As the time for the annual pilgrimage south to Le Mans is fast approaching, we here at SportscarGlobal.com have compiled a list of all the useful things you need to know when travelling to the Circuit de la Sarthe. We re-verify the information every year from various up-to-date sources including our friends at Club Arnage, as well as our own experiences and we hope it will help you enjoy your journey down for what is always the pinnacle of endurance racing.
Flying: Unless you are crazy rich and own a private jet (or are just plain stupid like our Editor who does this occasionally, generally for the test day), flying into Le Mans airport is possible but basically out of the question; however there are various cheap commercial flights options. EasyJet fly from London Gatwick, Luton and Southend to Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) and Gatwick and Luton to Nantes (NTE). Air France serve both CDG and NTE from London Heathrow (LHR) while British Airways also fly to CDG and NTE from LHR as well as Paris Orly (ORL). Ryanair offer a service from London Stansted to Tours, approx. 1h drive south of Le Mans and Manchester to Paris Beauvais.
If you arrived by air, TGV trains run direct from Paris CDG to Le Mans and both Tours and Nantes have semi-fast trains to Le Mans (e.g. Nantes to LM – 1h25). Paris Orly is connected to the RER Line B and Paris Metro via the Orlyval shuttle train which will connect you to Paris Montparnasse. There are also multiple bus and coach options into Paris and the surrounding areas. All of the airports offer hire cars as well.
All by Rail: It is possible to book through Eurostar for the complete journey from the UK to Le Mans. The Eurostar train arrives at Paris Gare du Nord and you will need to take the Metro (Line 4, purple) from there to the Paris Montparnasse terminal to catch the TGV to Le Mans. Be aware that the Metro ticket is NOT included in your Eurostar fare but if you’re short on Euros you can now use your credit card to purchase via the ticket machines in the Metro foyers.
Once you get to the Le Mans station the track is approx. 18 minutes journey from the town via the excellent tram service, arriving at the Antares stop.
Bus: There are now various low-cost bus routes from London to Paris. Flixbus offer a return ticket from as low as €49.50. Other operators such as SNCF’s Ouibus and Megabus offer similar priced options. Eurolines offer a singe booking from London Victoria Coach Station to Le Mans (with a coach change in Paris Terminal) for around €66 return.
If you are driving, ensure you are prepared and meet the EU requirements and pack:
- First aid kit
- Warning Triangle
- Breathalyser (required but not enforced) – remember, the limit in France is 50mg unlike the UK’s 80mg. If in doubt, DON’T drink, save it until you reach your campsite!
- Hi-Vis jackets for everyone in the vehicle
- Headlight converters (plastic stickers for the headlights)
- Spare/replacement bulb set
- Your full UK driving license
- Buy quality European Breakdown cover
- Slap a GB sticker on the back or have compliant EU-style number plate
- Note, exit procedures at most ports now require you to provide details for all people in the vehicle prior to arrival at the terminal. This is known as Advanced Passenger Information, or API.
- Most Channel tunnel bookings have some flexibility (if you arrive early and there is space you may be put on an earlier train, arrive late, you will usually be put on the next available train with space) Note: this may not always apply, check your booking conditions to be sure!
- If using the toll roads, UK credit cards & debit cards can be used to pay, however the machines have been known to be a little temperamental with UK cards, so always carry some euros just in case. If you have a Nationwide or Post Office credit card, helpfully they will give you the excellent inter-bank exchange rate each day and charge no commission (may be worth opening an account now?)
- it is also possible to get a Telepage “Tag” for the car that allows you to drive straight through the tolls in the lane marked with a “t”, you will be issued a monthly statement when you get home with a bill for the toll costs. For more information head to SANEF’s UK website. At busy times this simple device can save you 30-60 minutes waiting time on a journey from LM to Calais!
- The Rouen bridge (Pont Mathilde) which was closed in 2012 due to a vehicle fire making the structure unsafe is now open again so no more time costly detours.
- Take it steady, don’t speed! The police in ‘the corridor’ from N. France to LM collect more money in fines over Le Mans week than the rest of the year combined. The will be looking for you!
- Remember keep an eye on road speeds
- Autoroutes (motorways) are usually 130km/h when dry (110km/h when raining). Watch out for speed limit changes where these roads lower the limit to 110 or 90 km/h (the two viaducts on the A28 are an excellent example of this)
- Sat-Navs with speed camera locations programmed in (as POI’s etc) are Illegal in France, as are Road Angel type of devices that detect speed cameras – if caught speeding and you have one of these it will be confiscated and your fine increased and there is a possibility your car could also be impounded! You have been warned.
- If you do get caught speeding you will need to pay an on-the-spot fine. If you have no money you will be escorted to the nearest cash point machine. If you do not have enough cash there you will be arrested and your vehicle impounded.
- If your speed is deemed ‘excessive’ or ‘dangerous’ your car could be impounded by the police and expect a fine reaching into the thousands of Euros.
- The police (& gendarmes) have been known to hide behind cars, in long grass, in lay-by’s and just after a speed reduction sign with mobile speed cameras ……!
- Use the rest/picnic spots (Aires) or the lay-bys at tollbooths (whether at the start or the end of the toll road) to get out and stretch for 5 mins, use the toilet etc. its a good way to break up the journey if you are using the toll roads most of the way down.
- If you have more time, the N138 is a far more scenic route down passing through many beautiful towns and villages where you can stop and enjoy a relaxed lunch break.
- Once you arrive at Le Mans, make sure you are aware of the campsite you are staying on and its colour code; Red, Blue, Green and Yellow. Routes to the campsites are well marked from all of the approach roads.
Finally, once you have arrived, parked and got your camp set up it’s time for a very well earned beer! Travel safely and we’ll see you trackside!
For more information on camping, head on over to our friends at Club Arnage who’s Le Mans Guide is the single best resource for the Le Mans visitor, old or new.