Circuit length: 8.46 miles
Race lap record: André Lotterer, Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 2015, 3min 17.475sec. Average speed: 154.385mph
Qualifying lap record: Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota TS050 Hybrid, 2017, 3min 14.791sec. Average speed: 156.512 mph
Alex Brundle, LMP1 driver with CEFC TRSM Racing and podium finisher in 2017, explains the nuances of nailing a lap of Le Mans.
1. DUNLOP ENTRY The kink into the first chicane is often underestimated. It’s quite tricky in anything other than perfect conditions. It’s flat, but as you go to apply the brakes for the first left hand of Dunlop you’ve got to make sure you’re in a straight line. Almost every year there’s a big accident as someone loses it on the brakes on the right-hand side. It’s a little bit like at Monaco’s Nouvelle Chicane in that a small moment turns into a big one.
2. DUNLOP EXIT You can save 0.5sec on the kerbs, but that’s a negotiation with your engineer about how much you’ll cut in qualifying/race trims. There’s some space on the exit now, unfortunately – I’d like the challenge to return. The hybrids will take off like a scalded cat over the hill and you’ll often find one up your inside, like the crash Allan McNish had in 2013. You try and cut back inside and beat them to the apex of the long right-hander. There’s a bump where the Bugatti circuit goes off right, which the old cars would jump, now the cars hoover over it.
3.TERTRE ROUGE This is a great corner. The key is to be accurate on the right-hand kerb. The car will just hop a bit if you take a bit too much, and you will take more of the divots on the outside. If you miss the apex then you start getting into all of the rain gullies on the outside. The apex speed jumped massively through there between the new-spec and the old-spec P2 cars. In modern LMP1 cars it’s almost a kink now. It’s possible to lose it on the kerb and crash halfway down the Mulsanne because the straight subtly keeps turning, which can really catch you out in the wet. Where the track joins the open road there is a bump and it’s easy to drop it there in the wet.
4.MULSANNE If there’s anything to talk about you can get on the radio, usually to the first chicane because the radios can be a bit rubbish. You’re also looking down the road judging which car you’re going to catch where and whether you can save any fuel. If I’m going to meet a GT in the first chicane and there’s nothing I can do about it, instead of catching him in the braking zone I will lift and coast for 100 metres and let him go through the apex. Then I’ve saved fuel, I’ve caught him and passed him on the exit and I’ve lost no time.
5.CHICANE 2 Both chicanes are pretty similar. You used to have to be really patient because the grip wasn’t there to turn through the mid-corner. Now you can carry a bit of aero through and actually push really hard through the middle. They’re pretty fun, you have to be careful because both exit kerbs have a flat end so if you catch one of those you can take the splitter off or cause a puncture. If you get wide you’re going off because they get so grubby on the outside.
6.MULSANNE KINKS There’s two kinks. The first is the old kink that used to be the scary one when you were flat out in a Group C car. I’ve had a couple of quite big moments in there in wet and drying conditions. You come out of the second chicane on line and if you have to pass a GT around the outside of the kink it’s easy to drop it if you’re not careful because the road crests away.
7.MULSANNE CORNER There are a couple of bumps near the apex to miss. Get the braking and line right and there’s time to be gained on the entry, which can make or break the lap. Hooking up the apex is really, really difficult because you’ve been going so quick and it feels like threading the eye of the needle because all of a sudden you’ve got no downforce. You have to get turn-in absolutely right or the front just slides past the apex. There’s some pavement you can go up and down without rubbing the plank, which takes a couple of laps to get right in practice. You get a pace advantage at no reliability cost.
8. INDIANAPOLIS Everybody boasts about how quick they’ve gone through the first part but it’s irrelevant. What matters is where you lifted off. You need to hook up the left-hand apex because the kerb is really nasty. There’s no space on the outside if you’ve turned in too early, either. Often the rears lock because you’re going down several gears. The old P2s would take the first part flat and be a little bit flighty but you turn up a lot quicker now so there’s a lot more braking to do.
INDY TO ARNAGE It’s a longer distance than you think down to Arnage, especially if you’ve not got that much power. It doesn’t look like a long distance in relation to Le Mans but if you put that straight at Silverstone, it might be the distance between Luffield and Copse. You have to make sure you get a good exit and then on the left-hand side for Arnage.
9.ARNAGE They’ve opened up the exit so you can take a little bit more speed in and lean on the car through the middle. It’s not quite as frustrating as it used to be but it’s still frustrating. The braking is a real misery, it’s ridiculous. You con yourself into thinking you’re getting this amazing exit every time. It’s another place where the hybrids just obliterate you. They get a chunk of hybrid boost out of Indy and then another chunk out of Arnage.
10.PORSCHE CURVES Get stuck behind a GT and it’s 3sec down the drain. Around the outside in the first right is sketchy, you can go around the outside of Karting. Or, you can beat them through the left and drill them before Maison Blanche. The first right’s the best corner on the track – it progresses most and you’ll end up flat. The next right is the most downforce you will feel anywhere in the world. The next left is very awkward and the next little chicane is dead tricky with traffic. Sometimes you can get a sleepy GT driver cutting you to the apex, or a P1 driver that wants all of the road. Everybody has to respect each other; it’s a tricky area.
11. FORD CHICANE The pitlane is the braking point. It’s all about taking the kerbs nicely. You’ve got to make sure you get on the gas because it’s a longer distance than you think between the two Ford chicanes. It’s a place where the car really feels pretty awkward. If you drop it in the first chicane there’s every chance that you’re going to take the front off the car clattering one of those kerbs. Sometimes the GTs are faster than you. You’re frightening them out of the way if you try go around the outside but that’s a last-hour-ofthe-race job. Then you head off for another lap…