The SportscarGlobal team have been camping at Le Mans for well over 12 years now. We started off camping with just a tent and a BBQ many moons ago and now have Motorhomes, Marquees, a fully equipped field-kitchen and bar; satellite HDTV & AV etc. and along the way we have picked up some tips and tricks (as well as making some mistakes).
Here are our top tips for camping at Le Mans, whether its your first or 30th time we hope these tips will make your stay that little bit easier.
Firstly, if this will be your first trip to La Sarthe, always take a look at companies such as Travel Destinations, Thomas Cook Sport, Select Motor Racing etc. as their packages, whilst a little more expensive that ‘going it alone’, can take all of the hassle of a first time trip away should you be new to camping. However, for the remainder of this guide, we will assume that you’re camping yourself rather than as part of a tour operator’s group.
- Most ACO camp-sites now operate an allocated plot system and you will generally receive your tickets with a plot number stated on them (exceptions to this are currently a small part of Houx, Epinettes and some of Beausejour). When you arrive at your camp site your vehicle registration number(s) will be written onto your tickets and you will be guided to your plot by a marshal. Ensure that you raise any issues with your plot IMMEDIATELY to the marshal. We have seen people allocated a plot in the past with a tree taking up 70% of the plot space, we have also noticed that they missed out a pitch number on their plan, meaning the marshals had to remark over 100 pitches to fit the missed one in!
- Plan your space in advance. It may sound silly but make sure you have a rough plan in mind for how you want your tents, marquees & cars laid out. Space is tight on a 7x5m pitch so a little planning beforehand can help enormously when when you arrive.
- Check the weather (not just the forecast, but look at the sky!) before erecting your tents, gazebos & marquees to ensure you have enough time to erect them and tie them down before a storm hits. We fell foul to this eagerness to set up some years ago (yes we forgot to take our own advice), the result being 2 VERY bent marquees and an expensive trip to the DIY store for repair materials!
- Ensure your tents & marquees are adequately tied down. Every year we see flying marquees, one year we even had the leg of one go through the roof vent on one of our motorhomes.
- The Ground on many of the camp-sites is hard so ensure you have heavy-duty ‘hard ground’ pegs and a good hammer, don’t expect the flimsy ones that come with your tent to be of much use or a rubber mallet to be of any use other than to throw in frustration!
- Using a car that won’t be moved for the duration of your stay as an anchor point is a good idea, attach ratchet straps from the wheels to your marquee/gazebo.
- Sometimes you are able to park your car on the road next to your pitch, this will gain you valuable inches!
- It’s a simple tip but keep ALL valuables locked away when you are not at your camp. We get around this by ensuring we always have someone in camp, however we realise this is not always possible if you have a small group.
- If locking valuables in your car place them out of sight in the trunk or glove-box.
- Sleep with your car keys/mobile phones upon your person, or at the bottom of your sleeping bag. If someone does break into your tent at night they will likely wake you before getting to them.
- Get to know your neighbours, introduce yourselves over a bottle of beer, this way when you are away from your camp your neighbours can keep an eye on it for you & vice-versa.
- Chain expensive items (bikes, generators etc.) to your car, or something that will not easily be moved.
- Most camp-sites do not have power and the ones that do (Houx) are usually sold out on the first day. For this reason many people will be running a generator of some kind.
- If you are going to be running a generator and arrive early on in the week try to make sure you don’t place it next to where your neighbours will be pitching their tents (on the border of pitches etc). That said, if you arrive late and a neighbour’s generator is where you want to put your tent, ‘generator etiquette‘ dictates you pop round with a few cold beers, have a chat, ask nicely and usually an agreement can be made. However, if you pull up and start shouting and screaming at your neighbours to move their genny don’t expect them to move it or turn it off in a hurry!
- If you’re keeping it simple but need a little power to charge your phone etc, you can get some good battery power-packs that can charge a phone 3 or 4 times (Anker, Power Monkey, Gorilla etc.), you can use a car charger (just make sure you don’t run the car battery flat) or speak nicely to a neighbour with power who will most likely be more than willing to charge the odd device for you. Remember, you can also purchase inexpensive solar chargers that will easily keep your phone topped up throughout the week.
- Battery jump start packs are also good if just wanting to charge a phone/power the odd led/energy efficient light
- All ACO camp sites have water taps (usually close to the toilets).
- Using the mains water for washing up is ideal.
- You can use it for cooking as long as you boil it but bottled water is so cheap in France we suggest you use that (circa 1.20€ for 6×1.5l bottles in supermarkets).
- Using mains water to fill up paddling/swimming pools was banned around 10/11 years ago.
- We always use bottled water for drinking (that is when we are not drinking beer).
All the ACO camp-sites have toilets & showers in varying numbers and states of cleanliness. Here are a few things to watch out for:
- They are usually limited in capacity and get VERY busy over the race weekend.
- The past few years the toilets & showers on Maison Blanche and most other official ACO sites have been kept in a superb condition throughout the week, however we still always carry loo roll on us when heading to the toilet – better to be safe than sorry (Google “Le Mans sock story” for an interesting read ….).
- The shower cubicles on the ACO sites are very cramped and everything is likely to get wet, so head over with flip flops & shorts (you really don’t want to be trying to get trousers, socks and shoes on when everything you touch is soaking wet and possibly muddy).
- Expect long queues for the showers and toilets at peak times from Thurs. onwards (8am-11am). We usually go later in the afternoon or the middle of the night to beat the rush. If you’re caught in a queue you could be waiting there for up to an hour.
- If you have a “icky” tummy, don’t leave heading to the toilet until the last minute! Expect to wait in line for around 20 mins from the Thurs. eve onwards.
- If you have space, bring a portable toilet for “number 1’s”, saves you wandering to the toilets all the time if you have a weak bladder after a few beers.
- Leave the showers and toilets in the state you expect to find them, there is always someone who leaves them in a real state! There is no need!
- As long as you take all we have said into consideration, all will be fine.
Food & Drink
When camping in Le Mans it’s only obvious that it will be BBQ & Beer central! However, it does not need to be – healthy and tasty meals can be russled up easily and quickly with simple cooking equipment. That said, we all know that nothing beats a good ‘Full English’ fry-up to set you up for a hard day at La Sarthe.
If you’re cooking things such as rice and pasta for a large group, remember the water will take far longer to boil than normal as camping/portable stoves have a much weaker burner than home/commercial ones!
Here are our tips for when it comes to the all time camping favourites, BBQ’s & Beer
- Remember beer is the No.1 currency when camping at Le Mans; need a spanner, a phone charged, a hammer or a tin opener? Pop over to a neighbour with a cold brew and ask to borrow one, if they have one they will more than likely be happy to let you borrow it in return for a cold beer!
- Keep your beer cold!!
- bottles of beer in a bucket of cold water is the easiest and cheapest way to keep them cold.
- Supermarkets sell large bags of ice. Topping a coolbox up daily with ice and placing your beers in is another simple way to keep them cold.
- Use the 2 cool box method, drink from one while the second is chilling, when finished drinking from the first one, fill it up and drink from the second.. etc. etc.
- Using a Fridge is another great way if you have a van to transport one over in (generator needed to power it).
- If you really want to show off you go the full hog and bring a beer chiller setup, OK you will also need gas, pumps, kegs & electric, buts its a great way to show you enjoy your brew & the cost per pint can be below £1. (If you’re staying until the following Monday you can also buy kegs of beer and rent all you need to chill and serve it from V&B, Vin et Biere, near Arnage).
- The local supermarkets sell a large range of fresh meats/steaks/fish/sausages/burgers for the BBQ
- Be aware that the French burgers (steak haché) are basically plain minced meat (no herbs or spices)
- The local sausages are lovely, the chipolatas generally have herbs in them and the red ones (Meghez), they have a bit of a kick.
- If you are buying chicken use it the same day unless you have a fridge to store it in, the warm weather will make it go off very quickly.
- Fish BBQ’s amazingly, ensure that the heat is not too fierce, wrap the fish in tin-foil with a little butter and BBQ with the lid closed (if you have one) for about 10 mins.
- Veggie burgers are better cooked in a pan!
- Eggs can be fried on a BBQ, use a small frying pan.
- Put a pile of potatoes covered in salt & olive oil wrapped in foil onto the BBQ after you have finished dinner and close the lid, by midnight they will be lovely and soft and make the best jacket potatoes with any leftovers from the BBQ.
From a simple battery powered radio, to professional DJ set-ups; from small TVs to projectors rigged up to get high definition SKY TV and from James Bond to Spiderman you will see the lot. Here are some simple tips to help get the most out of your time at Le Mans whether it involves Big TVs, drinking games etc. remember have a good time & keep the neighbours happy don’t be the one to still be playing trance music at 5am.
- Tune in to Radio Le Mans (92.1 FM), regardless of if you only have a radio or a full AV setup this radio station is the most important one to tune into. With live coverage of the race from the track for the entire raceweek, if anything is happening Hindy and the guys will know first.
- Some old speakers, a cheap amplifier and an iPod is a easy way to have your own disco on an evening.
- Disco lights, lazer lights and bubble machines all add to the fun of a disco.
- A lot of regulars bring their satellite boxes to watch the coverage on Eurosport here are a few things to note:
- Attempting to get a lock on the correct satellite using your standard Sky mini-dish will be VERY difficult
- A 60CM + dish is ideal and would make getting a lock a lot easier
- Key Information for UK Satellite Alignment (Astra 28.2E):
- Azimuth (the compass direction): between 144.4 & 144.8 degrees magnetic (depending upon your campsite).
- Elevation (how much you tilt the dish up): 28.6 degrees.
- LNB skew: either -15.4 (Bleu/Maison Blanche/Porsche Curves/Arnage/BSJ) or -15.5 degrees (Houx/Epinettes/Garage Vert/Mulsanne). This figure represents how far clockwise you need to rotate the LNB in it’s clamp.
- When searching for the correct satellite you need to keep an eye on the “Transport Stream” information in the Sky Box’s service menu, you are after the following info: “Transport Stream: 07d4“.
- Ensure once configured that the satellite dish and tripod (if mounted to tripod) are securely tightend up and weighted down so that they don’t move in the wind.
- If you don’t have a Sky/Eurosport subscription, consider pointing your dish at ASTRA 1KR at 19.2E and tune your receiver to pick up German Eurosport on 12226 MHz, it’s free to air (unlike the UK) and you can turn the sound down and listen to Radio Le Mans for commentary.
TVs & Projectors
TVs are ideal for watching the race & keeping up to date with the events happening on track when you are not trackside. They are also useful for watching the football (every 2 years the Euros or World Cup fall over the Le Mans weekend).
- Projectors are only really useful once the sun goes down from about 9pm onwards (unless you have a hugely expensive super-bright one). However, when used at night they are the best way to watch the race when not trackside (BTW thats a 32″ tv on the left of the projector screen, the screen itself is 4M wide).
** TIP ** A Cheap way of making a Projector screen is to use Hydroponic Sheeting (the white-black-white) type (around £10 for 5x2m)
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- Have a Fancy Dress evening, its becoming more and more common to see Batman and Spiderman staggering around at Le Mans.
- Why not run a quiz on the Friday night? There’s no racing.
- Drinking games are always a laugh (we have seem many a newcomer attempt to play battle shots with the Drinking for Holland lads and come out a little worse for wear).
- Flag poles are a common sight, spice yours up with some LED lights.
- Bring something to read – a good supply of Autosport, Top Gear, Motor, Racecar Engineering, Maxim & Nuts magazines are always useful in those quieter times.
Remember, pack a variety – the weather at Le Mans is notoriously changeable – beautiful sunshine and blue skies one minute, thunder storms and freezing winds the next! It’s not unusual to see people wandering around in shorts and wellingtons!
Don’t trust the weather forecasts either, pack for every eventuality both hot and cold. We’ll start at the bottom and work up …
- Footwear: If you are planning to do a lot of walking make sure you include good (preferably waterproof) worn-in shoes. Don’t bring brand new ones as you will most certainly end up with blisters. If you have space, bring 2 or 3 pairs. Pack more pairs of socks than you think you will need; having walked around all afternoon and all night as the race progresses, it’s surprising how luxurious it feels just to change into a clean pair of socks!
- Trousers: Again, if you plan to walk a lot, lightweight and warm are best as can be purchased from most camping/outdoor type shops (some with the removable legs even better if it gets hot). Jeans are great for the night when it gets much cooler. Again, if you have the space, pack more than you think you will need!
- Body: T-shirts, and jumpers are a must but more importantly a waterproof coat. The roll-up ‘kagoul’ type are brilliant if you have limited space but remember, you’ll need warm jumpers underneath at night. If you want something different to wear for LM, we have a range of fun Le Mans based t-shirt designs in our webshop and all profits go towards keeping SportsCarGlobal free and onsite for the fans.
- Head: Pack a hat! Wide brimmed or baseball type are best as they keep both the sun and the rain off your face! Talking of your face, don’t forget it needs protection too and make sure to pack suncream (min factor 20) and use it regularly.