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24 Hours of Le Mans

World famous route D338

470_2013_LM24_D338_GDI hear you think….. What is D338? Why is D338 world famous?

The D338 is just an ordinary auto route thru the French countryside. Except for two weeks in a year. In these two weeks a 6 km long part of the D338, also known as “Ligne Droite des Hunaudières” or “Mulsanne Straight” becomes part of the world greatest racing track, The Circuit de 24 Heures in Le Mans. In the early years of the Le Mans 24 hours, cars use to race down this straight, full throttle to Mulsanne. The top speed ever was set at 407 km/h by a Porsche 917. Due to safety concerns and some fatal accidents on the straight, the organizing Automobile Club de L’Ouest added two chicanes to the straight. Cars still reach top speeds over 310 km/h on the separate sections of the straight.

470_2013_LM24_CORVETTE_GDFor me it seemed to be a good idea to experience this speed myself. As photographer for this year’s event I planned myself a D338 experience during the Le Mans race weekend. My first experience started on Thursday, just before the start of the first qualification. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was at second chicane and pointed my lens down the sloping straight. Rain was making its way over the 6 km long straight, directly my way. Few minutes later the cars show up on the back end of the straight in the rain, while making their way towards me at the second chicane, where the track still is dry. It was a tremendous experience as for view and sound.

470_2013_LM24_SRTOn Sunday morning I had myself a second D338 experience starting at first chicane. Standing at this chicane you hear the roaring engines of the cars coming near. As the sound gets loudest you suddenly hear the cars hit the brakes just meters before making a right turn for the chicane towards my lens. After spending some time at the chicane I planned to walk up the straight towards Tetre Rouge facing the racecars into my direction.

470_2013_LM24_PROTON#88_GDWalking along the guardrail, I at first didn’t get a good idea of the speed because the safety car was on the track and the race was under full course yellow. After 15 minutes the green flags were woven and top speeds were there. Especially when you are standing opposite of the “Auberge des Hunaudieres” the speed is unbelievable and spectacular!

470_2013_LM24_AUDI_GDIt’s impossible to describe this speeds and sounds as I experienced them walking down the straight. Cars race past houses, shops, hotels where I carefully plan my stops to shoot the cars racing by.

470_2013_LM24_GDFor me the D338 was a great experience this year and sure will take another visit next year! If you ever plan on visiting the Le Mans 24 Hours race, I would advice to experience it yourself. Plan your visit to this part of the track on Friday before race day. The D338 is then still a public road which you will be able to drive with your own car, before the LMP’s and GT’s will roar down the straight starting the 24 hours race on Saturday.

(Story and images: Gerlach Delissen)

Discussion

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  1. I enjoyed a very similar experience in 2004 and my closest friend enjoy a similar experience in 1991. He explained enjoying beer at that restaurant, watching the Group C Mazda screaming past. In 2004, I enjoyed the experience with a girlfriend. We went to the same restaurant, bought some beer and experienced the sights and sounds as my dear old friend. We then drove the car up to the second chicane,the infield and numerous other locations where I gained video footage of the experience.
    It is still the best motorsport experience of my life and hope to do it again.

    Posted by Steven Godfrey | July 4, 2013, 2:07
  2. What some great pictures and from some different locations!!!
    I remember a few years ago, trying to be clever and miss the traffic leaving our campsite, I was driving along a road and looked at my sat nav to find it was the Mulsanne straight!!! They were just re opening the road and clearing all the debris away……..

    Posted by Tankosl | July 4, 2013, 10:26
  3. Great shots as always! I’d like to watch (and photograph) at the hunaudieres myself but I heard that it’s quite hard to access it during the race. Are there any good spots along the D338 for spectators?

    Posted by Ramon | July 4, 2013, 21:11
  4. Many thanks for these beautiful series !
    In my mind, the speed record was for the WM with Peugeot motor… I was a very little boy, but I remembered I had the chance to be in the pits during private tests. I still have the picture on my desk ! :)
    thank you Gerlach for your great job, I have a beautiful Audi picture from you on my wall ! ;)
    Pierre.

    Posted by Pierre | August 17, 2013, 23:29

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