Speed is just one quality you’ll need if you hope to win an endurance race, especially one as challenging as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Among the other things you’ll need are stamina, focus, consistency and a good amount of luck. This year’s race made that point doubly clear, as two of the front-running cars were taken out in two separate, unbelievably destructive crashes.
The first video shows the number three Audi R18 TDI of Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello and Allan McNish involved in a huge crash just four laps into the race. McNish had the first stint and was at the wheel of the Audi when it made contact with the number 58 Ferrari 458 Italia of Luxury Racing, reportedly after it reentered the track from the pit lane. As you can see in the video, the R18 loses control and slides off the track near the Dunlop Bridge, flying backwards into a tire wall. What we see next is an unexpected show of destruction, as the R18’s bodywork is obliterated and showers spectators and photographers with carbon-fiber shrapnel. For a moment, it looks as if the car itself is going to go over the barrier and into the crowd. But thankfully, what’s left of the number three chassis comes to rest in the runoff. If you look closely, just after the moment of impact you can see one very lucky photographer escape what would surely be severe injury, as one of the R18’s wheels bounces off the catch fence, flies behind his head and finally hits the tire wall. Fortunately, everyone lived through the incident to thank their lucky stars that night. Two-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish was pulled from the wreckage, and is seen walking immediately following the crash. He was later driven to a hospital to get checked out, but dismissed afterward.
Audi’s misfortune didn’t end there though, as last year’s winners — Audi’s “B” squad — Romaine Dumas, Mike Rockenfeller and Timo Bernhard also crashed out in the number one R18. Eight hours into the race, just after nightfall, the number one Audi crashed after making contact with another car while attempting to pass. In the video, you can see Mike Rockenfeller signaling to pass a slower GTE-Am-class car, then speeding up to overtake. The driver of the GT car, which coincidentally also happened to be a Ferrari 458 Italia, failed to yield to the faster LMP1-class racer and collided as it made the pass. As nasty as the first Audi crash was, this one is purported to be even worse. However, since it happened at night, video footage of the incident isn’t too clear. From the onboard camera, you can see that the R18 lost control once it made contact with the Ferrari, sending it head-on into a guard rail. From stationary cameras around the course, you can see the debris from the wreck littering the track. The pace car was called out as the crash site was cleaned up, leaving the track under full-course caution for two hours. Rockenfeller was able to walk away from his crash as well, but needed to stay overnight at the hospital for observation. He has since been discharged.
This year’s race was full of surprises. All of Peugeot’s prototypes survived — as opposed to last year, when all three succumbed to mechanical failures — but didn’t have the speed to catch Audi’s single remaining R18 driven by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, last year’s second-place finishers. While Audi once again took home the overall win, the victory came with its fair share of trials. It just goes to show you that any number of things can happen at Le Mans, and even if you’re the favorite to win, the trophy is never just handed to you.