The Le Mans tragedy: the worst disaster in motorsports history, with Juan Manuel Fangio

The Le Mans tragedy: the worst disaster in motorsports history, with Juan Manuel Fangio

That afternoon in 1955 in France, 84 people died, among them Mercedes Benz driver Pierre Levegh.

On June 11, 1955, France hosted a new race at the legendary Le Mans circuit, but no one expected that 83 people would die that afternoon. In the world’s most important endurance competition, with Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio miraculously saved, The biggest tragedy in the history of motorsports has happened.

In the race there were two clear favorites: the Englishman Mike Hawthorn, a Jaguar driver, and Juan Manuel Fangio, the 44-year-old Argentine who drove a Mercedes Benz. In the stands there are more than 300 thousand people who come to see the show that takes place every year in the French city. Both candidates met the expectations imposed in advance and in the first 35 laps they exchanged the first position between them, in addition to taking a full lap from the other competitors.

Hawthorn himself initiated the maneuvers that ended in tragedy. After overtaking his compatriot Lance Macklin, he decided to brake suddenly to enter the pits, surprising his pursuers. Macklin was rear-ended by the Jaguar which braked suddenly, but as he swerved to the left to avoid a collision he went round Pierre Levegh.

The French driver had no time to react, and his Mercedes Benz used the Englishman’s Austin as a ramp to catapult into the stands. Although he was unable to avoid the movement that resulted in his own death and that of 83 other people, before collapsing he raised his hand to Fangio, who was behind him, to indicate that something was happening. It was the warning of one of the victims of the French afternoon that saved the other from Balcarce from being involved in the accident.

Pierre Levegh
Pierre Levegh in his Mercedes Benz at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans (Getty Images).

The flight of the Mercedes, with many pieces of magnesium alloy – a highly flammable mixture of compounds – caused the death of 83 spectators. Moreover, the fires that broke out were fed by the water thrown by the firefighters, which made the work of putting out the fire difficult. Despite the disaster that occurred, the race continued on its normal course and Hawthorn ended up victorious.

In a completely incomprehensible decision, although Levegh’s body was left inside the track, the organization did not suspend the event and decided it was best to finish what it started. In response to people’s questions, they chose to excuse themselves on the grounds that “the suspension of the race will make it difficult to evacuate the injured, due to possible encroachment on emergency routes.”

Lance Macklin Austin
This is what Lance Macklin’s Austin looked like after the accident (Getty Images).

Source: Tycsports

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