Le Mans: do you have the stamina?

The action may well take place on roads. But, says Simon Maurice, thousands will be making tracks for France

May 12, 2011
Le Mans: McQueen in a 1970 Porche 917K

Le Mans: McQueen in a 1970 Porche 917K

In just over four weeks, around 90,000 Britons will congregate at one of the biggest events of the UK motoring year. Just like the film Le Mans starring Steve McQueen, there's little dialogue needed because the racing drama of iconic cars whizzing around the Circuit de la Sarthe with its long straights and high-speed sections through the S-bends, says it all. McQueen could easily have been a professional driver and did most of the driving for his part, but never competed in the race.

Fellow superstar Paul Newman, on the other hand, finished second in one of the most extraordinary Le Mans 24 Hours ever, in a privately-owned Porsche in 1979 against all of the factory entries.

The Le Mans 24 Hours, run by Automobile Club de l'Ouest, is the world's oldest race and stakes a very strong claim to being the world's greatest. It has grown from a simple race meeting in 1923 to a week-long festival of cars, sport and good living.

The drive to Le Mans from London, including Eurotunnel, takes around six hours and, in race week, will be a noteworthy experience in its own right. You will pass, and be passed by, dozens of other enthusiastic Brits who are regularly drawn to this Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency in every type of vehicle.

You'll see hoards of incredible cars around bars, cafes and restaurants on the eight-and-a -half-mile race track which is a public road for the rest of the year.

Many feel camping offers the "authentic" Le Mans experience to avoid missing out on the buzz of the circuit.

Some even go to extraordinary lengths to enjoy the event, even bringing their own swimming pools to take a dip between watching the likes of Nigel Mansell or Nicolas Prost negotiate the next chicane at breakneck speed.

Others just roll up and unpack as part of an organised tented village. Whatever, pre-booking is essential.

Scrutineering takes place in June on Sunday 5 and Monday 6; Practice/Qualifying on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9, the Drivers' parade is on Friday and the actual race runs from 3pm Saturday 11 until Sunday afternoon.

Circuit access for the week costs 67 euros per person. Camping with parking for a vehicle and a tent or caravan costs 80 euros. Coach tours are popular. It's also easy by train - Eurostar to Paris and TGV to Le Mans, and the track has its own airport used by several tour operators.

Accommodation ranges from B&Bs to Chateaux. Packages are available at www.grandstandmotorsports.co.uk. Tickets: www.lemans.org/en/

Last updated: 12:09pm, May 25 2011