• Jun 14th 2010 at 2:32PM
  • 15
1955 Le Mans crash featured in a BBC documentary – Click above to watch the video

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a much, much faster and much, much safer race today than it was back when it created the reputations of legends. In fact, the 1955 running was the single deadliest event in motorsports history. In a debacle near the pit straight that involved a backmarker, a swerving Jaguar braking for the pits, and two speeding Mercedes-Benz racers, it was Pierre Levegh's car that was launched into the crowd. It disintegrated as it flew on to catch fire, killing the driver and 77 onlookers, as well as injuring another 120.

Since then, the issue of safer racing was put on the boil, with Levegh's own co-driver for the 1955 race, John Fitch, inventing the Fitch Barrier. Fast forward 55 years and there hasn't been a fatality at Le Mans since 1997, when Sebastian Enjolras died during practice. There have been no racing deaths at Le Mans since 1986, even though three Mercedes sports cars flipped at high speed in one weekend in 1999.

A BBC documentary called "Deadliest Crash" takes a look at the accident that helped bring about new rules and new safety. Thankfully, it's an event we can still leave in the long ago past – every driver in this past weekend's race made it to the finish unscathed. Can't say the same about a bunch of the cars, though. Follow the jump for a teaser vid of "Deadliest Crash," complete with truly unnerving period footage.

[Sources: AOL Autos, BBC]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Mark Webber sure is one lucky bastard.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Franz -- Mark Webber was driving the Mercedes-Benz CLR that flipped twice that weekend in 1999.
        • 5 Years Ago
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thanks. I've seen the videos countless times, & watched live as Dumbreck took flight in the second car but I honestly didn't remember that Webber was driving the first one. I didn't even remember he used to drive sportscars before F1.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well this all depends on your definiton of "fast". Today's cars can put in remarkable lap times BUT and it's a big BUT they get these speeds by quicker cornering speeds while absolute speeds on the long long straights are way down on those unsafe decades.

      Going way back to the days of that terrrible 1950s crash while cars were slower they were really hugely unsafe. More volatile fuels were used, tire technology was way lower than today (obviously) so tires often destroyed themselves unexpectedly and aerodynamic technology was not properly undertood so cars were moving around enormously at speed. read barely under control.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The music was very Indiana Jones-esque...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Holy hell, 77 people killed with ONE car in ONE accident? That is crazy!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, they don't even know officially. It's listed as "over 80" and many say it could be near 100. Dozens were torn to bits by the engine's 1/4 mile path through the crowd and the body was made of flammable magnesium, burning scores.

        Back then, the poor rural families from that area simply carried their dead and fatally injured family members away from the scene of accidents. There were no emergency medical services, ambulances or official services at all!

      • 5 Years Ago
      Ugh, I expect to see it on the internet, but from the BBC?

      Guys! It's not "90's", it's "90s". It's a plural, not a possessive - the number 90 does not own anything, it is saying there is more than one year in the decade between 1990 and 2000.

      Obligatory BTAF link: http://www.angryflower.com/bobsqu.gif

      Anyway, it's great to see how dramatically fatalities have reduced. It's sort of a crazy thing to race at those insane paces for an entire 24 hours straight. There are a million things that can go wrong and it's quite the achievement just to make it through the race, to heck with winning it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, it's '90s. But back to our show....
      • 5 Years Ago
      Given the lower deathtoll and very low fatalities in the 2000s does this mean cars are safe enough so we can stop putting more safety features on newer cars that are just too costly to validate their expense?

      • 5 Years Ago
      I think it is pretty terrible that they didn't close down the remainder of that race after over 85 spectators had been vanquished.

      But perhaps the French were used to being the recipients of death and destruction at the hands of German machinery during this period?
        • 5 Years Ago
        The logic was if they ended the race everyone would leave the track and the streets around Le Mans would become gridlocked, making it impossible to get ambulances in and out.

        Fairly sound reasoning and it probably saved a few lives, even if it does seem like a pretty insensitive thing to do
      • 5 Years Ago
      Pierre Bouillin wasn't in the top echelon of drivers of his day,
      as can be seen in this excellent summation of his abilities
      and a further look, in photos, of the 1955 tragedy: http://www.24heuresdumans.co.uk/content.php/340
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