Why Le Mans proves good vision is vital to racing success

It may seem obvious that racing drivers need good vision to compete at their very best, but in the Le Mans 24 Hours, this most vital of motorsport senses gets tested to the very limit.

This year’s event threw competitors almost every icon on the weather map, starting with persistent rain then running through a glaring sunset, the darkness of night, early morning fog and sparking sunlight to finish.

The intensity of conditions, coupled with the fatigue delivered from racing over a 24-hour period with just two other team-mates to share the load, is why the race at La Sarthe is recognised as one of motorsport’s toughest.

Racing speeds accentuate the need for good vision, as drivers need to be able to accurately evaluate their approach speed and nail the apex spot on. Slightly before or slightly later, and they will lose lap time or lose control.

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TAKING THE STRAIN

At Le Mans, vision comes under a huge amount of strain as drivers are faced with sun glare, night glare and a narrowing field of vision through fatigue. That makes visual endurance as vital as physical endurance.

An eye test is mandatory for many racing licenses and any visual impairment, through poor eyesight or tiredness, can make corners seem to arrive more quickly, reducing the time available to make basic driving decisions.

This is often forgotten within the demands of racing, and in this video Paul du Saillant, Deputy CEO of EssilorLuxottica, whose Essilor lens brand is Le Mans 24 Hours Official Partner, explains: “It’s an amplification of what many [road] drivers experience.

“Everything is amplified – the speed, the condition of driving, the complexity, the weather conditions because in the Le Mans 24 Hours you have rain, clear, sunset, all kinds of conditions, it is very complex to manage.

“We must keep in mind that 90% of the information going to the driver comes through the vision, so 90% of the decisions come from having good vision.”

Having better vision gives a performance advantage to any driver, racetrack or road, and EssilorLuxottica is working with the FIA and the United Nations to research and develop a road safety agenda for vision.

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THE KEY TO SUCCESS

Racing drivers absorb far more detailed information from the circuit than everyday road drivers do, and the more aware they are of what is around them, the more indicators they can use to perfect their performance.

A first-time racer at Le Mans will typically have a short and narrow focus, while the more experienced drivers will generally look further ahead, enabling them to anticipate upcoming triggers and make driving decisions more accurately.

Experts also say that the ability to look further ahead provides a better sense of balance, as it helps a driver to become more centred and the body relies less on the balance-related senses provided by the inner ear.

The minimum eyesight standard for road driving in the UK is a visual acuity of at least 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale, either naturally or with the help of glasses or contact lenses if necessary.

David Navarro, VP Vision on the Road Group Plan, Essilor International, says there is a “crucial link” between that visual acuity and reaction time, a fact that has been proven through scientific research on road driving.

Every move a driver makes is down to a visual trigger, and that is why accuracy of vision is key to learning a circuit, positioning a car and becoming fast and consistent around Le Mans, or indeed any track, whatever the conditions.

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#28 JOTA ORECA 07 - Gibson LMP2, Sean Gelael, Stoffel Vandoorne, Tom Blomqvist

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David Navarro explains: “Someone driving at 50kph with 0.5 visual acuity loss is going to perceive and read the information [in] three seconds’ more time than usual conditions. It is enormous.

“You are going to create as well the problems of tunnelling your vision, trying to see what is happening, so accurate vision is key. Of course, at 50kph, [but more so] when you are driving in the track at very high speed limits.”

“Optimal vision is a key factor to enhance race drivers' performance and to be safe on the road, for everyone,” Pierre Fillon, ACO President, said.

“The 24 hours of Le Mans is a unique innovations laboratory that puts the drivers in front of all the 24 hours-vision challenges that one could experience on the road; sun glare, night driving, visual fatigue. There is a lot we can do. As 24 Hours of Le Mans and Mission H24, we are proud of this important partnership and the fantastic start in 2021.”

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