|1923-2005 – The Development of the Circuit|
| CIRCUIT N° 1
Period: 1923 to 1928
Length: 17.262 km (10.72 miles)
Record race distance: 2669.272 km (1657.618 mph) BENTLEY 4,392 cc – W BARNATO/B.RUBIN in 1928.
Lap record 8’07” – 127.604 kph (79.242 mph) H. BIRKIN, BENTLEY 4,392 cc in 1928
Abandoning the triangular Le Mans-Saint-Calais-La Ferté-Bernard course that had been used for the French Grand Prix in 1906, the A.C.O. had created a new circuit immediately after the first World War. It passed through the eastern suburbs of the city to the famous hairpin at Pontlieue. It was this circuit that was used from the beginning of the 24 Heures.
CIRCUIT N° 2
Period : 1929 to 1931.
Length : 16,340 km.
Record race distance : 3017,654 km = 125.735 kph (1873.96 miles/78.081 mph), ALFA ROMEO 8c 2,337 cc L. HOWE-H. BIRKIN in 1931.
Lap record : 6’48’’ = 144.362 kph (89.65 mph), H.R.S. BIRKIN, BENTLEY 4,389 cc supercharged in 1930.
For safety reasons, in 1928 the A.C.O. decided to shorten the western leg of the circuit while retaining the overall format, going out on the road to Tours and returning via Mulsanne and Arnage, and the permanent facilities of the circuit. In order to carry out and finance the work, the ACO was authorised to use a small road joining the road to Laigné with the Tours road. This became known as the “Rue du Circuit”.
CIRCUIT N° 3
Period: 1932 to 1955.
Length: 13.492 km (8.378 miles).
Record distance : 4135.380 km = 172.308 kph, JAGUAR D – 3,442 cc M. HAWTHORN-I. BUEB in 1955.
Lap record : 4’06’’6 = 196.963 kph (122.314 mph) , M. HAWTHORN, JAGUAR D – 3,442 cc. in 1955.
The continuing expansion of the suburbs of Le Mans meant the A.C.O. had once again to contain the western end of the circuit. The purchase of a parcel of private land, between the ‘Welcome’ of today and the main road from Le Mans to Tours, allowed for the creation of a private road, 1505 metres (0.934 miles) long and designed from the beginning to have interesting bends, it became the esses of Tertre
CIRCUIT N° 4
Period: 1956 à 1967.
Length: 13.461 km (8.359 miles).
Record distance : 5232.900 km = 218.038 kph, (3249.63 mph/135.402 mph) FORD MK IV 6,980 cc D. GURNEY-A.J. FOYT in 1967.
Lap record : Tests : 3’24”04 = 236.082 kph (146.607 mph) by B. McLAREN, FORD MK IV in 1967. Race : 3’23’’6 = 238.014 kph (147.807 mph) by M. ANDRETTI and D. HULME, FORD MK IV in 1967.
Following the accident in 1955, a complete revision of the area of the pits and grandstands was deemed necessary. The modifications (widening the track, provision of a deceleration zone, etc.) required a modification of the radius of the Dunlop curve and led to a minor reduction (31 metres) in the overall circuit length. In addition, in order not to distract the drivers as they passed the pits, the signalling stations were moved to the exit of the Mulsanne corner, where speeds were much lower.
CIRCUIT N° 5
Period: 1968 to 1971.
Length : 13.469 km (8.476 miles).
Record distance : 5335.313 km = 222.304 kph (3313.229 miles/138.051 mph), PORSCHE 917 – 4,907 cc H. MARKO-G. VAN LENNEP in 1971.
Lap record : Tests : 3’13”9 = 250.069 kph by P. RODRIGUEZ, Porsche 917 in 1971. Race: 3’18”4 = 244.387 kph (151.764 mph) by J. OLIVER, Porsche 917 in 1971.
AS a direct consequence of the battle between Ford and Ferrari and the speeds that were involved, the A.C.O. implemented measures to improve safety in the pits and the main spectator areas. They took the form of the first speed-limiting chicane – the Ford Chicane – which was situated at the approach to the pits. There was also a minor change at White House, where the track was moved slightly to the right.
CIRCUIT N° 6
Period: 1972 à 1978
Length: 13,640 km.
Record distance : 5044.530 km = 210.188 kph (3132.653 miles/130.527 mph), ALPINE RENAULT A 442 B 1997 cc turbocharged, J.-P. JAUSSAUD-D. PIRONI in 1978.
Lap record: Tests: 3’27”6 = 236.531 kph (146.885 mph) by J. ICKX, Porsche 936 in 1978. Race: 3’34”2 = 229.244 kph (142.360 mph) by J.-P. JABOUILLE, Alpine RENAULT A443 in 1978.
A renovation scheme driven by the local communities and envisaging the circuit and its installations as an independent entity saw as its first stage a complete remodelling of the complete zone from the Arnage corner to the grandstands. Local road CD139 was improved over 1300 metres (0.81 miles), allowing the old road at White House to be replaced by a new 3000 metre (1.863 miles)-long section ending in another speed-reducing corner before the Ford chicane. The next phase was planned to be the widening of the Hunaudières straight and the reshaping of the Mulsanne corner.
CIRCUIT N° 7
Period: 1979 to 1985.
Length: 13.626 km (8.462 miles).
Record distance : 5088.507 km = 212.021 kph (3159.963 miles/131.665 mph), PORSCHE 956 2,649 cc turbocharged K. LUDWIG-P. BARILLA-J. WINTER in 1985.
Lap record: Tests : 3’14”80 = 251.815 kph by H. STUCK, Porsche 962 in 1985. Race: 3’25”1 = 239.169 kph by J. ICKX, Porsche 962 in 1985.
The commissioning of the new ring-road to the South-East of Le Mans, linking the Paris-Rennes autoroute and the main road from Le Mans to Angers and Nantes, forced the A.C.O. to modify Tertre Rouge corner, which went from being a right angle to a tight 50-degree turn. The opportunity was taken to create a new spectator area on the inside of the corner, while the old footbridge was replaced by a tunnel under the track. In November 1978 the Highways Department laid a new surface with more grip than that previously used. At the same time, the interior of the two turns before Indianapolis corner were cleared of trees.
CIRCUIT N° 8
Used in 1986.
Length: 13.528 km (8.401 miles).
Record distance : 4972.731 km = 207.197 kph (3088.066 miles/128.669 mph), PORSCHE 962C 2650 cc turbocharged D. BELL - H. STUCK - A. HOLBERT.
Lap record: Tests : 3’15”99 = 243.486 kph (151.205 mph) by J. MASS, Porsche 962 C.
Race: 3’23”3 = 239.551 kph (148.761 mph) by K. LUDWIG, Porsche 956.
The crossroads formed by Route Nationale 138 and local road CD 140 that had created the famous Mulsanne corner had become an accident blackspot since the opening of a new business zone, forcing the authorities to build a roundabout at this point. This destroyed the old corner, which was replaced by a new link, some 230 metres (0.142 miles) in length, that moved the circuit and corner closer to the golf course. It was in 1985 that the circuit and its infrastructure were taken over by joint body set up by the A.C.O. and local communities to administer the maintenance and improvement of the circuit.
Period: 1987 to 1989 - Length: 13.535 km (8.290 miles).
Record distance : 5332.79 km = 221.665 kph, JAGUAR XJR 9 7000 cc LAMMERS-DUMFRIES-WALLACE in 1988.
Lap record: Tests : 3’15”04 = 249.826 kph, J.-L. SCHLESSER, Sauber-Mercedes C9 in 1989. Race: 3’21”27 = 242.093 kph, A. FERTÉ, Jaguar XJR9 in 1989.
At the request of the international motorcycle federation, concerned about rider safety in the French Motorcycle GP, a speed-limiting ‘S’ curve was introduced into the circuit in the approach to the Dunlop bridge. This reduced speeds under the bridge by 100 kph (62 mph) lowering the speed to 160 kph (100 mph) from 260 kph (162 mph). The new layout was used for the 24 Heures in 1987 and was in the circuit for all races on the Le Mans circuits.
In 1988 the Hunaudieres straight was resurfaced by the Highways Agency using a laser to obtain a perfectly flat surface. The result was a noticeable increase in maximum speeds.
CIRCUIT N° 10
Period: 1990 to 1996 - Length: 13.600 km (8.445 miles).
Record distance : 5100 km = 213,358 km/h (3167.1 miles/131.874 mph), PEUGEOT 905 3499 cc, BRABHAM-HELARY-BOUCHUT in 1993.
Lap record: Tests : 3’21’’209 = 243.329 kph (151.145 mph) by Ph. ALLIOT, Peugeot 905 in 1992. Race: 3’27’’47 = 235.986 kph by E. IRVINE, Toyota TS 010 in 1993.
At the request of FISA, two chicanes were introduced into the Hunaudieres straight in order to reduce maximum speeds. Despite the extra loads imposed on gearboxes and brakes by the new format, the number of finishers did not decrease significantly. In July 1990, the A.C.O. started work on a total renewal of the pits and infrastructure, resulting in a pits complex that put Le Mans on a level with the best in the world. Although the circuit length was not changed, the width of the start and finish area was increased to 12 metres (40 feet) and separated from the 15 metre-wide pit-lane by a 3 metre-wide section reserved for signalling, a function which now returned from Mulsanne.
CIRCUIT N° 11
Period: 1997 to 2001 - Length: 13.605 km (8.449 miles).
Record distance : 5007.988 km = 208.666 kph (3109.961 miles/129.582 mph), AUDI R8 3600 cc turbocharged of BIELA-KRISTENSEN-PIRRO.
Lap record: Tests: 3’29”930 = 233.306 kph (144.803 mph), M. BRUNDLE, TOYOTA GT ONE in 1999. Race : 3’35”032 = 227.771 kph, U. KATAYAMA, TOYOTA GT ONE in 1999.
The circuit length was extended by 5 metres following modifications to the Dunlop chicane. Considered to be slower than before, this section was improved, mainly by the addition of larger gravel-traps that were of benefit to motorcyclists and drivers who competed on the 4.305 Km (2.67 miles) Bugatti circuit during the rest of the year. During the winter of 2000/2001, the surface at Mulsanne was skimmed. The circuit length remained unchanged.
CIRCUIT N° 12
Used since 2002 – Length: 13.650 km (8.476 miles).
Record distance : 379 laps / 5169.970 km = 215.415 kph., AUDI R8 3595 turbocharged of ARA - CAPELLO - KRISTENSEN.
Lap record: Tests : 3'29"905 = 234.106 kph (145.379 mph), R. CAPELLO, AUDI R8 in 2002. Race : 3'33"483 = 230.182 kph (142.943 mph), T. KRISTENSEN, AUDI R8 in 2002
As with circuit No. 9, the changes were made at the request of racing motorcyclists’ organisations. The modifications were to the Bugatti Circuit, in the area of the Virage de la Chapelle, the approach to which also forms a part of the 24-hour circuit The descent from the Dunlop bridge and the entry into Tertre Rouge were therefore modified into a fast left/right that offered excellent views for the spectators.
At the beginning of 2004, the Bugatti circuit, which has certain common elements with the 24 hour circuit, was resurfaced, and during the winter of 2004/2005 the Mulsanne and Arnage corners were resurfaced and the hump at Poste 89, approaching Mulsanne, was flattened.
CIRCUIT N° 13
Used since 2006 – Length: 13.650 km (8.476 miles).
CIRCUIT N° 14
Used since 2007– Length: 13.629 km (8.468 miles).