The Complete Guide to Le Mans

  • Sports & outdoors
  • France
  • 7 min read
The Complete Guide to Le Mans

A guide to the exciting adventure that is the Le Mans motor-racing event and everything else the city has to offer.

Known as the ‘City of Art and History’, Le Mans is home to the most famous endurance race in the world, with thousands of spectators attending every year. But there’s more to this stunning city than motor-racing. Also known as the red-city, the Gallo-Roman ramparts, Gothic Cathedral and cobbled streets have enough beauty and culture to charm any visitor.

With high-speed action to attract any motor-racing fans combined with the city’s stunning sites, there’s something for everyone in Le Mans.

Driving from Calais to Le Mans

To get to Le Mans, you can take a direct route from Calais via the A28 and arrive in around 4 hours and 25 minutes. If you’re planning a longer trip and have time to see more of France, why not take the A1 and A11 to enjoy all that Paris has to offer on your way to Le Mans.

If you’re travelling with a motoring enthusiast, why not plan a pit stop in Le Mans on the way to the home of Formula 1 in Monaco? Alternatively, journey to Stuttgart, where car lovers can whip up and down the Autobahn and spend the night in the car-themed V8 hotel or watch the best car in the world race in Germany at the Nürburgring.

Image of Le Mans Cathédrale Saint-Julien

The Le Mans circuits

The 13.6km track is made up of several different circuits, and while slight alterations have been made to the original circuit, the impressive basic layout remains the same.

Circuit de la Sarthe

Consisting of both a permanent track and public roads, spectators have the unique experience of being able to drive part of the course before it is closed off for the race (although at a much slower and safer pace).

Circuit Bugatti au Mans

Built during the 1960s, the Bugatti Circuit forms the permanent circuit in the main 24-hour course, as a solution to the cost and inconvenience caused by closing the public roads for the event.

Having hosted a Formula 1 race and the French Grand Prix in 1967, the Bugatti Circuit has also held several bike races including the World Championships. Today, it is one of the busiest circuits in Europe and hosts the Grand Prix, French Superbikes, its own 24-hour races for bikes and trucks, a VW festival, and the V de V Endurance Series.

Maison Blanche course

Built as a second permanent course after the completion of the Bugatti circuit, the Maison Blanche is situated alongside the main course between the final of the Porsche Curves and the Ford Chicane.

While this circuit is never used for racing events, it is home to France's only Porsche Sport Driving School and the Porsche Experience Centre.grey sports car on a racing trackCelebrate speed at the Le Mans 24-hour event

The Le Mans 24-hour endurance race

Considered to be one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world, motor-racing fans can fully immerse themselves in the event with the drivers’ autograph session and the chance to attend guided pit walks for those lucky enough to get hold of a General Enclosure, Grandstand, or VIP weekend ticket.

Despite the name, events in Le Mans are not confined to 24-hours. In the week preceding the race, practice sessions and qualifying practice sessions are a great way to get into the spirit of racing for spectators and competitors alike. There are also several support races ahead of the main race on Saturday, and in the morning before the race the Le Mans Legend takes place. This unique event is reserved for cars that have previously competed in Le Mans; every year a different era is chosen, and drivers range from amateurs to former professionals.

One of the most popular non-race events is the Driver’s Parade which takes place on the Friday before the race in the centre of Le Mans. The carnival atmosphere, complete with music and dancing, is a fantastic way to kick off a weekend of racing.

The race itself can be watched live, or on one of the 11 giant screens which are scattered around the race area, grandstands, and village.

The history of 24 hours of Le Mans

The 24-hours of Le Mans race has been held annually since 1923, designed to test both cars and drivers for endurances and reactions. As the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, the 24-hours of Le Mans is one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world and has been called the "Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency".

The event has forced car manufacturers to innovate in order to allow better aerodynamics, fuel efficiency and braking, meaning that Le Mans regularly features new designs from some of the biggest names in racing.

Forming part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, unlike in fixed distance races, the winner is the car that covers the greatest distance in 24-hours rather the car with the quickest time.

Accommodation and tickets

Several campsites around the circuit are opened by the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) for the event. Not only will you be able to soak up the atmosphere before the race, but most sites are only a short walk from the track and well-connected to the village by train meaning you won’t have to worry about transport to and from the event once you arrive.

As the best campsites naturally sell out fast, and you need to reserve a special camping ticket (normally priced by vehicle), it’s a good idea to book as early as possible.

For the event itself, tickets can be bought from the ACO at the official Le Mans race website. You’ll need to purchase a general admission ticket to watch the race, but additional tickets (which give you access to the grandstands) can also be bought.

Watch the Le Mans road trip with LeShuttle, where the Stig reveals what really happened in the Top Gear 24-hour race.

Track days at Le Mans

If you want to get even closer to the action, why not step behind the wheel and attend one of the track days held on the Bugatti circuit?

The 2.7-mile permanent racetrack uses part of the larger 24-hour endurance course, including the famous Ford Chicane, the pit complex, and the straight where the Dunlop Tyres bridge is located.

An experience for all fans of the sport, booking a track day makes a great addition to any visit to Le Mans.

Other places to visit in Le Mans

The stunning architecture and history mean that Le Mans itself should not be overlooked. The birthplace of the Plantagenet dynasty, a large part of the city is listed as a protected area and defended from outsiders by an imposing Roman wall.

Ideal for lovers of historic architecture, the winding side streets are lined with timber-framed houses and renaissance mansions. Visitors can also visit the Horticultural Garden, a five-acre park which includes a French style garden filled with roses and an English- style garden complete with a water feature and 100-year-old trees.

Cathedral of Saint Julian

Built between the 11th and 15th century, the Cathedral of St. Julian is one of the largest in France at 134 metres long. This is a fantastic example of medieval religious architecture, so be sure to cast your eyes upwards in order to admire the famous stained-glass window of the Ascension, and the fresco of the heavenly concert by 47 musician angels painted on the vaults of the Chapel of the Virgin. 

Cité Plantagenêt

Located in the historic quarter of Le Mans, the Plantagenet City is not to be missed. Consisting of cobbled streets, sheltered by a roman wall and overhung by the Cathedral of St Julian, this hidden gem is full of culture and history for visitors to immerse themselves in.

Motor Museum of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Originally founded in 1961 as the Automobile Museum de la Sarthe, the organisers of the 24-hour race took over the site in 1991.

Permanent exhibits include over 100 historic cars, films and archived photographs. Tours are organised around 6 major sequences which showcase the important figures of the 24-hour race and the origins of the Le Mans automotive industry, tracing the evolution of the car in the twentieth century.

Maison médiévale in Le Mans, France

Start your drive to Le Mans with LeShuttle

If you’ve got a need for speed and want to soak up a mixture of culture and car racing, book your trip to Le Mans now.

Travelling with the LeShuttle couldn’t be easier. A 35-minute drive from Folkestone could see you arrive in France well ahead of the starting pistol for one of the most incredible motor-races in Europe.

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