With the Le Mans Classic returning in 2021, and Hypercars making their debuts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the same year, both events will be very appealing to all motorsport fans. But how do you choose which event is right for you? Here we look at the similarities and differences between the events to help you make the right decision for you.
The Circuit de la Sarthe has hosted the Le Mans 24 Hours since 1923. The circuit has seen various modifications since then, but essentially it is the same place. Located to the south of the city of Le Mans, the roughly 8½ miles (13.6km) of track is made up of a combination of public & private roads. The Mulsanne straight, Arnage corner and Dunlop Bridge are all part of the famous circuit.
The Le Mans Classic takes place on exactly the same circuit as the modern event. The racing takes place on the same tarmac, featuring the same iconic straights and corners of the full Le Mans Circuit. It may take the cars longer to complete one lap of the famous Le Mans track, but it is the same track of the same length and in the same location.
Although the first 24 Hours of Le Mans was actually held in May, the traditional month for the race has been June (falling on the 24th week of the year). There have been exceptions, including 1956 when it took place in July and then 1968 and most recently 2020 when the race was postponed from June to September (19th & 20th). However, the Le Mans 24 Hours remains an annual event and is scheduled to take place in June every year, with 2021’s race scheduled for the 12th & 13th June.
The Le Mans Classic was introduced as an event in 2002 and takes place every two years, on the first weekend in July. The event was postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, so the next event will take place from the 1st – 4th July 2021. The event organizers have already stated that they will keep the event taking place every two years, to ensure the quality of the competing cars is maintained. This raises the prospect of the Le Mans Classic also taking place in 2023, as part of the circuit’s centenary celebrations.
Around 60 cars take to the starting grid of the Le Mans 24 Hours each year. The cars are a mixture of prototypes and GT cars designed specifically with endurance racing in mind. The Le Mans 24 Hours is now a long sprint race, with cars able to complete a full lap in just over 3 minutes, even with rule changes designed to slow the cars down for safety reasons. 2021’s Le Mans 24 Hours will see the start of a new era in sportscar racing with the new Hypercar classification replacing the previous top-class of LMP1.
All cars that have previously participated in the Le Mans 24 Hours (from 1923 through to 2010) are now invited to join in the Le Mans Classic. This means that more than 500 competing cars will take to the track over the long weekend. Not all cars will race at the same time, so the 24 hours of racing is divided up in to different eras (grids or plateau) to equalize performance. Each era will then take to the track three times during the 24 hours period. Competition is fierce so scrutineering is strict, ensuring that the cars taking part are as close to the original specifications as possible, whilst those eras that included a Le Mans style start, will re-enact the event when they first take to the track.
The official attendance at the Le Mans 24 Hours is regularly more than 200,000 people, making it one of the most attended events in the world, not just in motorsport. The circuit is large and so can accommodate this large number of people; having said that expect large crowds of people particularly along the start/finish straight both at the start of the race and the end, where spectators will also traditionally invade the track. Although mostly French, the Le Mans 24 Hours does attract a multinational audience. A large percentage of spectators will have travelled from the UK, Scandinavia and the Netherlands with smaller numbers travelling from the USA, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere around the world. In general, the Le Mans 24 Hours attracts a predominantly young adult audience, with large groups and a party-style atmosphere is common.
The Le Mans Classic has grown in size with each event with the official spectator numbers now well over 100,000. Despite being around half the number of the 24 hours, this is not a small event and in addition nearly 9000 classic cars will be driven to the Le Mans Classic and parked on the infield, creating the largest car-club gathering in the world. Whilst many of the grandstands will be full for the very first race, the Le Mans Classic has more of an ebb and flow to the crowd than the 24 Hours, so it rarely feels over-crowded. The Le Mans Classic attracts a wider age range than the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it is equally multinational. A local audience will always be present, but motorsport enthusiasts from around the world travel to witness the Le Mans Classic, so expect to hear many accents from the UK and America, as well as other European countries. The Le Mans Classic tends to attract a more mature group of spectators, often in pairs (due to the predominance of two-seater sports-cars) and therefore a calmer atmosphere often prevails.
The paddock is the area behind the garages where the teams work during race week. Often typified by large lorries and team hospitality units at big events. At the Le Mans 24 Hours the paddock area has restricted access. Unless you are a VIP or have an invitation from one of the teams then you are unlikely to be able to enter the race paddock. There are various support race paddocks that you may be able to access with your general tickets, but the main race paddock has restricted access for health and safety reasons.
The paddock at the Le Mans Classic looks & feels a lot different to most race events. The Le Mans Classic paddocks are arranged by the different grids and include a tented garage for each participating car. With the appropriate pass (included in all Travel Destinations offers) you can have access to each paddock and get up close to all the cars. You are able to talk to drivers and mechanics as they continue to prepare or repair their cars. There is a loose dress-code for the Le Mans Classic paddock area, but this is rarely enforced. There is always something happening in the paddock area as cars are leaving or returning from the track all the time, so awareness of what is going on is important, but it is always a rewarding place to spend some of your time.
This is the commercial area just to the north of paddocks and garages, which at the Le Mans 24 Hours is home retail outlets for official race merchandise, branded team gear, as well as some cafés and bars. There are often car displays & other promotions around this area throughout Le Mans week. Usefully, considering its proximity to the shops, the village is also where you will find the only ATM on the circuit.
The village area at the Le Mans Classic appears to sprawl a bit wider and further than at the Le Mans 24 hours. As well as the official branded products, expect to find a diverse selection of retailers with goods from memorabilia, refurbished petrol pumps, to leather flying hats and goggles. There tends to be a vintage & artisan theme throughout, with a selection of big-name brands thrown in for good measure. There a car displays and themed concours competitions all within this area, which will take some time to explore if you can be dragged away from the on-track action.
If the action on the track is not enough fun for you then the Le Mans 24 Hours provides some additional activities that you may find entertaining. The funfair is located just south of the grandstands on the outside of the track. In particular that big-wheel provides an excellent vantage point for photography, especially at night. Alternatively, if you like your music with a background of engine noise, then on most evenings there are free concerts on the big stage adjacent to the Dunlop Bridge. Although many of the guest bands have a French slant, some are often International names such as Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand & Jamiroquai.
The Le Mans Classic provides its musical entertainment in the form of mobile jazz bands & vintage singers around the village area throughout the event. For something different there is also a drive-in cinema on the Bugatti circuit. The Bugatti circuit is also the home to a plethora of car clubs from all over Europe. It seems that every marque and brand is accommodated on the various twists and turns of the internal circuit. It is well worth a wander. The ultimate highlight for many attending the Le Mans Classic is the opportunity to drive their own classic or sports car around the famous circuit. Whilst some of the roads are usually open to the public, it is rare to get the chance to drive around the whole circuit (twice!). At £200 per car it isn’t cheap and helmets are compulsory, but for many the price is worth it for the hot brakes and big smile at the end.
Camping has long been a tradition at the Le Mans 24 Hours. With such large numbers of spectators descending on the city of Le Mans, there is just not enough other accommodation available. Those hotel rooms that are available can become expensive and camping enables race fans to stay at the track. The circuit-run campsites provide good locations with basic facilities. In the last 20 years Travel Destinations has paved the way to more options with the introduction of secure track-side camping at Porsche Curves, private glamping tents and individual bedrooms within the circuit in our Flexotel Village.
Because spectators still number more than 100,000 at the Le Mans Classic camping is still looked on as the default option. Whilst there are some more hotel and B&B rooms available in the area, driving to and from the circuit can become tiresome if you are doing it every day. Travel Destinations continue to offer two private track-side campsites and our glamping site inside the circuit for those that enjoy staying under canvas. Alternatively, our Flexotel Village is also available for those that prefer a proper bed and a roof over their head.
The Le Mans 24 Hours is unique. It is not easy to compare it to any other motor race in the world. However, for a mix of great racing and entertainment, then the Nurburgring 24 Hours could offer a good alternative. Although there is no prototype racing, the mix of up to 200 GT cars on the grid makes for quite a spectacle. Using a combination of the Nurburgring’s F1 circuit and the famous Nordschleife makes a large circuit with some spectacular viewing opportunities. The dates for the race follow a German holiday, so move around from year to year, but for 2021 the race will take place from the 3rd – 6th June, so you could even make the Nurburgring 24 an appetizer to the main course of the 24 Hours of Le Mans the following week!
Historic racing is the fastest growing class of motorsport in Europe, and there are many events on the calendar that are worth your attention. The Monaco historic, Nurburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix and the Angouleme Circuit des Remparts are all very good. However, the Spa Classic is now an annual event from the same organisers as the Le Mans Classic. The beautiful setting of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes, and some of the cars from the Le Mans Classic now racing on this historic circuit make this a favourite event. The Spa Classic feels like a little sister to the Le Mans Classic.
The 2021 calendar is already packed with some amazing events. The Le Mans 24 Hours and the Le Mans Classic will certainly be among the highlights. Can you attend both? Or which will you choose?
Reserve your place now by calling Travel Destinations on +44 (0)1707 329988.