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Going to Le Mans for the first time – any tips?
15th October 2013, 9:56 at 9:56 am #133763
So it was my birthday yesterday and my wonderfully generous and amazing girlfriend surprised me by telling me she’s arranging for us both to go to next year’s must-see 24 Hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but while I’ve been fortunate enough to see multiple Grands Prix, I’ve never been to Le Mans before. I was wondering what advice 24 Hour veterans out there would be able to give me so we can start planning in advance. Things like whether to book grandstand tickets over general admission and tips about camping, travel, places to go, things to take with you – stuff like that.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated!15th October 2013, 10:07 at 10:07 am #243147
Can’t give any tips (never been), but say hi to Mark for me :-)15th October 2013, 13:08 at 1:08 pm #243148
Great choice, you’re going to have a fantastic time.
Few thoughts on a practical level
If you’re driving from the UK, I’d recommend taking the tunnel rather than the ferry. It’s a lot more money but it really is absolute simplicity. You drive more or less straight onto the train, it’s less than an hour, then you drive off, through passport control, and straight onto the motorway going in the right direction. You’ll want to take some cash with you as there are (from emory) two main sections of toll road which you need to pay for in cash. They’re expensive but they’re always really quiet as the French don’t seem to use them much. The drive is pretty straihgtforward, but it’s easy to take a wrong turn in Rouen and get a bit lost. Rouen is a bit of a maze. Satnav will probably try to take you through the local roads in Rouen but don’t trust it – it’s not the fastest or easiest way.
Get yourself some grandstand seats. But don’t buy them through the ACO, wait until you can find ebay sellers as they’ll be about half the price. We usually get a pair of grandstand tickets for about £120 (this is additional to general entry whcih you’ll need but can buy on the door for about 60-70 Euros) and that’s with sequentially numbered seats. It’s really well worth spending the extra and doing this as it guarantees you a good view of the race buildup and start and you’re not going to be stuck behind some idiot waving a Pescarolo flag. There are loads of grandstands all along the pit straight, with a great view of the start and the podium. Unlike the rickety, windy bits of scaffolding you pay several hundred quid to sit on at Silverstone, these are proper solid, permanent structures and are well protected against the weather. That said, I’d recommend taking blankets if you’re going to stay late at the trackside, as the temperature can drop a lot, and if you’re prone to a numb posterior you’ll find the little plastic seats to be a bit challenging. I’ve never been to a race, in six years of going, where there hasn’t been rain in some fashion as well, so a lightweight poncho you can fold up and put into your pocket is ideal. If you’ve got some binoculars you should take these too. The big wheel at night gives you a great view of the track and never seems all that busy, and if you do have to wait there’s a Churros stand right next door.
Personally I don’t camp at the track as I think the camping there’s a bit minging. Avoid some of the cheaper camping areas like Bleu Nord as they can be a bit rough. But I’m sure others can give you some better recommendations. We camp at the grounds of a local chateau and it’s only a short drive to the track. Though staying at the track you’ll avoid the horrendous queues in and out.
Visit the museum, it’s brilliant
Make sure you scope out the track areas while it’s all open roads. You can drive pretty much all of the road sections, although MUlsanne is broken up a bit as you’re directed away from it at a couple of points. But you can basically drive the track from the top of Mulsanne all the way round to the Porsche curves, and it’s great to drive under the big Rolex banners and stuff. On Friday people congregate on Mulsanne for ‘Mad Friday’ which is where people generally arse around and have a good time. You’ll see some cool cars, though it can get a bit rowdy. Gendarme have clamped down on this in recent years though and I think it’s only a matter of time before they ban people from stopping on Mulsanne at all.
If Mad Friday doesn’t sound like your bag, then you can drive down to Saint Saturnin for the Classic British Welcome on the Friday instead. This is well worth checking out – it’s basically a big car show, hosted each year by a different prestigious car club. The host car club also do a little track drive before the start of the race, on the actual circuit, which is great. If you’re driving a cool car you’ll be invited to park in the display area too. I’d arrive early for this if you can as it does get busy and if you don’t have a cool car then parking is quite limited. They’ve got a website – http://www.classicbw.org/?ln=UK
If you arrive early enough, make sure you check out the official scutineering in Le Mans, as it’s done in the town square and the teams make a big deal of it. While you’re there, also check out Le Mans cathedral as it’s abolutely breathtaking. There’s also quite a lot to see and do in the surrounding countryside, with some great roads if you fancy a drive. The roads in the area, away from the main motorways, are very quiet, but don’t go mad because the Gendarme will absolutely nail you if they catch you speeding. A friend of mine was caught doing over 100mph (silly silly boy) and was imediately frogmarched to the nearest cashpoint for a 750Euro on the spot fine, and was then forced to pay another 750 to get his license back. It really isn’t worth the risk, as they view it as an easy moneymaker.
I mentioned Rouen before. If you have time, I would recommend checking it out as it’s a beautiful, historic city. Notre Dame Cathedral is incredible and there’s loads of wonderful restaurants there to eat in.
And lastly, don’t forget to make note of all the things you want to do differently the next time you come. Because you’ll defiitely enjoy it so much you’ll be hooked.
If I think of anything else I’ll report back :)15th October 2013, 14:16 at 2:16 pm #243149
Wow, that’s fantastic info @mazdachris ! Thank you very much for that! :)15th October 2013, 15:56 at 3:56 pm #243150
Matchsticks and RedBull.18th October 2013, 9:05 at 9:05 am #243151
I said I’d get back to you if I thought of anything else. Well there’s a few other things.
On the Friday night at the circuit there’s a bunch of stuff that happens. There’s a drivers’ parade, and there’s also live music and entertainment. Last year they had an Earth Wind and Fire tribute act!
At the circuit there’s also a bunch of other stuff to do which I completely forgot to tell you about. Behind the paddock is the ‘Le Mans Village’ where all the teams put out their hospitality and promotional areas. There’s loads of stuff to see and do and buy, and you can spend a few hours here easily. This is something you can do a few hours after the start of the race, where there tends to be a bit of a lull (or in most cases an extended safety car..). Don’t miss out on the pitwalk sessions either as you’ll get right up close to the cars, and often you’ll see the drivers and be able to get autographs and all sorts. You’ll be amazed at the difference between this and F1; they actually want to interact with you and show you all about the car. Plus next year you’ll be able to see the Nissan ZEOD, which will no doubt be the subject of loads of attention. Certainly the DeltaWing garage a couple of years ago was by far the most popular. I’m sure that Porsche will be generating their own share of attention as well, especially if they prove competitive. You really have chosen a fantastic year to attend!
Don’t forget to go out to other sections of the track as well, especially at night. You can drive from the main pit area round to viewing sections at Mulsanne and Arnage, and you’ll get brilliant views of both. At dusk, at Arnage, the cars really do look their best; you’ll see them braking from high speed into the corner, brakes aglow and flames licking up the sides of the cars, before they turn and then blast off again into the distance, exhausts cracking like rifle fire as they hurtle off into the gloom. If you can get a good vantage point here you can get some spectacular pictures.
By far the best advice I can give you as well, is take a portable radio with some good earbud headphones. Radio Le Mans will be on air for the whole week and it is one of the best, most informative pieces of broadcasting you’ll ever hear. If you’ve ever watched the WEC/LMS races on TV, you’ll probably already be familiar with their broadcast coverage, especially with the brilliant and ever-entertaining John Hindhaugh, but you might not have realised that there are really in-depth interviews and features which they play all through the week as well. The first year I went, I didn’t take a radio and I really struggled to understand exactly what was happening. Never made that mistake again, and for me it’s one of the defining things about going to Le Mans.
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