Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Worst Crash In Racing" Kills Pierre Levegh & 83 Spectators - June 11, 1955

December 22, 1905 - June 11, 1955
Pierre Levegh
Born in Paris, France.
Born Pierre Eugène Alfred Bouillin, he took the racing name Pierre Levegh in memory of his uncle, a pioneering driver who died in 1904. Levegh was also a world-class ice hockey and tennis player. In motorsport he competed in Formula One for the Talbot-Lago team in 1950 and 1951, starting six races, retiring in three, and scoring no points. Levegh is mainly remembered for a disaster that killed him and 83 spectators during the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In 1955 he was tempted away from Talbot and joined the American John Fitch in racing a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. During the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in the third hour of racing, while on the Tribunes Straight, the car of Mike Hawthorn cut into the pits, slowing in front of the Austin-Healey of Lance Macklin. Macklin was forced to make an evasive move away from Hawthorn, pulling across the track into the path of Levegh's faster Mercedes, which was driving just in front of Mercedes teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. Running up the side of Macklin's car, Levegh's car launched into the air, striking high on a retaining wall, disintegrating and scattering components into the crowd. Levegh was killed when he was thrown from the car and his skull crushed by the impact. The flammable magnesium body of the Mercedes quickly ignited in the accident; the combination of the fire and flying car parts killed 83 spectators with over 100 injured. The race was continued in order to prevent the spectators from leaving, which would have blocked all access roads and the ambulances.

Though Levegh was unable to save himself, he may have saved the life of five-time Formula One world champion Fangio, who maintained that a hand-signal from Levegh to slow down, a moment before he struck Macklin's car.

While Mercedes withdrew from the race as a sign of respect to the victims and later from motor racing in general for the next 30 years, Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb continued in their Jaguar to win the race. The accident was a major contributor to changing attitudes about the acceptance of danger in motor racing and an increase in the desire to make courses safer for spectators and drivers alike. The small British firm of Bristol Cars, whose entrants achieved a 1–2–3 finish in the 2-litre class at Le Mans that year, decided to abandon racing altogether as a result of the tragedy, scrapping all but one of their racing cars. Fitch became a safety advocate and began research into automotive safety, some of which have advanced into motorsport.

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