Le Mans Bugatti

As the ‘Circuit de la Sarthe’ in Le Mans doesn’t need an introduction, I’ll stick to it’s little brother: the Bugatti circuit.

Bugatti Circuit is a permanent race track located within Circuit des 24 Heures, named after Ettore Bugatti. The circuit uses a part of the larger circuit and a separate, purpose-built section. The sections of track on the Bugatti Circuit that are on the Circuit des 24 Heures include the Ford Chicane at the end of the lap, the pit complex, and the straight where the Dunlop Tyres bridge is located. At this point in the overlapping section of the tracks there is a left-right sweep that was added for motorcycle safety in 2002. Vehicles turning to the left continue onto the Circuit des 24 Heures, toward Tertre Rouge and Mulsanne, vehicles turning to the right will continue the Bugatti Circuit.

The track is the base for Pescarolo Sport, founded by famous French driver Henri Pescarolo. The circuit also hosts the 24 Hours of Le Mans motorcycle race, a round of the MotoGP Championship, European club races, and in the past has hosted rounds of the International Formula 3000 Championship. The track was used for the 1967 French Grand Prix, which was won by Jack Brabham.

A lap of the track starts as you drive in between the fantastic grandstands and pit boxes up the start/finish straight. Keep to the left, right next to the white line. As you approach the first very fast right-hander, you cross the white line on your left with two wheels, to allow yourself to carry more speed through the corner. You can see in the painted bits, as you’re driving on the left, where the entry point is, you can keep your foot down all the way around when you’re right on the entry. As you exit, don’t use the full track as you need to start braking straight away on the right hand side of the track for the left/right chicane. This braking zone is fairly bumpy; cars that run a lot of downforce cause this. Under heavy braking, they will shift the tarmac along the road and make bumps in the surface. Make sure you’re aggressive on the entry and use all of the curb, except for the high bits as they’ll hurt the car. As you exit, stay on the left hand side of the track to cut across again (on the curbs) to the right. The speed on the exit is more important than the speed on the entry, so sacrifice the first corner for the second one.

Early on the throttle for the exit, onto the outside curb. Just keep to the left and go straight underneath the Dunlop Bridge. As you go down, don’t swerve about, just go down in a straight line, you’ll end up on the right hand side of the circuit. Trail brake, as the circuit goes to the right you’ll end up on the racing line (on the left) anyway, but your trajectory was a lot shorter. Stick to the outside, the apex is very, very late, smooth on the throttle all the way around and clinch the late apex. Use the full width of the track on the exit and swerve gently to the right for the next left-hander. The apex is 3 quarters around the corner, from that point on you’re full throttle and guide the car to the outside of the track. There’s lots of space there to let the car accelerate. Then, keep the steering wheel straight; you’ll end up on the left hand side of the track for a very technical double right-hander. Leave a metre in between the car and the inside curb as you go by the first bit of inside curbing, back to the outside of the track for about three quarters then cut back across for the second apex (onto the curb). The car tends to slide a bit there and it does catch people out. As you exit the second right-hander, use the outside curbing to maximize your speed at the end of this straight line.

The braking zone for the next left-right combo starts halfway in between the 100 metre sign and the “www.lemans.org” bridge. Sacrifice the left-hander, but use enough of inside curb as it’s fairly accessible, but it gets aggressive when you take too much, don’t be wide on the exit as the next right-hander is the more important of these two. Again a lot of curb to take on the inside, but not too much as it gets equally bumpy. Use the track on the exit and stay left.

For the next right-hander, stay in the middle of the circuit on the entry and then follow the banking of the circuit to the inside. Put the left wheels on the curb and stick completely to the right on the exit for the next left-hander. This one is fairly straightforward, apex in the middle; you can carry a lot of speed. The exit is very wide and made up out of curb and tarmac.

Next up are the Ford chicanes, but in the form of a double right-hander. Late on the brakes, trail brake past the first apex, a bit of curb is allowed. Back to the outside, there’s a curb you need to be on, you’ll feel yourself drive off it. That’s the time to lift a bit and turn in for the last right-hander. Use the curb on the exit as you see all the cars do in the 24h of Le Mans. Keep it on the black stuff as you go up the main straight, as there is a lot to distract you.

Words kindly provided by Ward Vrancken.

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