Le Mans Disaster, The Darkest Moment of Motorsport

Auto racing is an extreme sport that packs as much risk as fun. The world of motorsport has witnessed hundreds of accidents but of all the accidents, the Le Mans disaster remains the most catastrophic. This was a fatal accident that occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race in 1955 where over 80 people lost their lives.

This racing event was a much-awaited one as the major constructors, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Ferrari had hyped how powerful their new vehicles were going to be. Some of the drivers on that fateful day included Mike Hawthorn, Pierre Levegh, Lance Macklin, and Manuel Fangio.

It was around 6:26 pm when the drivers were on lap 35. By this time, Hawthorn and Fangio were leading in a hotly contested lap. Now it was between Jaguar and Mercedes. The events of the day started unfolding when Hawthorn, who was in front of Fangio, made a pit-stop in which he cut ahead of Macklin before braking hard. Out of panic, Macklin swerved and put himself directly in the way of Levegh who was right behind him. It was too late for him to take any preventive measures; he only signaled other drivers on the impending doom before his car drove up the side of Macklin’s car.

Levegh’s car launched into the air and slammed on the side of the circuit sending large wreckage of metal pieces into the crowd before bursting into flames. Levegh had already been thrown out and smacked onto the ground. He crushed his skull and died on the spot. The race didn’t stop and this surprised many of the people who had attended the event. It was later revealed that this was a plan to stop people from rushing out; something that would have blocked emergency services from accessing the scene.

In total, around 84 people, including Mercedes’ Levegh, lost their lives. Thereafter, Mercedes withdrew from motor racing until 1989. Hawthorn went ahead to win the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans but the incident remains the darkest moment of his career.