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On This Day… The Le Mans Disaster

Written by: George Chittenden : 21 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 11th June back in 1955 when the worst accident in motor racing history happened at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. The horrific incident occurred two hours into the race when Jaguar driver Mike Hawthorn cut in front of Austin-Healey driver Lance Macklin, which forced Macklin to swerve into Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes which somersaulted into the grandstand with devastating consequences. The man driving the Mercedes, Pierre Levegh, died on impact, along with many spectators. Horrifically, many who were watching the race close to the track were decapitated by the flying bonnet and axle. The terrible crash went from very bad to even worse when pieces of flaming debris including the engine block and hood from the Mercedes, that had cartwheeled through the grandstand started a fire that killed many more.

In total 83 spectators were killed during the worst accident in motor racing history, and another 120 were injured. Blame largely fell at the design of the track which had not been altered since the 1920’s and had not been designed for cars racing at such speed. Mercedes-Benz actually retired from motor racing as a consequence of the crash and didn’t return to the sport until 1989. Thankfully, it’s fair to say that we’ll never see a disaster in motorsport again on this scale.

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