Planning a trip to le Mans?
In most years since the formation of the V8 Register in 1978, a group of V8 enthusiasts has gone to the annual 24 hours sports car endurance race. It's an event that combines a sense of expedition, an opportunity to drive on some relatively uncluttered French roads, the enjoyment of good food and wine, and of course spectating the race!

See also the updates below.

When is the event held?
The event is usually held over the weekend closest to the longest day in June. Practice is held over several days during the week leading up to the the race at the weekend, but do note there is no practice on the Friday. The race starts at 4.00pm on Saturday afternoon (although in 2007 it started at 3pm because of the French elections) and the chequered flag comes out at 4.00pm on Sunday afternoon when the weary drivers gladly throttle back after more than 8,500 miles round the 13.6 km circuit. It is not only an endurance event for the competitors and their cars but also for the spectators because ambient noise levels are high and you are on your feet a great deal - and of course you are watching a 24 hour motor race in all weathers! But there are many compensations - good company and above all good food, and the joie de vivre of being in France with the long hours of daylight in June.

In recent years the dates for the 24 heures du Mans in the middle of June have unfortunately clashed with the dates for the MG Car Club's annual International Weekend at Silverstone. This has tested loyalties!

So what are the key points to bear in mind if you are planning to go to the event?

When to be there
It is probably best to go over on Wednesday or even earlier in the week so you can avoid the invasion via the ferries and Channel Tunnel - with over 60,000 enthusiasts making the annual pilgrimage to le Mans from the UK, this is a serious issue. That way you will have a more relaxed journey, be able to see at least one day of practice and get a feel for the layout of the place - particularly in daylight! The Mulsanne Straight is returned to a public road at the end of each afternoon after practice, so it's always a pleasure to take a run down that famous straight passing Restaurant Hunaudieres on the left and then hammer down through the right kink to the roundabout at Mulsanne corner just outside the village - preferably before dinner!

With no practice on Friday
It is an opportunity to drive down to Chartres and see the magnificent cathedral. One year John Targett (BRG V8 1022), David Waterton (Bracken V8 1218) and Mike Maude-Roxby in Harvest Gold V8 1089, set off early down the deserted three lane motorway towards Chartres at a brisk pace. Even with open fields spreading either side for kilometres, we still had to keep an eye open for le Flic. Coming back to le Mans later that Friday afternoon was a complete contrast - the road was heavy with traffic and particularly so for a section of two lane dual carriageway. We all chose to cruise in the nearside lane because the near suicidal driving habits of the French drivers in the outside lane were just beyond belief! They drive as though the car in front, even if held back by other vehicles ahead, is not there until they have the comfort of being so close they are no longer able to see your rear bumper!

Cathedral at Chartres, well worth visiting on Friday as there is no practice on the Sarthe Circuit that day

How to get over there
You can take the ferries from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, Caen or le Havre, but if you take the early morning ferry, sailing at between 0800 and 0900, it takes until early afternoon French time to get to the French port. There is then a fair drive to the le Mans area. As it is a weekday, you pass through numerous towns at the time when the factories are turning out and assorted camions are pottering, so the traffic can be heavy, and the journey slow and tiresome. The drive down the west side of the peninsula from Cherbourg can be most pleasant but it is quite a journey, possibly more comfortable with an overnight break at Villedieu-les-Poeles for example.

An alternative is to use the Eurotunnel Shuttle and then drive down on the autoroutes. I found the Shuttle very convenient in 1999 when I went over for a golfing weekend near le Touquet. The key point to note is that if you do plan to go by ferry, you will need to book by early January (and often earlier) at the latest to be sure of getting a place, particularly if you plan to go over on or near Friday.

Where to stay
You have essentially three choices depending on the style you wish to enjoy and the price you can afford - camping, small hotel or as a paying guest in a house or at a chateau. The last time I went, we all stayed at a magnificent chateau near a village called Flée about 35 kilometres south of Mulsanne village. The charges were reasonable and the welcome warm.

Chateau at Flée where we stayed one year.

On a previous occasion, my son and I stayed at the Hotel de France in la Chartes-sur-le-Loir, a beautiful village a few kilometres further south. This hotel is in the main square of this village and was the place where the Aston Martin team used to billet in earlier years. The walls of the bar are covered with signed photos of the team drivers, the works cars and other people.

Hotel de France in la Chartre-sur-Loir - the bar walls are covered with photos of Astons and racing drivers, but above all the food is wonderful!. The spelling of this Loir is correct by the way.

The food is truly wonderful at Hotel de France. I have memories of a delicious duck dish accompanied by a meaty Gevry Chambertin, followed by a splendid crème brulee made with real vanilla pod. It was a splendid evening in good company with ample good humour and banter. I long to be back there again! The difficulty is that rooms at hotels like that get booked 12 months ahead, so your real choice is a smaller place which can be fine, but do make sure that they will let you in at one or two in the morning when you roll back from the circuit! - and that they can cope with your leaving early on Sunday morning to get back to the circuit by 0800 or 0900.

Camping facilities
The camping facilities within the circuit are reasonable as the ground is sandy with spaces sheltered by pine trees. Alternatively you can put the recliners back and sleep in the V8 or RV8 - Paul Busby (Glacier White V8 0278) and I did this for our first year, mainly because we arrived in the dark late on Friday night and did not know where we were! For the whole weekend, you will find sleeping at the circuit with high decibels pounding your ears is a little wearing, even sleeping with ear defenders on!

Where to park when you get to the Circuit
The V8 Register group usually parks outside the circuit in a small field (called "Parking Rouge") on the north side overlooking Tertre Rouge corner. Access to this car park is from le Mans so go armed with a Michelin guide or map to ensure you can find your way through the town - it can be grim in heavy traffic, particularly if you are not sure where you are going! So see the small extracts from two essential maps which are reproduced at the foot of this note.

The map extracts below are from Michelin sheet 4072 Sarthe (1cm to 1.5 km) and Institut Geogra Phique National sheet 106 Val de Loire (1cm to 2.5km) available from WH Smith, Waterstones and other good map sellers at around £2.00 and £4.95 respectively. Sheet 4072 provides good detail around le Mans and sheet 106 has the town centre plan. But you will also need another Michelin map, sheet 231 Normandie (1cm to 2 km) for the route from the port to Alencon, a town to the north east of le Mans on the E138. Sheet 0472 is centred on le Mans and covers the route from Alencon south and the area south of Mulsanne to la Chartre-sur-le-Loir and Tours. But if you cannot obtain a copy, then you will need sheet 232 Pays de Loire (also 1cm to 2 km) for the area around le Mans. These maps, particularly the large scale sheet 4072, are essential and should be purchased in advance. These maps provide the essential detail of the smaller roads you will need to use to get round some of the road closures caused by the event, particularly at night! Do not scrimp on maps - you will need these Michelin and ign maps and a good torch or map reading light! The small extracts reproduced here are to illustrate how important it is to buy the latest updates of these maps before making the trip to le Mans so you will have full details of the local roads.

Directions to the car park ("Parking Rouge") outside the Sarthe circuit
On turning right at the sign for the swimming pool into
Dates for 2015
Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th June

Dunlop bridge, probably one of the most recognised sights at le Mans.

News during the race
Online news and updates

the road overlooking Tertre Rouge corner (see the map extracts and explanatory notes at the foot of this note), the important thing is to get into the first car park on your left hand side. For old hands who have been to le Mans before I have to tell you that the grass car park we used to park in has now been built on!! - see photo below.

New building on what used to be a delightful grass car park, popular with V8 enthusiasts - so now you have to go on to "Parking Rouge" just along this minor road!

So you now have to go by this new building and then go into one of the two car parks further down the minor road which are nearer the spectator entrance. In that respect they are more convenient but unfortunately those car parks do not have a thick grass surface but are surfaced with cinders. That can be very dusty in dry weather and leave your car in a dreadful mess on hot and dry days.

From the car park ("Parking Rouge") you then walk through those two cinders car parks to the ticket control point.

hat do you do inside the circuit?
On the Saturday, we usually try and have lunch in a bar on the inside of the track adjacent to the exit of the first chicane at the end of the start straight. The spot is not far from the famous Dunlop bridge on the hill. As lunch comes to an end, we keep an eye on the build up of spectators on the fence, then move out to a position with a line of sight through the corner to the end of the start straight to see the rolling start. It is a tremendous sight as the cars surge by and set off on their long journey - well hopefully! After the first hour, when things have settled down, our group usually agrees a series of meeting times (say every three hours) at a bar - particularly one where you can get crepes and brandies at night - so you can maintain contact and good spirits. However drivers will need to take care with their alcohol intake as the drink-drive limits are quite tight in France and in any case common sense should apply

Of course a visit to the funfair cannot be missed - it has a medieval flavour in some ways. During the evening, following dinner at a bar or restaurant outside the circuit, we call in at various points round the circuit. I say "round" but in fact you cannot easily get right round, even on foot. The section from Arnage to the start line cannot be reached to complete a walk round the circuit.

You may try and walk through to see one of the chicannes on the Mulsanne Straight but often the gendarmes will turn you back as it can be dangerous standing near the armco barriers. I under-stand that if a car hits the barriers at high speed, the armco sections can become detached and flail about causing very serious and probably fatal injuries to people standing nearby. If you do get near the straight (for example at the Restaurant Hunaudieres) the cars pass at such a speed you have difficulty with even reading the race numbers!

As night comes, I always enjoy seeing the disc brakes glowing cherry red at the end of the straights going into corners like Indianapolis when the brakes are still red hot from the heavy braking for Mulsanne Corner beforehand. The spectator enclosure overlooking Indianapolis and Arnage Corners is quite special at night and a very friendly group of enthusiasts always congregates there.

Usually we get back for some sleep at around 1.30am. Most of the places we have stayed in have been too far from the Circuit to pick up the local FM circuit commentary (in English) but of course you can listen to the regular reports on French national radio on FM and Longwave.

At le Mans they have an "onion peel" system of passes - you get a pass to get into the general enclosure, then another pass to get a little further in, then a ticket for a grandstand seat (usually pre-booked) and then, if you have contacts, you may be able to get a pass to the paddock area. The tickets allow you to go in and out of the circuit throughout the weekend.

Circuit catering
On a comparative scale with other circuits, the catering at the 24 heures du Mans is remarkably good, but it is reasonably expensive compared with the good value in the bars and villages restaurants outside. Many of the circuit caterers really do try and provide good food and service even over long hours and in tiring conditions. It is worth using French as the catering staff respond very well to English motor sport enthusiasts who make an effort to speak their language in France.

They clearly show signs of disdain with the regrettable increase in English pot bellied, vest clad louts who, in recent years, have been drawn to le Mans in significant numbers. They make little attempt to speak even the basic courtesies or show an appreciation for French cuisine. Sadly the sight of homo neanderlemansus or homo geesabeerus conveys such a dismal image of the British abroad. I recall chatting with a bar keeper early on Saturday evening just after he had asked a lout (in fair English) which dressing he wanted on his order, only to get - "amberger, bigun" - grunted in response. I am not sure if that behaviour was just habitual ignorance or the effects of consuming a whole shrunk-wrapped pack of lager during the afternoon, but the barman was not impressed.

Just a caution for those members who are used to the beneficial warning that radar detectors afford of fixed cameras or hand-held speed detection devices. The French use radar to detect speeding cars and are out in force at the time of the 24 heures du Mans. The Flic seem to enjoy gonging English sports car drivers - next to keeping our beef out, it must be their next most enjoyable game in June. So great care is needed, particularly when entering the outskirts of towns and villages. Often the secondary, cross country roads are much safer and more enjoyable, but you will need detailed maps and a good map reader!

If you have a radar detector which provides advance warning of X and K band and laser signals, do be aware that in France radar detectors are illegal with "on-the-spot" fines demanded by the Flic together with the confiscation of the kit. But it's worse, the Flic have detector detectors and spring into action as soon as they get even a sniff of a detection of a detector! Although my trusty Valentine detector is supposed to have stealth technology, I have not been keen to put it to the test in France! I prefer to use my eyes and sixth sense.

Coming back
If you plan to return on the early Sunday evening ferry from le Havre for example, you will need to leave the circuit before the end of the race, probably 90 minutes or so beforehand, and then park up about 15 kilometres from the circuit so you can listen to the local FM radio transmission of the closing stages before you go out of range. This way you avoid the exodus of around 250,000 fans and the scratch race to the ports - probably the most dangerous part of the weekend! Being prepared to leave early is really an important part of your planning unless you have arranged for a few days of extra holiday in France during the following week.

Leaving the circuit early
avoids a tedious episode and you should be able to reach le Havre in time for the early evening ferry without pushing too hard. If you have booked the later overnight ferry, then there will be time for an early supper at a restaurant or bar as you get near le Havre.

Return ferry
For the return ferry, it is a good bet to book a day cabin for four if you are a day party so you can have a place of refuge and a doze during the long crossing. An overnight cabin is a must for a comfortable night on the late ferry back to Portsmouth.

So have a good time at le Mans.

Victor Smith (updated 10th February 2015)

Want to discussyour plans for le Mans with a fellow member?
If you would like to discuss your plans or check whether the V8 Register has a party organised for the next event, you can call:

Roger Aldridge will be pleased to help you at rogerandjulia88((atat))

Chris Vernon - he can be contacted at vernonrun((atat)) for more information.

Tim Hipwell
also went to le Mans 2003 in his RV8 and will be pleased to help members planning to go the le Mans 2004 at thipwell((atat)) for advice.

Jim Gibson on 01604 812008 (tel) at sensible hours or at jimgibson((atat)) by email.

Victor Smith at victorsmith((atat)) or on 0208 392 9434 (tel).

Some very useful information can be obtained from which Jim Gibson recommends all members planning a visit to le Mans should check out.

This note was prepared in December 1999, updated in June 2007 with information from Roger Aldridge and again in February 2015 by Victor Smith.
Copyright reserved.
Le Mans maps
Extracts from two essential maps you will need to find your way round are available here. They will be particularly useful at night as a number of roads are closed for the event so you will need to thread your way around the closed roads. The two maps relate to "Where to park when you get to the Circuit".

1. Finding the "Parking Rouge" car park
click on this map for a larger map
  • Leave the centre of le Mans from the ring road, via Exit 4 (south east) on the Avenue Jean Jaures, signposted for Tours N138 - E502. This is the road pointing to the RH bottom corner of the map above.
  • Just before you reach the N23R underpass (which will be closed during practice) and as you pass over a rise, you will see a church and a swimming pool just off to your left hand side - see the symbols on bottom right hand corner of the map above.
  • Immediately after the church and swimming pool and before the road passes under the autoroute N23R, turn right into a minor road - you can see the white road on the circuit plan on the map below. Usually the gendarmes will direct you at this point to the car parks further along this road.
  • For old hands please note that the grass car parks you have turned into on your left side are no longer there - they have been built on!!
  • You then make your way on foot - walk through the car parks, which are just before the ticket booths which control access to a footbridge over the autoroute which takes you into the Circui
2. Map covering the Circuit
click on this map for a larger map
In the centre of the map above near the top, you can see a small white road just above the N23R autoroute (black) - this is the minor road you need to turn into from the main road (4) coming out of the centre of le Mans (that is the black road which runs from the centre of the top of the map above, diagonally to Mulsanne at the bottom of the map). You see it passes under the N23R autoroute.

These extracts are from Michelin sheet 4072 Sarthe (1cm to 1.5 km) and Institut Geogra Phique National sheet 106 Val de Loire (1cm to 2.5km) and full acknowledgment for reproducing them here is made. Remember do not scrimp on maps - these maps are essential because many roads are closed during the event so do buy them in advance. They are available from WH Smith, Waterstones and other good map sellers at around £2.00 and £4.95 respectively (prices accurate 2000).
Essential kit
There are three items you will be well advised to obtain in advance. Firstly ear defenders and/or soft ear plugs are a "must-have". Even defenders from a hire shop will do but they are necessary because you will grow weary of the din. Next you need a compact FM radio for the local race commentary transmissions from the circuit in English and French - the baseball caps with built in radios and dangling ear plugs are ideal as they do not get in the way and are very convenient - and you can put the ear defenders over the top of the ear plugs too! The third key item is a plastic ticket holder on a cord round
your neck to hold the mass of tickets and passes for regular inspection as you move around and in and out of parts of the circuit. You will need to make a reasonably strong and watertight see-through plastic holder. Without it, your tickets will turn to pulp within hours if it rains!

Of course you will also need stout boots, wet weather kit, a fleece and a hat together with a small rucsac to carry those items - and sun kit too (sometimes it can be a scorcher) - plus food and water.
Update - le Mans 2007
Roger Aldridge (Oxford Blue 1722) returned from Le Mans last week and thought members might find useful an update for planning future trips. (25.6.07)

This year Le Mans was very wet!! At times it poured for several hours and the wind whipped it into the horizontal! So take heed of the V8 Register advice to take wet weather gear if in any doubt as the circuit in places became very muddy.

Some changes at le Mans
I last went to the race in 2005 and there were a number of changes to the circuit that are worth knowing about if you are planning a visit in the future.

Car parking
Car Park Rouge remains my first choice and it was well marshalled, had plenty of space and although being largely grass and cinders, the mud was at a minimum given the heavy rain. Cars were parked with sufficient space to come and go without being blocked in. The directions to Parking Rouge however were different from previously. All signposted you to the car park via the N23 motorway and they then took you straight off and in, however be aware if you are coming from the north (as I was) that it is much quicker to come down the east side of Le Mans and onto the N23.The signs take you out west with a huge detour to the south which was unnecessary. On leaving the Rouge car park the one way street on which it is sited runs two way which means a rapid exit onto the N23.

Tickets were supplied with the four day tear-offs however these are now not used as the entrance staff all have barcode readers. This meant you could keep your tickets in a plastic ticket holder and in good condition.

Improvements inside the Circuit
There have been a number of improvements inside the circuit. Tertre Rouge has been completely rebuilt with a new banking to view the corner and a large screen. There were several new screens around the circuit which reinforced the plan to "walk and watch" from various points. The viewing area at the Dunlop Bridge has been rebuilt on the inside of the circuit and there is a new walkway from Dunlop down to the pits. The

This photo shows directions to the Circuit as you approach the area to the north of le Mans which directs you out to the west side of le Mans which should be ignored! However you can still approach Parking Rouge from the town centre as the main note describes above. Roger Aldridge followed that route from the town centre on the Sunday morning and it was fine, so that is an alternative route in from the town centre.
(Photo: Roger Aldridge)

"village" behind the pits is now first class with plenty to see and with proper walkways rather than mud! As ever the pit walk is a must and on Friday this was open virtually all day.

Access to Arnage

My only disappointment was that the police have now closed access to the Arnage bends on the Thursday and Friday. In 2005 this was the venue for several hundred cars parked up and their owners strolling and passing the time with fellow enthusiasts. This was closed this year which meant the only access to a "circuit drive" was down the Mulsanne around to the Arnage but not actually onto the curves.

Despite this the spirit of the race was undiminished. The classic race before the main race on the Saturday was excellent, as was the drivers parade on the Friday evening, and radio Le Mans covered it all expertly.

If you are planning a trip and would like some further advice please feel free to contact me by my email at rogerandjulia88((atat))

Roger Aldridge (Oxford Blue 1722)
PS: I had my car serviced at Clive Wheatley before I went, together with fitting the new Konis. Perfect for the French roads and she never missed a beat.

Update - le Mans 2004
Chris Vernon (Black 2217) and John Henke (Glacier White 2517) are taking their V8s to le Mans again this year. Chris says "We always book via Motor Racing International (call 01304 612424) who do a very good hospitality package and have a good allocation of campsites, which are almost impossible to get independently. This year we are going back to the Maison Blanche campsite which is outside the circuit before the start/finish straight". As far as crossing the Channel is concerned, As far as crossing the Channel is concerned, Chris says he will be "travelling out from Dover by ferry on Thursday morning at about 6am so we can get there early". They plan to return on Monday at about 7pm. "The drive down to the Circuit is as much fun as the race!"
If you want join them, book now if you want to camp because MRI have told Chris they are filling up fast and once the camping allocation has gone, that's it! Chris adds that "When you have booked, let me know what you are doing so we can coordinate things". If you have alternative plans it will be well worth while liaising with Chris to meet up over the weekend.

Coordinating with Chris Vernon - he can be contacted at vernonrun((atat)) for more information. Tim Hipwell also went to le Mans 2003 in his RV8 and will be pleased to help members planning to go the le Mans 2004 at thipwell((atat)) for advice.