The Le Mans Test Day takes place each year several weeks before the Le Mans race weekend. It acts as a way for drivers to settle in to the circuit, and also to make adjustments to find a fast and comfortable car to race for the race itself. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, Automobile Club of the West, or ACO closes the French public roads required to complete the 8.6mile Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe course we run on for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Because of this, the course itself is only available for one day of testing, which allows for a practice with two separate 4-hour sessions of on track action.
Once you split this time between 3 drivers and factor in competitors crashing which delays valuable clear track time, and remember the fact that the course is almost 9 miles long and takes ~ 3 minutes 30 seconds to complete each lap you know that you are almost certainly going to leave wanting more.
Luckily our Le Mans test day goal was simple. Our focus was on prioritizing track time for myself to get acclimated and to learn the daunting circuit, doing set up work later in the day, and finally, making sure that everything felt good in the car and we were as comfortable as we can be in these ultra-fast cars.
The day started well with shorter runs for each of us to make sure we are comfortable, and that the car is safe. After that we moved through our mandatory 10-lap runs. To be approved to drive at Le Mans for the race itself, each driver must do 10 full laps around the circuit.
For me the circuit itself is literally a dream come true… I’ve dreamt of running this historic track since I was young, and it lived up my expectations. In addition to flying past road signs used for normal traffic at 210mph, the track has these corners that really are what separate the good from the great.
For example, you turn in to the corner named “Indy 1” with a light touch of the brakes and clip the apex (tightest, centerpoint of the corner) in the top of 5th gear at close to 180mph before braking again for the 2nd gear corner “Indy 2” – there are walls on the inside and the outside.
Only two corners later you drag the brakes to downshift into 5th gear before turning right into the “Porsche Curves” complex at 155mph where you stare towards another wall and then flick the car into the another set of flat out double left-hand corners that have barriers touching the curbing at the exit. This completes the Porsche curve.
This is a place where it pushes you to dig deeper & deeper, but much like human endurance there’s a limit somewhere. And at 160 mph pulling 4G through a corner, the limit can appear very suddenly; however, the marks on the walls stand as a constant reminder.
Leaving the test, we have a huge amount of data for the engineers to pour over and look for opportunities to improve the car and also for us as drivers to see where our teammates do a better job and how we can more closely mimic them.
We get back on track now the week before the race on Wednesday, June 12th, with a 2-hour Free Practice session. After this open practice session, every session that follows including the 10PM – Midnight session later that night serves as a qualifying session where our best times are recorded to determine our starting position. The only other requirement is that drivers run 5 timed laps during the night practice sessions to be able to drive in the race during the night portion of the race itself.
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