Unlocking Le Mans' secrets

Le Mans

CEFC Manor’s Alex Brundle, Le Mans podium finisher, takes you on a detailed lap of Le Mans 

Dunlop entry

The kink into the first chicane is often underestimated. It is actually quite a tricky corner 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 really straight.

Almost every year there’s a pretty big accident there as someone loses it purely on the brakes on the right-hand side. It’s a little bit like people do into the chicane at the bottom of the hill after the bridge in Monaco. A small moment turns into a big one and then a lot of people go right off into the boonies.

Exit

The Dunlop Chicane is a negotiation between you and your engineer about how much kerb you’re going to cut in qualifying and race trims. We quantified it about as much as half a second hammering both kerbs. There’s some space to use on the exit now, unfortunately, I’d like to see the challenge brought back to that first Chicane. The hybrid cars will take off like a scalded cat over the hill, and you’ll often find one up your inside when you weren’t expecting it, just like the crash Allan McNish had in 2013.

What you tend to try and do is cut back inside and beat them over the top of the crest and into the apex of the long right-hander. There is a great big bump where the Bugatti circuit goes off right in the middle, the old cars used to hit the floor and jump but now the new cars sort of hoover over it.

The next left is honestly one of the most enjoyable parts of the race track. You can take massive speed to the first part of the banking. You’re going pretty quick there and you really feel pretty big downforce through the banking of the left-hander and over the crest.

Tertre Rouge

This is a great corner. The key is to be really accurate on the right-hand kerb because it is actually pretty flat. If you take a bit too much, then it’s no problem, the car will just hop a bit and you can take a little bit more of the divots on the outside. The real problem you have is if you miss the apex then you start getting into all of the rain gullies that line the track on the outside. The apex speed jumped massively through there between the new spec and the old spec P2 cars. In P1 you turn up quick, you apex quick and you exit quick. You’re basically just accelerating onto the Mulsanne, it’s almost to kink now in modern P1 cars.

You can’t run that wide because there is so much rubbish out there. It’s possible to lose it on the kerb and have a crash almost 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 really easy to drop it straight into the outside barrier there in wet conditions, particularly if you have got something torquey with not very good traction control.

Mulsanne straight

If there’s anything to talk about you talk about it on the on the radio, usually down to the first chicane because the radios can be a bit rubbish. You are also looking down the road and judging which GT you are going to catch where and whether you can save any fuel. If I know I’m going to meet a car 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 not lost any time.

Chicanes

Both chicanes are pretty similar. In the old cars, you had to be really patient because the tyre grip wasn’t there to turn through the mid-corner. Now, with the new cars, you carry a bit of aerodynamics through there and you can push really hard through the middle. They’re pretty fun corners, you have to be careful because both exit kerbs have a flat end on them 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 again and they get so grubby on the outside.

Mulsanne kinks

There are two kinks actually. The first is the old kink that used to be the scary kink 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.

Mulsanne corner

There are a couple of bumps near the apex which you need to miss. It’s all about getting the braking profile and the line right, because there’s much time to be gained on the entry. It’s one of the biggest winners and losers on a lap of Le Mans. 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.

On the exit there’s an area of the pavement where you can go up and down without rubbing the plank at all, which takes a couple of laps to get right in practice. When you’ve done it you can use that extra track without damaging the car, which gives you a pace advantage at no reliability cost.

Indianapolis

Everybody comes back in the pits and boasts about how quick they’ve gone through the first part of Indy, the right-hander, but it’s actually completely irrelevant. The only thing that really matters is the point where you lifted off full throttle. What’s really, really important is hooking up the left-hand apex because the kerb is really nasty on the left-hand side. There’s no space on the outside for if you turned in too early as well. You’ve got to nail it if you move from a really heavy roll in the first part of Indianapolis to then try and brake and go the other way. Most cars will lock its rears because you’re going down several gears as well. The old cars were a little bit flighty in there, the new cars have got a bit more downforce but you turn up a lot quicker so there’s a lot more braking to do. The old P2 cars would just go through the first part of Indianapolis flat out, the new ones would have no chance.

Indy to Arnage

It’s a further 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 are then on the left-hand side for Arnage.

Arnage

They’ve opened up the exit a bit so you can take a little bit more speed in than you used to be able to and you can 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, to be honest; it’s ridiculous. You just have to con yourself into thinking you’re getting this amazing exit every time you stop the car. You head down in there and it’s just a very bog-standard 90 right.

It’s another place where the hybrids just obliterate you. You turn in and you’ve not even seen the Toyota that they get a chunk of hybrid boost out of Indy and then another chunk out of Arnage.

Porsche Curves

There’s the big rush on to clear the class below on the way to the Porsche Curves because if you get stuck behind the GT there are three seconds completely down the drain. There are three moves you can make: one is to go around the outside in the first right, which is sketchy; then you can go round the outside of Karting or you can come underneath them around the outside of the long right of Karting; or you can beat them through the left and you can drill them before the chicane at Maison Blanche, the last little flat out chicane.

Those are the three options basically – anywhere else is a massive risk. You have to have a car that’s really stable so you can drive into the corner really deep and still be able to get the throttle on in the middle because there’s no point in passing a GT on the way in and then looping it off or going really wide because they’ll just look at you as though you are an idiot and then you have to pass them again on the exit.

The first right is the best corner on the track, it’s absolutely mega and it’s the corner that progresses most through a race weekend. On the test day you might think about fourth but by the time the race is on you’re pulling to downshift to fifth and the anti-over-rev will stop you because you’re going too fast. You start off considering a lift for the first one and lifting halfway off the throttle for the second one and you will end up flat out through both, so it’s a place where the track moves forward hugely. The next right is honestly the most downforce you will feel anywhere in the world.

The next left handler is a very awkward turning. Again they’ve given you space if you really screw it up now on the left-hand side, but unless there is a crash in front of you I don’t really envision using that space. I’m not sure how you would use it. The left-hand kerb makes a car jump a little bit and then it’s all about how much of that outside rumble strip you’re prepared to use, firstly to stop the car moving too much and keep it safe and secondly so that my engineer doesn’t tell me that I’m wrecking the suspension.

The next little chicane is just dead tricky with the traffic. Sometimes you get a sleepy GT driver that cuts you to the apex. Sometimes you get a P1 driver that just wants all of the road, but it’s a case of everybody having to respect and manage each other. It’s a tricky area of the race track.

Ford

The pitlane is the braking point in almost everything and again it’s all about taking the kerbs nicely, loading the car to take both kerbs in a way that doesn’t upset the car too much and doesn’t leave you with a slide on going down into the last tricky little chicane.

You have got to make sure you get on the gas because again it’s a longer distance than you think between the two Ford chicanes so there’s no drifting into the last part. It’s a place where the car really feels pretty awkward, to be honest. It’s really the only big technical mechanical challenge of the lap, even Dunlop, Arnage and Mulsanne you carry a bit of speed but this one it’s one of those horrible technical ones where you’ve got to get off the brake, just by three bar. If you drop it in the previous Ford chicane there’s every chance that you’re going to clatter on one of those kerbs with the front end and take the front off the car. You need to be a little bit smart in there.

Sometimes the GTs are faster than you if they can take all of the kerbs everywhere. The GT boys are properly locked into a line, and to make that second apex in a GT you’ve got to be turning left almost as you come off the kerb, because you’ve got the body roll and the movement and they’re fully committed to the apex. You’re frightening him out of the way if you try to go round the outside there, which I’ve got absolutely no problem with doing, but that’s a last hour of the race job…

Then you head off to start another lap.

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