Le Mans secrets with Rene Rast

The Circuit de la Sarthe that plays host to the Le Mans 24 Hours is a high-speed track with several tricky corners, as Team WRT LMP2 driver Rene Rast explains

Le Mans secrets with Rene Rast

If all goes to plan, Rene Rast and team-mates aboard their #31 ORECA-Gibson 07, Robin Frijns and Sean Gelael, will hope to complete in excess of 360 laps around the 8.467-mile circuit over the Le Mans 24 Hours, which counts for double points towards their World Endurance Championship title challenge.

Three-time DTM champion Rast is returning to Le Mans for the first time since 2016, when he finished sixth overall and second in the LMP2 class with G-Drive. The circuit has changed subtly in a few places since then and more obviously in others - namely the Porsche Curves - but few are better placed than the famously meticulous German to reveal its secrets.

Le Mans is often downplayed as a drivers’ challenge compared to the Nurburgring, Daytona and Spa - all races Rast has taken either class or outright wins in before - but he says such attitudes can be unhelpful.

“It’s still one of the hardest races,” Rast tells Autosport. “Most of the lap you travel in a straight line with high-speed, but people forget that we are still above 300km/h many times over the lap and it’s not like we can drink coffee while doing that.

“It’s for sure not an easy race and also the vibrations from the engine, sometimes the heat, the noise is extreme, it’s not that comfortable to drive that car down the straight.”

Here, Rast guides you through the key corners where drivers can gain and also loose time during the 24 Hours.

Fast approach to the Dunlop Chicane can catch out the unwary

Fast approach to the Dunlop Chicane can catch out the unwary

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Dunlop Chicane

In the dry, the right-hand corner before that chicane is flat. But the braking zone is very short, so you have to brake straight after that or you’re going to miss the first left of the chicane.

When it’s wet, you have no reference where to brake and there are lots of mistakes happening because in the wet obviously you need a longer braking phase. You have to brake basically in that right-hand turn, where the car weight is loaded on the left-hand side.

If you put the brake in the wrong moment when the car is still loaded on the left wheels, or brake a tiny bit too hard, the rears could start locking and give you an oversteer moment towards the right-hand side. If you’re not aware of that, you’re going to end up in the right-hand wall.

For LMP2 it’s less critical because our car is basically straight when we brake. But for some GT cars, I think they have to brake just after the turn or when they are still turning.

Camber through the left-hander at the Esses works in the drivers' favour, but the right-hander is blind

Camber through the left-hander at the Esses works in the drivers' favour, but the right-hander is blind

Photo by: Adam Warner / Motorsport Images

Esses

The left is quite cool, because it’s a very quick corner and the camber helps you to carry more speed. But the right-hander is blind. You go over a little crest and you cannot see the exit kerb, so you basically turn in and estimate where the exit kerb is.

Sometimes if you turn in the wrong moment, or you have a slippery surface or low grip, then you can end up on the grass in the left-hand side. It’s a tricky corner sometimes that can catch you out.

Drivers take quick lift before going back on the throttle through Tetre Rouge, one of Rast's favourite corners

Drivers take quick lift before going back on the throttle through Tetre Rouge, one of Rast's favourite corners

Photo by: Marc Fleury

Tertre Rouge

This is one of my most favourite corners on the track because it’s all about the speed you can carry. The better your car is the more laptime you gain, because you carry every km/h down the straight.

You can cut quite a lot on the inside but obviously track limits on the exit are quite crucial, so you want to use as much as allowed without going too far on the exit.

For me it’s one of the coolest corners because you just lift and then go back on power, it’s a quick corner and the car is normally very stable there.

Carrying speed into the Mulsannee chicanes is vital, and the lack of grip off-line puts extra emphasis on completing passes prior to entering

Carrying speed into the Mulsannee chicanes is vital, and the lack of grip off-line puts extra emphasis on completing passes prior to entering

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Mulsanne Chicanes

It’s difficult to set up a pass into the chicanes because you can’t really focus on the exit speed. You have to carry a lot of speed into both of them and it’s not like you can drive a different line to the car in front, because there is so much dirt off-line. Once you go off the racing line, it’s like you’re on ice.

If you’re in a fight with somebody and you can put that GT car between you going in, then you’re going to gain a lot of time and they will not be able to attack you for the rest of the lap. At the end of the race, you’re willing to take more risks but during the night you try to maintain a good car and have no damage so probably you’re going to go lower risk. It depends on your position obviously.

Running off the centre of the Mulsanne Straights can bring up debris that causes punctures

Running off the centre of the Mulsanne Straights can bring up debris that causes punctures

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Mulsanne Straight

You feel it straight away if you run off-line here. Most of the cars are running in the middle and the right or left, depending on which Mulsanne chicane you go into. Especially at the beginning of the week if you run a bit off-line on the straight, you hear that you pick up dirt and there is debris flying around. It’s better towards the end of the week when lots of overtakes have been done, which basically cleans the straight.

Rast picks out Mulsanne Corner is a good place to make up time on the brakes before the long blast to Indianapolis

Rast picks out Mulsanne Corner is a good place to make up time on the brakes before the long blast to Indianapolis

Photo by: Marc Fleury

Mulsanne Corner

This is a very laptime-sensitive corner, depending also on the wind. If you have a headwind or tailwind, that’s a big difference.

It’s about finding the sweetspot during that race of where to brake, because sometimes you can gain a lot of time by just braking later and taking a bit more extra risk. It's a good passing opportunity too.

But obviously the downside is if you lock up the front right, then you’re going to end up in the gravel and lose even more time.

Rast says the car goes light at Indianapolis as drivers flick left while still arcing right through the kink on approach

Rast says the car goes light at Indianapolis as drivers flick left while still arcing right through the kink on approach

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Indianapolis

It’s a tricky part of the track because the car is quite light there. You go in at full speed to the right-hander, don’t brake, just turn in and lift a little bit. Then while cornering, you have to brake in sixth gear for the left-hander and the car gets very light.

It’s not like Tertre Rouge where you basically load the car and then go back on power. It’s more like you load it and then brake at the same time, so it’s a completely different kind of corner and that’s why it’s difficult. You can lose or gain lots of lap time. It’s not one of my favourite corners to be honest, because it’s always quite loose on the rear.

The Porsche Curves remain a challenge despite the walls being moved back

The Porsche Curves remain a challenge despite the walls being moved back

Photo by: Nick Dungan / Motorsport Images

Porsche Curves

When I was driving there last, they had still the walls and there was no gravel. It’s a bit more open now, which gives you more room for error and to attack a bit more.

In the dark and in the wet you probably have less reference points because everything is just further away, but in the daylight I think it’s easier. I haven’t driven it so I’m very excited to see how it is.

Obviously it’s there for safety and we saw some nasty crashes in the past, so we’re all happy to have that extra safety. The cars are very quick in the Porsche Curves, so it’s still a challenge, it’s not like it’s easy to go through there now.

Ford Chicane is all about mechanical grip, and is one of the slowest sequences on the track

Ford Chicane is all about mechanical grip, and is one of the slowest sequences on the track

Photo by: Adam Warner / Motorsport Images

Ford Chicane

Most of the track is high-speed and you come out of the Porsche Curves where you have a lot of grip due to the downforce, and then you arrive to one of the slowest parts where the car needs more mechanical grip. It’s always kind of an unknown how the car will behave.

If you hit a kerb at the wrong angle, the car can be unsettled and cause you to spin off. It looks a bit ridiculous to spin there, but we are used to downforce and then all of a sudden you have no downforce anymore and have to rely on the mechanical grip. So it’s a tricky part!

Rast warns that it's easy to make an embarrassing mistake at the Ford Chicane

Rast warns that it's easy to make an embarrassing mistake at the Ford Chicane

Photo by: Marc Fleury

shares
comments

Related video

Alpine's Lapierre hopeful of closer Le Mans battle with Toyota
Previous article

Alpine's Lapierre hopeful of closer Le Mans battle with Toyota

Next article

Ogier feels he's "not a contender" for Le Mans LMP2 win

Ogier feels he's "not a contender" for Le Mans LMP2 win
Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past Plus

Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past

Rising sportscar star Adam Smalley had to pinch himself when offered the chance to drive the car that won the world’s most famous enduro in 1987

Historics
Sep 6, 2022
How Porsche's Le Mans legend changed the game Plus

How Porsche's Le Mans legend changed the game

The 956 set the bar at the dawn of Group C 40 years ago, and that mark only rose higher through the 1980s, both in the world championship and in the US. It and its successor, the longer-wheelbase 962, were voted as Autosport's greatest sportscar in 2020 - here's why

WEC
Aug 25, 2022
Why BMW shouldn't be overlooked on its return to prototypes Plus

Why BMW shouldn't be overlooked on its return to prototypes

OPINION: While the focus has been on the exciting prospect of Ferrari vs Porsche at the Le Mans 24 Hours next year, BMW’s factory return to endurance racing should not be ignored. It won't be at the French classic next year as it focuses efforts on the IMSA SportsCar Championship, but could be a dark horse in 2024 when it returns to La Sarthe with the crack WRT squad

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2022
How Formula E's double-duty drivers influenced their Le Mans teams' fortunes Plus

How Formula E's double-duty drivers influenced their Le Mans teams' fortunes

Eight Formula E drivers made the 7,000-mile sprint from the streets of Jakarta to the fabled Circuit de la Sarthe and every one had a story to share at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours. Despite a range of triumphs and disappointments, each driver doubling up on the day job played a key role in their teams' fortunes

Le Mans
Jun 14, 2022
Le Mans 2022: The team by team guide Plus

Le Mans 2022: The team by team guide

The 90th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours is here. Here's Autosport's run down of the full field and who to look out for in each class

Le Mans
Jun 11, 2022
The great Le Mans garagistes that challenged factory might Plus

The great Le Mans garagistes that challenged factory might

Glickenhaus is the latest in a line of small-time constructors to take on the big names. Here are some of the finest in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours

Le Mans
Jun 9, 2022
When the moribund GTE Pro class stole the show at Le Mans Plus

When the moribund GTE Pro class stole the show at Le Mans

The GTE class faces a time of transition, with Ferrari and Porsche both committing resources to Hypercar programmes for next year's World Endurance Championship and GT3 cars confirmed to take over from 2024. But at its pomp in the recent past, the GTE Pro class pitched manufacturers and top drivers into the tightest of duels

Le Mans
Jun 9, 2022
How an Italian junior formula giant is readying for its Le Mans future Plus

How an Italian junior formula giant is readying for its Le Mans future

Prema remains a colossus in single-seaters, but the serial Formula 2 and Formula 3 title-winning squad has joined forces with top GT squad Iron Lynx for an attack on sportscars in the World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series. Ahead of its debut at the Le Mans 24 Hours, its sights are firmly fixed on LMP2 glory – and a future in Hypercars next year...

Le Mans
Jun 8, 2022