Fifty-nine years ago, the 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race started like any other. It ended with the usual champagne, as well. In the middle as many as 130 died in the most horrific disaster in motorsports history. [Warning: graphic content]
The deadliest crash ever in motor sports history happened in Le Mans, France, on June 12, 1955.
The Le Mans endurance race is organized by France’s Automobile Club de L’Ouest and has been held almost every June since 1923.
Hours after flame and flying metal erupted, few of the spectators at Le Mans, France knew what had happened. It was days before drivers’ stories and these pictures could reconstruct the worst accident in racing history. Some 250,000 spectators had gathered for Europe’s classic sports car race, the 24-hour test around an 8.38-mile course. Concerned about a course laid out years ago for slower cars, Mercedes Driver Pierre Levegh complained, “We need a signal system. Our cars go too fast.”
Sixty years ago on Thursday fell motor racing’s blackest moment, when 82 people died at Le Mans, most of them decapitated while enjoying sport on a warm, soft day in northern France.
Tens of thousands of Britons were among the 300,000 crowd that came to watch the famous 24-hour race. But the unfortunate ones – the injured and the dead – were carried away on advertising hoardings that turned into makeshift stretchers, after Frenchman Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes ricocheted into the pit-lane grandstand.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the world’s most prestigious motor races. Established in 1923, it challenges both man and machine to compete at the very edge of their ability. In 1955, that challenge led to catastrophe.