Yesterday was the start of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and like I’ve done every year since Speed channel started broadcasting the race here in the States, I stayed awake all night to watch it. It’s normally an exciting event. I’ll cook pork tenderloin in my crock pot just before I go to bed late Friday night so I can serve pulled pork sandwiches for lunch later in the day. Sometimes I’ll have friends visit and watch part of the race, but most of the time I’ll burn up Twitter during the event.
Normally it’s good, solitary fun but this year it wasn’t. For the first time since Jo Gartner lost his life in the 1986 race, we had to deal with death. Allan Simonsen, a driver with the Aston Martin team that regularly competes against Corvette Racing in the GT division at Le Mans, lost his life after a massive accident during the first ten to fifteen minutes of the race.
Early reports on Twitter stated Simonsen was conscious and speaking with rescue crews, but deep down I knew something was amiss. As you can tell from the above screen capture, the roof on Simonsen’s Aston Martin was askew. Which means two things: the driver’s side made a huge impact with the ARMCO barriers on the side of the track, and the frame of the race car was either bent or broken.
Within an hour, we then heard reports that Aston Martin team officials visited Simonsen in the care center and would not disclose whether or not he was conscious. It did not help matters when Speed HD showed images of the destroyed #95 Aston Martin entering the pits on a flatbed – with a blue tarp covering it.
During the third hour of the event, French newspapers ran with the story of Simonsen’s passing but it wasn’t until an hour later when Speed announced it to viewers State side.
I feel this death, like Jason Leffler’s last week (no side head rests) in New Jersey, was preventable. What I found distressing in Simonsen’s case were the trees located behind the ARMCO barriers at that corner. One of them had a large portion of bark missing due to the impact. Why were those trees so close to that corner? Couldn’t they be relocated or removed?
I was also unimpressed with the ARMCO used in this year’s race. It broke so many times during the event I openly wondered if the track was using the same barriers that were used when Steve McQueen filmed his iconic movie during the 1970 race.
There are instances when we can’t do anything to make motor racing safer (Gartner went airborne and hit a telephone pole and several trees in mid-air at approximately 180mph), but there are instances when we can do more to save lives, such as in this case with Simonsen. If those trees weren’t so close to the barriers, he likely would have walked away from this wreck.
Motor racing is always going to be a risky business, but we owe it to today’s and tomorrow’s drivers to give them the best chance to walk away from an accident.