For those who need directions to the track itself (click to enlarge)
Le Mans Track and garages area Map (click to enlarge)
AYSE'S STAB AT A CIRCUIT GUIDE
I thought it might be useful to give you a quick tour of the main features of the circuit.....
The circuit's main viewing area, with grandstands lining the straight on both sides and the "tribunes" (the standing area) opposite the pits. From the start, the cars bear quickly to the right, before breaking for the Dunlop Chicane. Many Le Mans "newbies" tend to spend the whole race in this area - perhaps because they're used to having to watch the whole of a Grand Prix from much the same place, but there is much more to see and 24 hours and more in which to see it! Just because you've got a grandstand seat doesn't mean you have to stay in it for the whole race - this isn't a 90-minute Grand Prix! Points to remember:-
1. If you want a grandstand seat, you need to order it early from the ACO or one of the ticket agencies like 1st Tickets. You can expect all grandstand seats to be sold long before the Test Day. Seating in the grandstands is free during qualifying (except for 17 (Durand) and 18 (ACO) which are only available to ACO members).
2. If you want a good spot on the tribunes - get there early! For the 3 pm race start, you really need to have claimed your place by 12-12.30 pm - especially if you're in a large group.
There are plenty of eateries close to the grandstands and around to the Dunlop chicane plus in 'The Village' on the inside of the circuit. Be prepared for the prices though, as a captive audience it is expensive to eat and drink inside the circuit. Think of bringing a few snacks from the many local hypermarkets to keep you going.
The Dunlop Chicane, originally created for the 1987 race and made much tighter in the years since, is followed by the sweeping right/left section between the Dunlop Bridge and the Esses which was (for many, unpopularly) created 15 years later. The Dunlop Chicane is a good viewing area and has a dedicated grandstand "Dunlop" (No.5). It gives a good view of the chicane (the Tourists frequented it in 1990 and I also sat in it in 2007). Many fans are eager to see the cars on the run down to the Esses so this area is even more popular than ever. Walk down from the famous Dunlop Bridge and then up into the (sadly) few remaining trees to watch the cars as they sweep around into the Esses and on down to Tertre Rouge. A fantastic spot to watch for a while at night... There is a grandstand here called "Tertre Rouge" which actually overlooks the Esses. Its the only grandstand which is situated some way away from the start-finish line. (I was in it during the night in 2006....).
|Once through the Esses, the cars power down to Tertre Rouge ("red hillock"), a vital right-hander which propels the cars onto the famous Mulsanne Straight which was streamlined in 2007 and is now much faster. Good light trail shots can be had from the inside here if you can only throw your lens wide open sufficiently to avoid the ever-present debris fencing. It is another great place to watch during the night, as cars often come to grief in the kitty-litter on the outside when brakes tire and driver concentration begins to wane. There is an underpass at Tertre Rouge which you can use to get into the inside of the circuit to watch from the raised viewing area there. A very good spot - my favourite, in fact. The photograph shows cars heading away from Tertre Rouge down the Mulsanne and was taken in 1991 from the garden of one of the houses there. Sadly, unless you're good friends with the owners of the houses, you won't get there.... Tertre Rouge was reprofiled for 2007, one of the few changes to the track which has been for the better. A great view for spectators - day or night - plus a big TV screen for good measure! But it is very popular - a good spot to go once it gets dark and the crowd begins to thin out.
|The legendary Mulsanne Straight..... Even with the chicanes created for the 1990 race the fastest cars are still travelling at speeds of over 200 mph on the Mulsanne. Although the Mulsanne is most definitely not a recognised public viewing area - and you run the risk of being called a "very naughty person" by any gendarme who finds you there - a visit to the two restaurants (even taking a meal there if you're lucky!) may give you the chance to look over the fences or through the hedges. This is a lot more difficult than it used to be years ago when it was an absolute must to go to the restaurants to climb the fences and watch the cars screaming past - at night, one of the most awesome sights in motorsport - trust me! Even if you don't get to see anything,, its still worth a visit if you can find your way in the night, just to hear the cars - my abiding memory of my first visit to Le Mans. The abundance of amateur video shot from the Mulsanne straight that appears on Youtube every year suggests that it can still be done!
|The track between the two chicanes is largely out of bounds to spectators (but there are always those who manage to get there without being nabbed by the gendarmes!). While it may not seem so from these pictures, the two chicanes are direct opposites of each other, the first turns to the right and the second to the left. The Mulsanne Kink, once one of the most daunting parts of the circuit for drivers, is now a much slower affair, following directly after the cars exit the second chicane. Sadly, for a good view of the cars on the Mulsanne these days you have to rely on the French TV pictures...... If you're making a longer trip of it, get out on the circuit on the Tuesday before practice starts on Wednesday. You can drive around the circuit from Tertre Rouge all the way to the entrance to the Porsche Curves.
|Mulsanne Corner remains a very popular viewing spot, day or night and even if you don't have your own transport, shuttle buses go to and from Mulsanne regularly from near the main entrance. The car park for Mulsanne is situated a good way from the corner itself - about a ten minute walk - so if you have any difficulty walking, bear this in mind. The walk is also completely unlit during the night, so a torch comes in handy. It is a popular spot so expect it to be crowded at all times. Once the cars come into view at Mulsanne Corner they are travelling reasonably slowly and the banking provided for spectators on the outside of the corner makes for a rare opportunity to take pictures without quite as much fencing in the way. There is also a big TV screen there. My recommendation? Go at night - and listen to the cars as they blast off down to Indianapolis!
|The Indianapolis/Arnage complex has always been one of my favourite spots and as with Mulsanne Corner, the bus excursions stop off here as well. The run off areas changed for the 2001 race and for many years the view wasn't anything like as good as it once was. But after the 2015 race the ACO acquired land there and created a fantastic new spectator bank overlooking the entry to Indianapolis. You have to go there! For the photographers, sadly there is an awful lot of seriously intrusive fencing at Arnage, making photography very difficult but you can take some great shots from the new banking at Indianapolis and it is a stunning place to wait for the cars to come round at the start of any of the practice/qualifying sessions. The Indianapolis/Arnage complex has become very popular over the last 10 years and more, so much so that the ACO has had to create not one but two overflow car parks in fields just down the road. The first is only 2-3 minutes away but the second is about a 10 minute walk away (which I can guarantee you will really feel on tired legs on Sunday lunchtime!).
|The Porsche Curves are a favourite part of the circuit for many drivers - a series of challenging sweeping corners where back-markers are guaranteed to catch out the unwary! The barriers are unforgiving - just ask Mario Andretti who might have won the Le Mans he so coveted in 1995 and Marc Gene and Marcus Fässler in 2008! At the LM Classic in 2002 I finally found the enclosure on the outside of the Porsche Curves which you can reach from the road outside the circuit and I've been back there most years since. It's a good viewing spot, for once not entirely blighted by fencing and is very popular with spectators. The car park is often very full so pick the time of your visit carefully. This area has since been largely taken over by the Travel Destinations campsite and I'm not sure if ordinary spectators can get access easily now....
|So we come to the end of the lap. As the cars exit the Porsche Curves they blast down the track before braking for the Ford Chicane. This is another good place to watch from, with long stretches of raised banking on the outside. (If you can't get onto the tribunes at the start of the race, think of watching it from here....). Just along from the Ford Chicane is the "Maison Blanche" grandstand - now blandly called 'Raccordement' (No. 23), which affords a very good view of the cars as they enter the chicane and then blast up the straight. It was from here that I watched the sensational Volker Weidler in the Mazda in 1992! Another good view at night (but then all the views are good at night!). If you're a photographer though, it's essential to get a seat high up as lower down the debris fencing is a total photo spoiler.
Want an idea where everything is.......?
(Watch out for the names/locations of the grandstands - they have changed a bit since I prepared this map)
And here's a map from the ACO.
It's a bit small and the definition isn't so hot, but as least you can see the general layout and the car parks!