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24 Hours Of Le Mans 1955

Race

Lap 35 of the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hour, two and a half hours in.  Mike Hawthorn had just passed Lance Macklin's Austin-Healey on the curve leading to the pit straight.  Macklin directly behind, was accelerating onto the straight when Hawthorn quickly and unexpectedly slowed to pull into the pits on the right.  Lacking the stopping power of the Jaguar's advanced disc brakes, Macklin lost control while trying to avoid running up on Hawthorn.  The car swerved to the left and into the path of Pierre Levegh's Mercedes-Benz 300SLR.

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Lap 35 of the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hour, two and a half hours in.  Mike Hawthorn had just passed Lance Macklin's Austin-Healey on the curve leading to the pit straight.  Macklin directly behind, was accelerating onto the straight when Hawthorn quickly and unexpectedly slowed to pull into the pits on the right.  Lacking the stopping power of the Jaguar's advanced disc brakes, Macklin lost control while trying to avoid running up on Hawthorn.  The car swerved to the left and into the path of Pierre Levegh's Mercedes-Benz 300SLR.

Levegh launched off the sloped rear of Macklin's car and skipped across the earthen embankment and into the grandstands directly across from the pits, spewing parts in every direction.  The car was engulfed in flames and spit molten metal as fireman sprayed water onto the burning magnesium panels and components.

Eighty-four spectators plus Levegh were killed and some 120 injured.  It is considered the most horrific accident in motorsports history and had lingering effects.  Switzerland implemented a ban on auto racing that continues today.  American auto makers pulled official support of all racing in the USA.  The MG, Bristol and Mercedes-Benz race teams disbanded.

During the course of the accident, Juan Manuel Fangio was able to slip past Hawthorn into the lead and had a seemingly insurmountable advantage as the race continued to progress.  Eight hours later, Mercedes-Benz called their drivers in and announced that they were pulling out of the race out of respect for the dead.  They asked Jaguar to do the same but were refused. 

Hawthorn won the race, the only Le Mans victory of his career.  He became the UK's first Formula 1 champion in 1958 and announced his retirement.  He died in a road accident six months later.

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