tyre rubber laid down from racing cars, though this only affects the first few laps of the race. The roads are closed only within a few hours of the practice sessions and the race, before being opened again almost as soon as the race is finished. Workers have to assemble and dismantle safety barriers every year for the public sections.

1923-1928



Length: 17.262 km
The first track layout for the 24 Hour race was completely different to that used for the very first French Grand Prix in 1906.
The track entirely comprised of public roads south of the city and ventured into the suburbs as far as the Pontlieue hairpin.
Distance record was set by the 1928 winners: 2,669.27 km, average speed: 111.219 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1928 race by Henry Birkin in his 4.4 litre Bentley with a time of 8:07, an average speed of 127.604 km/h

1929-1931



Length: 16.340 km
The track was shortened for safety reasons to avoid the town suburbs that were expanding rapidly.
The new link road constructed at the ACO′s expense was named the ′Rue du Circuit′.
Distance record set by the 1931 winners: 3,017.65 km, average speed: 125.735 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1930 race by Henry Birkin in his 4.4 litre Bentley with a time of 6:48, an average speed of 144.362 km/h.

1932-1955


Length: 13.492 km
The track was further shortened with a new purpose built section connecting the pits straight and the
Tertre Rouge corner on the Le Mans - Tours road.
The section included the erection of the famous Dunlop bridges.
Distance record set by the 1955 winners: 4,135.38 km, average speed: 172.308 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1955 race by Mike Hawthorn in the winning Jaguar D-type with a time of 4:06.60, an average speed of 196.963 km/h.

1956-1967


Length: 13.461 km
In the aftermath of the 1955 accident, the whole pit area was rebuilt. Track width and pit lane modifications led
to a change in the Dunlop curve, shortening the track by 31 metres.
Distance record set by the 1967 winners: 5,232.90 km, average speed: 218.038 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1967 race by Denny Hulme & Mario Andretti (both Ford Mk IVs) with a time of 3:23.60,an average speed of 238.014 km/h.

1968-1971


Length: 13.469 km
To reduce the speeds past the pit area, a chicane was installed immediately prior to the pit entrance.
Named the Ford chicane, the track was slightly redirected from Maison Blanche.
Distance record set by the 1971 winners: 5,335.31 km, average speed: 222.304 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1971 race by Jackie Oliver in the number 18 Gulf Porsche 917LH with a time of 3:18.40,an average speed of 244.387 km/h.

1972-1978


Length: 13.640 km
Starting on the Arnage to Maison Blanche stretch, a new section was constructed, by-passing Maison Blanche completely.
This joined the existing track with another slow corner at the Ford chicane.
Distance record set by the 1978 winners: 5,044.53 km, average speed: 210.188 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1978 race by Jean-Pierre Jabouille in the A443 Renault with a time of 3:34.20,an average speed of 229.244 km/h.

1979-1985


Length: 13.626 km
Due to the construction of a new public road, Tertre Rouge corner had to be reprofiled, changing it from a right angled
corner to a faster, but more complex double apex. Second Dunlop Bridge removed.
Distance record set by the 1985 winners: 5,088.51 km, average speed: 212.021 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1985 race by Jacky Ickx in the works Rothmans Porsche 962 with a time of 3:25.10,
an average speed of 239.169 km/h.

1986


Length: 13.528 km
Mulsanne corner was modified to avoid a new roundabout that had been installed to reduce accidents at the junction.
The new layout kinked right just before the original corner, with the new corner slightly offset.
Distance record set by the 1986 winners: 4,972.73 km, average speed: 207.197 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1986 race by the number 7 Joest Porsche 956 of Ludwig, Barilla and ′Winter′ with a time of 3:23.3, an average speed of 239.551 km/h.

1987-1989


Length: 13.535 km
Due to excessive speeds attained by the bikes on the approach to the Dunlop bridge during their races,
the Dunlop curve was altered and a chicane installed before the bridge, slowing speeds dramatically.
Distance record set by the 1988 winners: 5,332.79 km, average speed: 221.622 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1989 race by the number 4 TWR Silk Cut Jaguar of Alain Ferté with a time of 3:21.27,an average speed of 242.093 km/h.

1990-1996


Length: 13.600 km
The Mulsanne straight was split into three sections by the introduction of two mirror-imaged chicanes to comply
with an FIA directive on maximum length of straights. New pit lane entrance in readiness for the new pit complex in 1991.
Distance record set by the 1993 winners: 5,100.00 km, average speed: 213.358 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1993 race by Eddie Irvine driving the number 36 Toyota TS010 with a time of 3:27.47, an average speed of 235.986 km/h.

1997-2001


Length: 13.605 km
A slight reprofiling of the Dunlop chicane, moving the turn in further away from the bridge itself to accommodate
a larger run off area/gravel trap, again mainly for the safety of the bikes.
Distance record set by the 2000 winners: 5,007.988 km, average speed: 208.666 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 1999 race by Ukyo Katayama in the no.3 Toyota GT-One with a time of 3:35.032, an average speed of 227.771 km/h.
For 2001, the profile of the "hump" at the end of the Mulsanne Straight was lowered as part of the FIA recommendations in the wake of the Mercedes'
accidents in 1999, but this did not affect the overall layout.

2002-2006


Length: 13.650 km
A major change between the Dunlop Bridge & the Esses with the straight run down the hill being replaced
by a series of sweeps. This was to facilitate a better entry to the short Bugatti circuit.
Distance record set by the 2006 winners: 5,187.00 km, average speed: 215.409 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 2006 race by the no.7 Audi R10 of Capello, Kristensen & McNish with a time of 3:31.211, an average speed of 230.182 km/h.

2007-Today


Length: 13.629 km
Reprofiling of Tertre Rouge corner, smoothing away the apex into a longer flowing curve onto the start of the Mulsanne Straight.
Addition of a run off area at Arnage corner was added in 2012
Addition of a new protection system at Porsche Curves in 2016
Changes to the road and banking at Indianapolis and Arnage Corners in 2016
Distance record set by the 2010 winners: 5,410.713 km, average speed: 225.228 km/h.
Fastest lap was set during the 2015 race by the no.9 AUDI R18 E-Tron Quattro of Andre Lotterer with a time of 3:17.475
an average speed of xxx.xx km/h.

Track Speeds

Le Mans Track

Le Mans start 1953

  

Renault Alpine A442 V6 Gordini

  

Small gallery of various Le Mans photographs - Various Sources