Initially intended to be an endurance race to give car manufacturers the opportunity to demonstrate the reliability and development status of their vehicles, it has since become a legend that has enthralled Porsche since the very first second.
Held since 1923 at the 24-hour circuit to the south of Le Mans, the 17.3-kilometre route originally extended to Le Mans city centre and was only shortened to 13.5km in 1932. Today, the route is 13.6 kilometres long and still largely consists of public country roads.
Shortly after the start, you pass, or drive under, one of the circuit’s icons: the 'Dunlop Bridge'. At one time intended to be an advertising concept, it is now the oldest Dunlop Bridge of all race tracks. And still inextricably linked with Le Mans.
After drivers have mastered the 'Bugatti Circuit', they come to the 'Tetre Rouge'. The all-important right-hand corner to start the long straight at the correct speed. Just before this, still hard on the gas, they gently apply the brakes in the bend at moderate speed. The correct combination of barrier and racing line is crucial here.
Then things speed up: drivers are faced with both the most famous and notorious 5-kilometre straight and such a straight can only be found at Le Mans. The 'Ligne Droite des Hunaudiéres' or 'Mulsanne Straight'. In 1990, top speeds of 400km/h were recorded here. But for safety reasons, it was expanded to include two chicanes. Top speeds on this section have now levelled off at 340km/h. At the end of this long straight is the right-hand Mulsanne Corner that gives the straight its name.
After the Mulsanne, drivers turn again onto a straight that takes them to the famous 'Indianapolis 1 and 2' series of bends and the 'Arnage'. The rapid change of direction when entering Indianapolis 1, in particular, is a major challenge. Here, drivers must keep as far right as possible in order to position themselves correctly for the left-hand bend. Indianapolis 2, however, is driven at a speed of around 120km/h. What’s special about Indianapolis 2 is the banking – with a slope towards the inside of the bend. Drivers accelerate very early in this bend, so as not to lose any time on the approach to the Arnage that forms a 90-degree angle and is driven relatively slowly.
One of the toughest sections of the route for both drivers and cars is the portion around the 'Porsche Curves' in the final quarter of the circuit. While the left-hand turn is taken at breathtaking speed – with full throttle – the following right-hand bend requires some light braking. With great momentum, the race car has to be perfectly positioned when exiting the bend in order to drive through the next two left-hand bends as quickly as possible. Courage and trust in your vehicle are the best advice for maintaining a high speed in this combination.
After this equally demanding and popular section, only two chicanes are left to master: although you can drive through the first chicane at relatively high speed, it is important to achieve the perfect braking point in the second, in order to accelerate again as soon as possible. Racing drivers use this momentum to overtake other teams on the long start-finish straight. The Porsche Experience Centre offers a wonderful view of this spectacle.