Thursday 11th June 2009

The PH Guide To Le Mans

Team PH's guide to the spectacle of the Le Mans 24 hours

Every year, the 24 hours of Le Mans attracts around a quarter of a million race-goers, 60,000 of whom are Brits - and plenty of those are PHers. So here are Team PH's top tips for that annual pilgrimage to La Sarthe.

Things to do before the race

Qualifying: 7pm - midnight on Thursday
Qualifying is the first real chance to see the drivers attacking the track and to really find out who's going to be fast on Saturday. There is, of course, also the small matter of it deciding the starting order for the race...

Drivers' parade: Le Mans city centre, 6pm-7pm on Friday

Olivier Panis at last year's drivers' parade
Olivier Panis at last year's drivers' parade
The drivers' parade is one of the things that makes Le Mans such a unique experience. The drivers should be getting ready for a gruelling 24-hour race that's less than 24 hours away, but here they are waving at the fans and signing autographs. So special is the experience for some that they take pictures of the fans, rather than the other way round.

Le Mans Legend race
If turbodiesels don't quite do it for you - and if you're not too hungover on Saturday morning - catch the 45min legends race starting at

Oliver Gavin signs a few autographs
Oliver Gavin signs a few autographs
9h30. This year the race is for Le Mans cars built between 1949 and 1965, so expect to see a gaggle of Jaguar C-types and D-types, AC Cobras and Ferraris of various types doing battle in this 12-lap race. A fine way to whet your appetite for the race proper.

The big race - where to watch (and when)

On the banking by La Chapelle
Good for the start - you get to see the cars coming over the brow of the hill, and under the Dunlop bridge - a classic Le Mans view. It's not a brilliant spot for overtaking, but there is a big screen on the infield opposite, so you should see the majority of passes - and be able to keep abreast of the action in general - from there.

Arnage corner
The viewing area on the short straight between Indianapolis and Arnage is a great place to get close to the cars, and the wall of trees opposite the spectator banking bounce the engine noise towards the spectators. The yowling Lamborghini and the Corvette C6s - which sound as though they're ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe sound particularly fabulous through here. The action is especially atmospheric at Arnage as twilight drifts into night.

Arnage is also good if you're feeling a bit credit-crunched this year. You can buy a weekend ticket for the Arnage and Mulsanne areas only for 25 euros (less than half the 62 euro price for general admission).

Tertre Rouge
Watch the cars hare off up the Mulsanne straight from here. Best during daylight running.

Porsche curves
There's not much in the way of bright lights and entertainment here, but the Porsche curves are a real test of a car's stability and agility and an excellent spot for getting a sense of which cars and drivers are working well.

Pit straight
Most spectators are rather tired and emotional by the time the grandstand opposite the pits comes into its own. The small hours of Sunday morning is where Le Mans is so often won or lost and - if you're still standing - there's a great view into the teams' garages, so you can follow the pit stops and mechanical disasters as they happen.

The way the wailing, rumbling engine notes echo around the concrete and metal valley of the buildings around the start/finish straight at 3am is quite enthralling, too.

The podium
If you're prepared to hang around by one of the big steel gates by the start/finish line, and you don't mind a run across the track and a hop over the pit wall, you can get right underneath the podium. Be quick, and you'll be able to taste the champagne, and stand side by side with celebrating pit crews, mechanics and team managers.

If you get bored of racing

The ferris wheel
A landmark of the circuit for so many years, the ferris wheel is an excellent way to get a different perspective on the spectacle that is Le Mans. Go for a ride, provided you can put up with the euro-pop techno-dance rubbish that pumps out of the wheel's PA system.

The funfair
The usual array of fairground games, sweet booths and foodstalls are available just behind the main pit grandstand - just make sure you've not had too much beer/burger/sweets before going on some of the rides.

The infield
There's plenty of merchandise stalls selling posters, hats, models and general memorabilia, particularly on the infield areas behind the pit garages - so there's plenty of ways for a committed shopaholic to part with their cash. Don't expect good value stuff, though. Buy something from the PH online shop if you want that...

Live Music
Head over to the live music stage on the outside of the Dunlop bridge if the music of exhaust and induction is too much, where you'll find a wide variety of acts, from cover bands to relatively well known acts.

Food and drink

For the most part, the grub available at the circuit is standard, fairly greasy motorsport fare. Spicy merguez sausages and sweet churros (think stick-shaped donuts) do liven things up, and PH can heartily recommend the good-value concessions at Arnage.

Further afield, there are plenty of pleasant street cafes in Arnage village itself - and you can car-watch as you enjoy your steak-frites.

Author: Riggers

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Last comment was by fordnutz
on 15th June 2009