World famous route D338
I 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.
For 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.
On 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.
Walking 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!
For 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)