Thursday, August 19, 2010

Le Mans 1955: The Moment of Impact

This photo was taken moments after Pierre Levegh's Mercedes flew into the grandstand on June 11, 1955. The hood flew off, decapitating the first row of spectators. The engine parts followed like a spray of shrapnel. Most accounts give the death toll at eighty, though I don't think that was ever confirmed. Another unresolved question: Was Wolfgang von Trips originally scheduled to drive? Did the Mercedes race director Alfred Neubauer switch von Trips for Levegh? If so, why?


  1. I had always read that Levegh - who also had prior Le Mans experience - was chosen because of political reasons. Obviously a German team formerly associated with the Nazi government returning to France 10 years after the war wanted to smooth things over with the locals.

  2. I that that is absolutely true. Alfred Neubauer, head of the Mercedes team, saw a PR opportunity in hiring Levegh for Le Mans. But several people expressed concerns about his ability, at age 49, to handle the increased speed and power of the new cars.

  3. They chose Levegh because in '52 he raced at Le Mans for more than 23 hours non-stop, and only lost the race because he missed a gear and the engine blew.

    At least that's what I know.