Le Mans to Tours via that Mulsanne Straight

Anyone who has visited the Le Mans Museum right alongside the circuit entrance will be left with a burning desire to go and investigate the Mulsanne Straight. The desire to own a grey Porsche 911, stop half way down and light up a Gitance while resting your backside on the ARMCO is a feeling that I’m sure many of us have felt.

For many though, the Museum visit is just part of a drive further south. So if, like us, you won’t have time to drive the whole public sections of the track, there’s nothing to stop you taking in that huge straight en route to the south of France. Here’s a great driving route towards Bordeaux that keeps you off the Peage.

“Drive out of the main gates of LeMans circuit, turn right three times.” said the lady in the museum reception, when we asked how to find the Mulsanne Straight. Sure enough, as you head through the day to day traffic, you see the high circuit wall on your right as we join the D338, before you realise it, the track slides imperceptibly under your wheels and suddenly, you’re on The Mulsanne Straight, barriers either side, the vanishing point stretching into the distance. You can almost hear the flat twelve of a Porsche 917 and expect to see Steve McQueen in his pretty 2.0 litre 911 parked halfway down. Every few minutes, you’re reminded of the sheer size of this piece of track as we reach the new chicanes and the race surface surface moves off beside the road and you see rubber stained race track kerbs off to one side before the chicanes merge back onto the cambered straight. Without them, it must have been an incredibly intense experience at 240mph. And we still haven’t got to the end yet.

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"Turn Right Outside the gates....." Heading for Mulsanne
“Turn Right Outside the gates…..” Heading for Mulsanne

Through the Mulsanne Kink, which would have been flat in a 917, and into what would be the braking area. Today, we’re sharing the road with school busses and daily traffic, yet we have high Armco barriers and crash fencing on both sides. It’s surreal. The end of the straight and we blend left off the track to a roundabout. A glance to the right and you can see the circuit continuing on. Turn right here, you can continue following the circuit towards Indianapolis. Instead, we’re heading gently into Mulsanne, a small picture postcard town with an evocative name and typically immaculate flower beds. Stop at the Tabac for an espresso and a pack of authentic Gitanes, or head through the town and onwards.

South of Mulsanne, we head out to the D338 The road is now caricature French rural D Road, mature trees lining each side, creating a green canopy in the summer time. Hopefully, you’ll be in a Targa or a Cabriolet 911 here as this is a quite remarkable, beautiful stretch of road, all the way to Tours. Beautifully surfaced, long undulating straights with good visibility for overtaking and as long as you’re on the numbers entering each village’s 50kph limit, little Gendarme interference. For reasons known only to the French, just south of the village of Leclerc the road changes to the D938. Just keep driving and enjoy it.

Lovely tree lined French D Routes
Lovely tree lined French D Routes

There are two ways to drive this road. Chill out, admire the beautiful scenery and cruise, or heel-toe down a few gears and revel in the open bends, the smooth surface and the light traffic. For 71 kms, the road continues like this, passing through small villages until eventually, you arrive at Tours and the blue Peage signs appear. I warn you, the urge to turn around and drive back again is very strong.

From there. you can join the Peage south towards Bordeaux, or if you dread the endless white concrete toll routes, there is an alternative. That’s one we can talk about later….

Empty Peage, but Gendarmes lurking. Lexus HuD in the bottom right
Empty Peage, but Gendarmes lurking. Lexus HuD in the bottom right

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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  • Nice piece. An experienced visitor at the 24 heures, I have to mention something along the way to Tours that you have to visit: in the town of La Chartre-sur-le-Loir there is the Hotel de France. The place has a huge history with the 24 hours of Le Mans as it used to be the place where for instance the JW Racing team would stay during the ’60s and ’70s.
    The hotel is now owned by a Brit and every year there is beautiful cars to be seen and stars like Derek Bell. A must-visit.