The Mulsanne Straight (Ligne Droite des Hunaudières in French) is the name used in English for a formerly 6 km (3.7 mi) long straight of the Circuit des 24 Heures around which the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race takes place. Since 1990, the straight is interrupted by two chicanes, with the last section, that includes a kink and a hump, leading to the sharp corner near the village of Mulsanne.
When race meetings are not taking place the Mulsanne Straight is part of the national road system of France. It is called Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, a part of the route départementale (for the Sarthe département) D338 (formerly Route Nationale N138). The Hunaudières leads to the village of Mulsanne which is the reason for its English name (though the French Route de Mulsanne is the name for the road, and straight, between Mulsanne and Arnage, with the Indianapolis corner in between).
Speed and chicanes
After exiting the Tertre Rouge corner, cars would spend almost half of the lap at full throttle, before braking for Mulsanne Corner. The Porsche 917 long tail with its 5.0 litre, Flat 12 engine used from 1969 to 1971, had reached 362 km/h (225 mph). After this, engine size was limited and top speeds dropped until powerful turbo engines, pioneered by French manufacturer Renault, were allowed, like in the 1978 Porsche 935 which was clocked at 367 km/h (228 mph).
Speeds on the straight by the Group C prototypes reached over 400 km/h (250 mph) during the late 1980s. At the beginning of the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Paris garage owner Roger Dorchy driving for Welter Racing in a "Project 400" car dubbed the WM P88, and powered by a 2.8 litre turbocharged Peugeot V6 engine, which sacrificing reliability for speed (the car was out after just 53 laps or approximately 4 hours with turbo, cooling and electrical failure), was clocked by radar travelling at an all-time race record 405 km/h (252 mph).
Fatal high speed accidents in the 1980s happened to Jean-Louis Lafosse in 1981 and to Jo Gartner in 1986, while in 1984 a French track marshal was killed in an accident at the Kink involving the two Aston Martin Nimrod NRA/C2's of British driver John Sheldon and his American team mate Drake Olson. One driver had an extremely lucky escape in 1986. British driver Win Percy had a tyre on his 7.0 litre V12 powered Jaguar XJR-6 explode at some 386 km/h (240 mph), tearing off the rear bodywork and flipping the car into the air "up above the trees". The wreckage finally came to a halt 600 metres down the road. However, despite almost obliterating the vehicle, Percy somehow walked away from the crash with nothing more than bad memories and a badly battered helmet.
As the combination of high speed and high downforce caused tyre and engine failures, two roughly equally spaced chicanes were consequently added to the straight before the 1990 race to limit the achievable maximum speed. The chicanes were added also because the FIA decreed it would no longer sanction a circuit which had a straight longer than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi)., which is roughly the length of the Döttinger Höhe straight at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The chicanes have limited top speeds on the Mulsanne with most of the leading cars topping out at approximately 330 km/h (205 mph) during qualifying and 320 km/h (199 mph) during the race.
In the past spectators could obtain magnificent views of cars racing along the straight during the Le Mans, including while dining at various restaurants—such as Restaurant de 24 Heures and les Virages de L'Arche—located very close to the road. However, in 1990 the viewing experience obtained at both restaurants was diminished with the introduction of the chicanes. Today due to safety concerns spectators are kept well away from the edge of the straight by marshals and police and while guests can dine at Auberge des Hunaudières, Shanghai des 24 Heures and the Hôtel Arbor, and hear the cars pass, the view is obscured by green covers attached to the safety fencing.
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