LEH MANS Disaster
The 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race in Le Mans, France in June 1955, when a crash caused large fragments of debris to fly into the crowd. Eighty-three spectators and driver Pierre Levegh died and 120 more were injured in the most catastrophic accident in motorsport history.
There was much debate over the apportioning of blame. To reach his pit-stop, Mike Hawthorn had to cut in front of Lance Macklin, causing Macklin to swerve into the path of Levegh in his much faster Mercedes. The collision propelled Levegh’s car upwards and into a concrete stairwell, where he was killed, and the wreck exploded in flames.
The inquiry held none of the drivers responsible, and blamed the layout of the 30-year old track, which had not been designed for cars of this speed.
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 Levegh’s co-driver, John Fitch.Mindful of sensitivities involving German cars in a French race just 10 years after the end of World War II, the board decided to pull out from the race as a sign of respect to the victims. Eight hours after the accident, while leading the race (and two laps ahead of the Jaguar team), 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.