On this day - June 11th

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Disaster at Le Mans

The 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France, on 11 June 1955, when a major crash caused large fragments of debris to fly into the crowd. Eighty-three spectators and French driver Pierre Bouillin, who raced under the name Pierre Levegh, were killed, and nearly 180 more sustained injuries in the most catastrophic accident in motorsport history, which led Mercedes-Benz to retire from motor racing until 1989.

The crash was initiated when Jaguar driver Mike Hawthorn cut in front of Austin-Healey driver Lance Macklin in an effort to reach his pit stop, forcing Macklin to swerve into the path of Levegh to avoid him. Levegh, who was passing on the left in his much faster Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, rear ended Macklin at high speed, overriding the slower car and launching his light magnesium-frame Mercedes through the air. Levegh struck a protective dirt berm at 125 mph, disintegrating and igniting his car, throwing him onto the track and killing him instantly, and sending large pieces of flaming debris including the engine block and hood cartwheeling over the berm and into the packed grandstand.

There was much debate over the apportioning of blame. The official inquiry held none of the drivers specifically responsible, and criticised the layout of the 30-year-old track, which had not been designed for cars of this speed.

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