Motorsport enthusiast Peter Brazier gives his view of the tragic running of the 90th Le Mans race, as viewed from trackside.
The running of the historic Le Mans 24 hour race promised to be a nip and tuck battle between the Audi R18 e-tron quattros and the Toyota TS030 Hybrids. Testing and practice for the race had proved the Audis speed was superior, however their fuel consumption was greater and there was a chance that the Toyotas would be able to do extra laps between pit-stops to make it a close race.
Sadly this was all put on hold when, on only the third lap, the Aston Martin of the Danish driver Allan Simonsen hit the barriers on the exit of the Terte Rouge corner.
The driver was taken to the trackside medical centre but succumbed to his injuries.
This brought out the Safety Car for the first time and the remaining cars circulated for more that half an hour until the barriers were repaired.
From the re-start the three Audis and the two Toyotas were swapping positions, but it soon became apparent that the Audis had the upper hand.
The very changeable weather conditions, however, spoilt Toyotas strategy and all did not go to plan.
Audi too had their problems and by Saturday night two of the R18s had encountered serious problems and were not now in contention for the lead.
Toyota had hoped to use their fuel economy advantage to do the extra laps between stops but once again the combination of weather and crashes neutralized their advantage.
Throughout the race there were eleven Safety Car periods, each continuing for some time whilst the Armco was replaced. A total of over five and a half hours of racing were lost.
The leading Toyota, driven by Hemel Hempstead’s Anthony Davidson with Swiss team-mate Sebastien Buemi and Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin, had what was described by their technical director as “the perfect race” to finish second. Unfortunately for them, apart from one puncture, so did the Audi of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval.
The second Toyota was chasing hard for third place until the 23rd hour when the driver Lapierre, finding the track wet, went into the gravel at the Porsche Curves and was delayed for six laps whilst the car was repaired.
This allowed the Audi No 3 on to the podium driven by Englishman Oliver Jarvis with team-mates Lucas di Grassi and Marc Gene.
The podium ceremony was very subdued with none of the usual champagne spraying exuberance.
Tom Kristensen, who had lost his father earlier in the year, was going to dedicate the race to him but instead, in a tearful moment dedicated the win to fellow Dane, Simonsen who had lost his life early in the race.
The Aston Martin team, who were urged not to withdraw from the race by Simonsen’s family, held the Danish flag on the podium for their third place in GTE Pro class in honour of their collegue.
This is the first fatality at Le Mans for 27 years and, with the safety improvements seen at other circuits around the world, the questions must be asked about the rigidity of these metal barriers.
We know motor racing is dangerous but the safety of the drivers who give us such excitement and entertainment must be paramount.