There are many (in)famous tracks in the world every gearhead wants to give a try. Some of them are virtually locked away, for some you have to pay for, but a few are just plain public roads. Here’s the best known one.
One of the greatest race tracks in the world is definitely the Circuit de la Sarthe - concerning its size, the challenge it has to provide (if you are sitting in a 200mph+ car for 24 hours) and the centennial history for hosting the biggest single racing event in the world. The best thing about it? You can drive on it, too, at any time you want (except the odd week when there is an actual race on it for a complete day), because it is just plain public roads linked together.
At this point you might argue that a great deal of the track is actually purpose-built and you are right. However, there isn’t just one single configuration you could drive on.
In 1906, the very first Grand Prix race was held at a track called Circuit de la Sarthe. The designation is vague in terms of not being specific to a single race track, but rather - literally - just a general pronoun to a circuit within the department of Sarthe. This actual race - which qualifies as both the genesis of the Formula One World Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the same time - was raced at a large, triangular track, East of Le Mans - as opposed to the well-known one situated among Le Mans, Mulsanne and Arnage, South of said town.
This latter configuration - however permanent it seems - went through several changes. It wasn’t just the creation of the Bugatti Circuit in 1965 (a small, permanent track within the bigger one, housing the start-finish line, the Dunlop Curve and the Dunlop Chicane to the large circuit) or the chicanes added to the Mulsanne straight in 1990 (and other smaller changes due to the improvement of public roads).
Initially (v1.0), the track launched the cars racing into the centre of Le Mans, sending them back South through the streets at a hairpin turn at the current crossing of Rue de Laigne, Rue Botiard and Avenue Geores Durand.
The second iteration (v2.0) from 1929 chopped off the hairpin turn, bypassing the section at - what is now - Rue du Circuit, making the track slightly shorter.
The third iteration (v3.0) from 1932 - which is technically speaking the current one already - made yet another bypass, excluding the trip to town completely, rejoining the road to Mulsanne at Tetre Rouge.
All subsequent changes to the layout of the track derive from this last version, but these are the three that are still completely based on existing, driveable public roads.
Many decades-worth of road network improvement, however, made a mark on these layouts as well. You can’t really enjoy driving on v3.0 as you have to take a highway exit and entry, circling on the attachment roads quite a bit, sometimes in the wrong direction.
V1.0 is partially spoiled by a no-crossing crossing, forcing you to make a left turn, a U-turn and another left turn to rejoin the road to the hairpin in the centre of town.
V2.0, on the other hand, is virtually still 1932-spec., despite the occasional roundabouts added to the road network during the years.
According to Google Maps, this circuit is 16.5kms - exactly 10 miles - long in its present form and would take 19 minutes to complete at the highest possible legal speed limit. This would enable a theoretical maximum of 76 laps to complete within 24 hours (not counting refuelling or stopping by any means), making it a 1254km - or 760 miles - long journey tops if someone tried.
I don’t know if there are people doing such thing (I am assuming there are), but it would definitely be a blast if a group of people actually took the chance and made the trip.
images are of Creative Commons licence