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Old 06-11-2019, 04:21 AM
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panache45 is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: NE Ohio (the 'burbs)
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June 11, 1955: 83 spectators are killed and nearly 180 are injured, after two cars collide at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the deadliest ever accident in motorsports.

The disaster occurs at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. A major crash causes large fragments of debris to fly into the crowd, killing 83 spectators and French driver Pierre Bouillin (who has raced under the name Pierre Levegh) and injuring nearly 180 more. It will be the most catastrophic crash in motorsport history, and it prompts Mercedes-Benz to retire from motor racing until 1989.

The crash starts when Jaguar driver Mike Hawthorn cuts in front of Austin-Healey driver Lance Macklin to reach his pit stop, prompting Macklin to swerve into the path of Levegh, who is passing on the left in his much faster Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. Levegh rear ends Macklin at high speed, overriding Macklin's car and launching his own car through the air. Levegh strikes a protective dirt berm at 125mph, disintegrating and igniting his car, throwing him onto the track where he is instantly killed, and sending large pieces of flaming debris cartwheeling over the berm and into the packed grandstand—including the engine block and hood.

Safety measures are relatively unknown in 1955. Aside from two layout changes to make the circuit shorter, the Le Mans circuit has been largely unaltered since the inception of the race in 1923, when top speeds of cars were typically in the region of 60mph. By 1955, top speeds for the leading cars are over 170. That said, the circuit had been resurfaced and widened post-war. The pits and grandstands had been reconstructed, but there are no barriers between the pit lane and the racing line, and only a 4-foot earthen bank between the track and the spectators. The cars have no seat belts; the drivers reason that it is preferable to be thrown clear in a collision rather than be crushed or trapped in a burning car.