The Ignored Warning

19 January 2023

On June 11, 1955, a racing car in Le Mans, France, went out of control and crashed into stands filled with spectators, killing 82 people and injuring 180.

Mike Hawthorn driving a Jaguar, directed his car to the right of the track to enter the pits; Lance Macklin driving an Austin Healey, swerved to avoid Mike Hawthorn and ran into a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR travelling at about 150mph being driven by Pierre Levegh.

Levegh’s car spun out of control into the spectator’s stand.

Observantly, before the race, Pierre Levegh complained that the track was too narrow near the pits and grandstand.

Following the disaster, the race continued; Mike Hawthorn won, and Mercedes withdrew their team.

Germany and Switzerland cancelled all Grand Prix scheduled for later that year. Both Spain and Mexico temporarily banned motor racing following the tragedy.

The first Le Mans race was held in May 1923 and has been held ever since in June; the race has been cancelled only ten times, in 1936, during a labour strike during the time of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

During World War Two, the RAF and then the Luftwaffe used the airfield by the circuit’s pits, with the 5km Mulsanne Straight also used as a temporary airstrip. That made it a target for bombing, and it wasn’t until four years after the war ended that it was ready for racing again.

Twenty-two drivers have died while competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, half of which occurred at the Mulsanne Straight.