A lap of Le Mans

You head past the pits, up into top gear (sixth). The Bentley has a paddle shift like those on a Formula 1 car, so it is just a question of flicking the levers behind the steering wheel. It is a very easy process and a very reliable one I have to say. It is quite simple in the way that it operates but it certainly helps us around the lap dramatically

A lap of Le Mans

It enables us to go right into the heart of Turn 1 at something like 175mph. It is a very, very high speed arrival and because it is slightly uphill we can brake supremely late, and in fact we use the first part of Turn 1 as a braking zone rather than a corner and try to get the car slowed down for the left. There is a lot of gravel there, a lot of cars fly off the road and it's quite changeable every lap. You don't know what to expect before you get there.

It's second gear and you use the kerb on the way in. We have an agreement amongst the drivers at Bentley as to how aggressive we are going to be on the track. You have to have a lot of respect because after all we are sharing this car and we have to agree how much aggression we are going to put into the lap through the race.

Then you try to avoid the kerbs for the rest of that first short chicane and get good traction out, moving up to sixth through the gears down the hill. You get tremendous acceleration down there. The Le Mans cars are so slippery through the air that it builds up speed deceptively quickly.

We then head into what I call the fairground chicane. It is very bumpy into there and we just launch the car in. We're in third gear at something like 100mph. We might use fourth gear in the race actually and it just requires total blind faith. There is nowhere to go off.

You then have to change direction at the top of the crest - it's bumpy and the car is sliding so you pick up some understeer. When you are satisfied you've got enough space you are hard on the throttle again. Slightly downhill to Tertre Rouge and you are really heading into a Cul de Sac. You go into the corner in fifth at something like 150mph. We downshift just one, you try and brake a little bit early there and let the car float because now you are entering the Mulsanne straight.

There is a bump in the middle of the corner where you have to have total belief that the car will stick. The car will then just literally jump a couple of metres across the road. You use the kerb on the exit just to stop the slide but you can't really ride it because otherwise you are damaging the underneath of the car.

You are already into sixth gear before you really get onto the straight, and the first chicane is out of sight even at that stage. We have a speed read-out on the dash board and as you enter the straight you are doing 185mph, but quite quickly we build up to just over 200 mph and the engine starts to sing. The car moves around a little bit on the bumps and also on the tracking where the trucks have left grooves and our car tends to want to be in those grooves.

The road is crowned because it is a normal road. A racetrack tends to be cambered in one direction for drainage but a main road is crowned in the middle. So even though it is a straight line it is surprising how much work you are doing with the car.

We are then looking for the 200-metre board marker on the left-hand side of the track. And the little gap in the barrier where the marshals stand is what we are using as our braking point for the first chicane. Then the corner starts rushing at you and as the brake temperature builds, finally the retardation looks remotely sensible. You come down four gears and this is why we brake so late. Our car is a dream under braking and this is something I am looking forward to in the race.

The chicanes they have put in down the Mulsanne are very bumpy and you bounce around. You have to keep off the kerbs because they have like a saw-tooth effect. Then we build speed again and it is a similar story down to the second chicane. This time though it is a little bit easier on the way into the left/right.

Again about 190mph, down three gears and you're still braking as you go through the entry. You take the final shift right in the middle of the chicane and then hit the throttle and hope the backend will transmit the power. Then you just basically point it at the barrier on the way out to give yourself as much traction and build the speed all the way out. You turn at the last moment.

Gently shifting up the straight - there is a little light on the dashboard which tells you when because the optimum shift is different in each gear.

Then you are heading over the crest into the Mulsanne corner. You don't look at the run-off area there because it is terrifying. There is a roundabout, a barn, a building - not a place to go off the road. Guy (Smith) and I both had punctures there in practice, which very much caught our attention and compromised our practice running I have to say.

And then you are braking in the curve. It is very bumpy and there is a kerb on the inside. You must not hit that kerb and then you have to come down four more gears for the very tight part of Mulsanne. We cheat a little bit there because the kerb on the inside is just painted onto the road, so we go over that and use the bollards on the inside as our apex.

You get straight on the throttle and the track is slightly narrower as you go through the trees. There are a couple of little kinks and you are over 185mph heading towards Indianapolis. Depending on wind direction that can often be the fastest part of the racetrack. You are looking for one tiny postage stamp-sized apex point on the inside that you want to run over on the right, you have to hook the car up. Down one gear, still 165mph and suddenly the left of Indianapolis is right on top of you. It's just coming in your windscreen and you've got to get down three gears. There is a lot of camber on this corner so you can commit to the corner and start getting on the throttle.

You drive the corner on throttle, controlling the oversteer and then really sharp and short on the acceleration towards Arnage.

Any Le Mans car I have ever driven does not want to slow down for Arnage. There is something curious about the racetrack there, something to do with the length and the smoothness of the road. And you can get stuck into the corner so when you get there you can't slow down. These are two kerbs you must not touch. You use second gear here, first gear in qualifying. A downshift costs fuel because there is a blip on throttle.

You have got good traction out of there into a couple of left sweepers, once again into top gear getting to the Porsche Curves. There is a lot of ripples into the corner because you have not yet left the Route Nationale and are still on the main road. You try to brake as little as possible from 185mph down to 150 and shift down two gears. You then turn the nose into Porsche as soon as you are confident that it will go in.

You then jump on the throttle peddle again and you just accelerate all the way through the first part of Porsche. You are now on to the racetrack proper, but there is a nasty bump there where the circuit has been weathered over the years. And again you are just following concrete walls now, there is nowhere to go.

Fifth gear and in the middle of the corner there is a long, long right. You slip down to fourth. This is where we often catch the slower cars. As you drive into Porsche sometimes you can see nothing in front of you and before the end of the corner we are all over say two other 911s. We are much, much faster through this series of corners. Probably 10 seconds faster than some cars so traffic becomes a big issue here.

The corner that all Le Mans drivers hate is the little left after the Porsche Curves - Maison Blanche. Because it is off camber and many a great racing driver has crashed into the wall there or tipped their cars over. It is a horrible corner because you come into it blind in fourth gear at 150mph, and if you get it wrong it is always too late. By the time you realise that you've got it wrong you are in the middle of an accident.

There's a sweeping chicane that's easy to overtake cars on but also easy to touch backmarkers. Then you have just got two little chicanes at the end of the lap. One very much leading into the other. Use the kerbs and throttle on the exit and then just another 4,900 kilometres to go...

Warm-up: Pescatori's turn at the top

Previous article

Warm-up: Pescatori's turn at the top

Next article

Martin Brundle Q&A

Martin Brundle Q&A
Load comments
The standout memories of Le Mans 2021 Plus

The standout memories of Le Mans 2021

OPINION: With four of the five Hypercar entries unproven in a 24-hour race, it would not have been unexpected for at least one of them to suffer serious reliability trouble. That they all managed to make it through the race relatively unscathed, says GARY WATKINS, was something of a surprise.

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked Plus

Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked

Toyota scored its fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and a 1-2, with the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez beating the #8. But although it looked straightforward from the outside, Toyota faced serious problem that had to be solved with some quick-thinking and ingenuity

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks Plus

How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks

The screaming rotary-engined Mazda 787 is regarded as one of the most popular Le Mans 24 Hours-winning cars, but until its surprise success on this day 30 years ago it was never regarded as a likely victor. But that reckoned without a new technical partner, some canny political manoeuvring and a rival's bizarre self-inflicted weakness

Aug 22, 2021
Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse? Plus

Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse?

One Toyota, normally with the number 7 on the side, always seems to attract the bad luck in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez are hoping for a change in fortune this time around, but face significantly more unknowns than in recent years

Le Mans
Aug 19, 2021
Why Glickenhaus should be taken seriously on its Le Mans bow Plus

Why Glickenhaus should be taken seriously on its Le Mans bow

Many were quick to dismiss Glickenhaus when the boutique American sportscar firm's entry into the top class of the Le Mans 24 Hours was announced. It's all-new LMH racer, powered by an engine built by a rally specialist, goes in as the underdog against Toyota but the mathematical odds suggest that it has more than just a faint hope of success

Le Mans
Aug 18, 2021
The Asian underdog taking on the mighty GT factories at Le Mans Plus

The Asian underdog taking on the mighty GT factories at Le Mans

The rising HubAuto team steps up to GTE Pro at Le Mans this year for an ambitious bid to take on the three works giants – and has every reason to be optimistic of achieving its goal in becoming the first privateer on the podium since 2016

Le Mans
Aug 18, 2021
How 1971's benchmark Le Mans team lost with the best car Plus

How 1971's benchmark Le Mans team lost with the best car

The JW Automotive Engineering team won twice at the Le Mans 24 Hours with ageing Fords and were considered heavy favourites to add more victories to its tally after partnering with Porsche. But despite being armed with the all-conquering 917, this formidable combination was never as successful in real life as on the big screen

Le Mans
Aug 14, 2021
Why Argentina’s current great isn’t motivated by emulating Fangio Plus

Why Argentina’s current great isn’t motivated by emulating Fangio

Having twice missed out on Formula 1 and reinvented himself as a touring car driver, Jose Maria Lopez has had a rocky ride to becoming a four-time world champion. One more would put him level with his nation's favourite son, but there's another prize he would value far more than the honour of matching Juan Manuel Fangio's tally

Aug 14, 2021