Le Mans safety changes dilute challenge, warn drivers

Praise of the latest wave of circuit safety upgrades at Le Mans has been tempered with concerns that the famous circuit is losing its character.

Increased run-off where the final right-hander of the Porsche Curves leads into the left flick at Corvette Corner (pictured above) met with a mixed response from drivers during Sunday's official pre-race test, though few questioned that safety had been improved. 

Three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Andre Lotterer told Motorsport.com: "It is safer, I guess, but if the trend is continued it will be like driving through a parking lot with nothing around you.

"The Porsche Curves have always been one of the most iconic places at Le Mans and this is going to make it a little bit less thrilling. I think we have to be careful what we do this track."

Corvette Racing driver Jan Magnussen, who missed the Le Mans race in 2015 after crashing in the Porsche Curves during qualifying, offered similar sentiments. 

"I'm not necessary a fan of moving the walls and the barriers further away," he said. "If you move them miles away, this track becomes like any Formula 1 circuit and anyone can be fast."

ACO defends changes

Vincent Beaumesnil, sporting director of Le Mans organiser the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, explained that increasing the run-off was a necessary evil and preferable to changing the layout of the circuit. 

"The Porsche Curves are one of the most famous sections of track where we have cars going at 250km/h between two walls," he told Motorsport.com.

"One way to manage that situation would be to install a chicane, but that is a no-go for us. We want to keep the speed because it is part of the character of Le Mans, and this is a good compromise."

Beaumesnil explained that the changes at the end of the Porsche Curves were about trying to make sure a car hit the wall at a shallower angle in the event of an accident. 

The wall has been move back significantly and a large area of asphalt run-off added, which has created the potential for cars to cut the corner at Corvette. 

Beaumesnil insisted that track limits would be strictly enforced as a result of the changes, while the drivers explained that corner cutting was unlikely given the off-camber nature of Corvette. 

The angle of the wall at Maison Blanche, the left kink that leads onto the short straight before the Ford Chicane, has also been changed (pictured below).

This follows the accident in which Aston Martin driver Roald Goethe sustained back injuries in the 2015 race after being tagged by the winning Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Nico Hulkenberg.

View Porsche corner

A new system of corner markers, known as 'floppies' (pictured below), was also trialled during the test at the weekend in the latest attempt to cut back on track-limit violations.

The spring-mounted devices failed to survive being hit, but Beaumesnil insisted that this was because of last-minute alterations. 

"We decided late to increase them in height to 40cm, which meant they did not go deep enough into their holes and that will change for the race," he explained.

Le Mans' Bugatti circuit has been resurfaced for this year, which means new asphalt for the main track used for the 24 Hours from Raccordement Chicane through to the start of the Esses.

Floppy at Prorsche corner
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About this article
Series Le Mans
Event 24 Hours of Le Mans test day
Track Circuit de la Sarthe
Drivers Andre Lotterer , Kevin Magnussen
Article type Breaking news