Le Mans - 1955 - Race report
The 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans began on 11 June 1955, with Pierre Levegh
behind the wheel of the #20 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR run by Daimler-Benz.
American John Fitch was Levegh's assigned partner in the car, and he would
take over driving duties later. Competition between Mercedes, Jaguar,
Ferrari, Aston Martin and Maserati was close, with all the marques fighting
for the top positions early on. The race was extremely fast, with lap
records being repeatedly broken.
At the end of Lap 35, Levegh was following Mike Hawthorn's leading Jaguar
D-type, just as they were entering the pit straight. Hawthorn had just
passed Lance Macklin's slower Austin-Healey 100 when he belatedly noticed a
pit signal to stop for fuel. Hawthorn slowed suddenly in an effort to stop
rather than make another lap. Hawthorn's Jaguar, with the new disc brakes,
slowed much more quickly than other cars using drum brakes, such as
Levegh's Mercedes. The sudden, unexpected braking by Hawthorn caused
Macklin in the Healey to hit his brakes, throwing up a small cloud of dust
in front of Levegh, who trailed close behind. Macklin then swerved across
the centre of the track, attempting to re-pass the slowing Jaguar, but also
apparently out of control. Macklin had not noticed both Levegh and Juan
Manuel Fangio, in another 300 SLR, approaching rapidly from behind. Fangio
was in second place at the time, but directly behind, and attempting to lap
Levegh, ahead of Fangio on the track, did not have time to react. Levegh's
car made contact with the left rear of Macklin's car as he closed rapidly
(at about 150 mph) upon the slowed car. When Levegh hit the Austin-Healey
from behind, his car became airborne, soaring towards the left side of the
track, where it landed atop the earthen embankment separating spectators
from the track itself.
Levegh's 300 SLR struck the mound at such speed and angle that it was
launched into a somersault, which caused some parts of the car, already
damaged and loosened by the collision, to be flung from the vehicle at very
great speeds. This included the bonnet and the front axle, both of which
separated from the frame and flew through the crowd. The bonnet decapitated
tightly jammed spectators like a guillotine. With the front of the
spaceframe chassis—and thus crucial engine mounts—destroyed, the car's
heavy engine block also broke free and hurtled into the crowd. Spectators
who had climbed onto trestle tables to get a better view of the track found
themselves in the direct path of the lethal debris. Levegh was also
thrown free of the tumbling car, fatally crushing his skull when he landed.
As the remains of the 300 SLR slowed its somersault, the rear-mounted fuel
tank ruptured. The ensuing fuel fire raised the temperature of the
remaining Elektron bodywork past its ignition temperature, which due to its
high magnesium content was lower than for other metal alloys. The alloy
burst into white-hot flames, sending searing embers onto the track and into
the crowd. Rescue workers, totally unfamiliar with how to attack a
magnesium fire, poured water on the inferno -- greatly intensifying the
fire. As a result, the car burned for several hours. Official accounts put
the death total at 84 (83 spectators plus Levegh), either by flying debris
or from the fire, with a further 120 injured. Other observers estimated the
toll to be much higher.
Fangio, driving behind Levegh, narrowly escaped the heavily damaged
Austin-Healey, which was now skidding to the right of the track, across his
path. Macklin then hit the pit wall and bounced back to the left, crossing
the track again. He struck the barrier near the location of the now burning
300 SLR, causing the death of another single spectator, although Macklin
survived the incident without serious injury.
The race was continued, officially in order to prevent departing spectators
from crowding the roads and slowing down ambulances. An emergency meeting
of the Daimler-Benz board of directors was convened by midnight at the
request of John Fitch. Mindful of sensitivities involving German cars in
a French race just 10 years after the end of World War II, they decided to
pull out as a sign of respect to the victims. Eight hours after the
accident, while leading the race, the Mercedes team withdrew the cars of
Juan Manuel Fangio/Stirling Moss and Karl Kling/André Simon. Mercedes
invited Jaguar to also retire, but they declined.
Mike Hawthorn and the Jaguar team, led by motorsport manager Lofty England,
kept racing. Hawthorn won the race with teammate Bueb.
Nissan R91CP Rollover
Nissan YHP R91CP is one of Group C class race car which was a category of
motorsport, introduced by the FIA in 1982. Group C was used in the World
Endurance Championship and other sports car racing series around the globe
and the final year for the class came in 1993.
A Racer Tries To Repair His Car For 2 Hours - Le Mans 24 (Deltawing)
Nissan DeltaWing driver Satoshi Motoyama's caught up in the lead battle
between a gaggle of Audis and the Toyota hybrid of ex-Formula One star
The former Williams driver appeared not to see the DeltaWing, being driven
by his fellow Japanese Motoyama, and gave it a hefty sideswipe in the
Porsche Curves. Heart rending attempts fail to re-inject life into the
ground breaking Nissan DeltaWing, ending the car's assault on the Le Mans
24 hours and forcing "the 'fans' favourite" to retire.