24 Hours of Le Mans champion breaks down the world's most famous race
24 Hours of Le Mansis arguably the world's best known automobile race.
- Run annually since 1923, it features motorsports' top drivers circling the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe over and over for 24 hours straight.
- It's a grueling and exhausting competition on one of the most dangerous racetracks around.
Following is a transcript of the
Neel: That's the special thing about Le Mans. There is no easy part. I think you can talk about every corner where many
My name's Neel Jani. I'm a Porsche factory driver.
Neel won the 24 Hours of
Neel: When you start it's obviously tight, but you don't want to crash Lap 1 because it's a 24 hour race. If you lose a position then you lose a position, but yet still everyone attacks kind of. You're 50/50: How much do I attack? How much do I go along with the game? It's very physical to drive at Le Mans. The maximum you're allowed to do is 4 hours. And it happens quite often that we as a driver are 4 hours in there, and that feels long and hard.
So are heading onto the main straight, start/finish line, and then we have a long right hander uphill leading into the famous Dunlop Chicane. On that long right hander you can get a little loose on the rear. You see many cars going off on the right side into the barriers. So many times. That's the special thing about Le Mans. There is no easy part. I think some parts are just more dangerous to crash, and other parts are just time costly.
It's quite a tricky chicane because you have to take a lot of speed in, and then you go down the hill into what's called Foret de la "S", which is kind of like a roller coaster because it's up, down, a little bit banked. And then on Tertre Rouge, getting on the curb wide and then you come onto the very famous Les Hunaudieres straights where you'll reach speeds of 350 kph.
Here you can see I'm getting some draft from an LMP2 car, and now we'll just enter into the first chicane. Those chicanes were added, later on in the history of Le Mans because this long straight was just too quick so they added those. You arrive at the chicane with not-so-hot brakes. The brakes cool down. And you have to basically come down into second gear. It's very tricky to get your braking points right. It's important again here to get a very good exit, go wide and take the speed into the next long straight.
And then we come to the next chicane. You can see I use all the road on the exit. I even go a bit wide. Again, take the speed. It goes a bit up. Here is the famous part where the Mercedes took off in the '90s.
So now we are at the furthest part of the track at Mulsanne. This is a very slow 90-degree right-hander. And quite special here is sometimes you have completely different weather down here than on the start/finish line. That's why on this corner sometimes you have spotters out there to tell us what weather we have down there.
That's what's special about Le Mans. The track is so big that you don't know if you have the same weather everywhere. The other thing that is tricky is during the day obviously it's warm most of the time because it's summer in France. But come night it gets really cold, and it's very tricky to keep the tires up to temperature. So sometimes you're just outside of the tire temperature window and you slide around, it's super tricky, and you lose a lot of lap time. One lap takes 3 minutes and 20 seconds on average, but you can lose 2 or 3 seconds very easily when the tires are not there.
It's super important that you have brake markers at night. So like a 100-meter board, or a curb because obviously you don't always see the corner where you have to turn in, but because you're arriving at 350 kph you need to brake before you see the corner.
You can see on the exit you take the full curb and you really try to launch always for this long straight and take as much speed as you can. Then we come into a very tight right hander, Indy 1, or Indianapolis, and then into Indy 2. Why are they called Indy 1 and Indy 2? It's because they're banked. Both of those corners are highly banked and the most banked corners on this track. So you really try to dig in into that and use it to get quickly through them.
We are now at Arnage which is the slowest point of the track. Also here there's a few little kinks but with traffic it can get tricky. And then we come into the famous Porsche corners. It's super quick. It's a section where it's all in fifth or sixth gear, so that means it's all way above 230 kph. Entering the Porsche corners we pull up to 5 Gs laterally so you really need to train your neck for those corners. And you have to be so precise because if you miss one turning at that speed, you travel so many meters within one second you're in trouble.
We go left into Karting. It's called Karting actually because on the right side if you would go off there you would go right into the go-kart track. And it's quite a tricky corner because that's actually one of the few corners that is off-camber. The Indy corners are banked, so we can dig in, these ones are off-camber which means we'd just slide off. You have to really make sure you get the line there nicely.
And we get through those left/right kinks to the Ford Chicane. On the right side on the entry of the Ford Chicane is the pit entry. That's basically your braking point, because at night this is a very difficult part because it's very dark there and you don't see the entrance where you have to turn in for the Ford Chicane. So you try to look for the curbs on the right side. You wait, you wait, and then you see them, you brake. It should work out, you just need to make sure you brake hard enough obviously.
We go into the last chicane. Huge curbs there, and easy to brake the car there. So you just try to be smooth and try to finish that lap nicely.
I started on pole. We lost the lead in the beginning. We had an issue on the first pit stop with the screws didn't come off. So the tires wouldn't come off. So we lost a lot of lap time. But then we came back at night. But then there were a lot of yellow phases during the race because there were a lot of crashes at night. And we lost a lot of lap time during those compared to the Toyota which was at that time our main competitor. We then caught back up and we were leading, then they were leading again.
And then turn into the last half an hour. We're 20 seconds back, but closing in every lap. I was driving then at the end. Then ten minutes before the end, I have a puncture front right. I was like, "Oh no. That's it. The race is gone." So I went in, change tire, come back out. We were a minute and something behind. But then I hear on the radio, my engineer telling me, "Neel keep pushing! Keep pushing! The Toyota is getting slow." Last lap he had an issue with the engine or turbo. They had to stop on the main straight. So I took the lead back, finished the lap and won Le Mans.
Hollywood couldn't write it any better, and you wouldn't believe the film it they did. You'd say, "How fake is that." It's the proof why Le Mans is so special. Le Mans lets you win. You cannot win Le Mans. You cannot win that race. That race chooses its winner, and it has proven that over and over again.
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