It’s a very, very rare thing to be let out on the Circuit de la Sarthe during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race week unless you’re a racing driver—but then, that’s rare enough, too. Motor Authority was fortunate enough to have that opportunity, in an Audi A8 L TDI.
What’s that? An A8 L TDI is hardly an ideal vehicle for a track drive, especially one as daunting and difficult as the home of the greatest endurance race in the world? Yes, that’s true--we'd have much preferred to be out there in the new R8 LMX. But when you get the opportunity, you take it.
As the video shows, the proportions of the track are hard to imagine until you’ve seen them first hand. The straights are immensely long (even though they’re now interrupted by chicanes); many of the corners are impossibly tight. The braking points used by the race cars are unfathomable from within the cabin of even a rather capable street car.
The sights, too, are incredible. Starting out at the Ford Chicanes, coming down the front straight with the grandstands on either side, soaring up under the Dunlop bridge, down through the Esses to Tertre Rouge, then up the long Mulsanne Straight with its two chicanes, pinning the brakes for Mulsanne corner, back up through the gears and staring into the blinding sunlight to Indianapolis and Arnage, then the Porsche Curves, the Maison Blanche, and the 8.47-mile lap is complete.
Of course, at speed, things look a little different. For an idea of how things used to look, in one of the fastest cars ever to tackle the circuit, compare the lap above to the lap below, by Derek Bell in a Porsche 956.