Lance would swerve across the middle of the road while Levegh was quickly approaching. Levegh, his age not really mattering at all, had no time to react. Macklin's attempt to avoid Hawthorn would cause him to drift further over than anyone would have hoped, and at a time where Levegh would barely be able to notice him, let alone have the time to do anything about it. Macklin would suddenly appear just to Levegh's right-front. Levegh would make contact with the downward-swept backend of the Austin-Healey and would be launched into the air. Thus would begin the horror.
Levegh's car would strike the earthen barrier and would somersault further forward. At the same time, parts would break loose traveling through the record crowd like a horizontal guillotine. Wheels, axles, hoods, even the Mercedes' engine, would all barrel into the crowd. The damage to lives would be catastrophic. The scene would look as if during the days of World War II, the French citizen's bearing the brunt of the epic battle between the English and the Germans. Even more would be burned and would later perish when an unsuspecting marshal put water on the already burning magnesium body of the Mercedes. It would explode sending white hot balls of fire into the crowd. Sheer panic and chaos would break out on one side of the track. On the other, the side of the pits, there would be confusion and an inability to figure out what to do.
Instead of pitting, Hawthorn would carry on for one more lap before finally coming into the pits. When he emerged from his car it was very clear that he knew full well what had happened, although he hadn't seen everything. He was broken, with tears streaming down his face. At the same time, the race would go on and Ivor Bueb would have to get into his car and drive. He had no conviction to do so, but would end up doing so anyway.
The race would go on while more than 80 spectators would lay dead and more than a 100 more would be severely injured. The race would continue, officially, due to the organizers not wanted 300,000 people trying to leave at the same time when there were scores of dead and injured that obviously needed to be rushed to the nearby hospital.
Even hours afterward, the race would go on. Rain would begin falling on the circuit and Hawthorn and Fangio would still be battling it out. Hour after hour, Jaguar and Mercedes would continue to race while their team management decided what should be done. Levegh's car still smoked and smoldered along the wall.
Eventually, after eight hours of racing, Mercedes, at the behest of John Fitch, would withdraw from the race. Fitch was Levegh's co-driver and had actually been speaking with Levegh's wife at the time of the accident. Fitch would approach the team management a couple of times and would make it very clear he believed the team should withdraw. Being a German team involved in the worst motor racing accident on French soil, it was clear what the team needed to do. Mercedes, with Moss at the wheel at the time was in the lead, two laps ahead of the car of Hawthorn and Bueb.
Mercedes would invite Jaguar to do the same, but yet another controversial decision would be made. Lofty England would not withdraw. Hawthorn and Bueb would be in the lead of the race and would carry on hour after hour in the lead. This decision would only add fuel to the fire of controversy that was now brilliantly burning in the horrible aftermath. And nearly at the center of it all would be Hawthorn.
Mercedes' withdrawal from the race meant the only real challenge left to Jaguar would be from Ferrari. However, in the early morning hours that threat would come to an end entirely. And coming into the final couple of hours of the race, Hawthorn and Bueb still held onto the lead over the Aston Martin driven by Peter Collins and Paul Frere. Ecurie Francorchamps, with its own 3.4-liter D-Type Jaguar would by lying in 3rd.
In the final few minutes of the race, Hawthorn would be cruising at the head of the field. Many of the spectators located at other parts of the circuit still had no idea of the tragedy that had taken place the day before. The only hint of there being anything wrong would come when Mercedes decided to pull out early in the morning. And as Hawthorn rolled across the line to take the overall victory it would seem very clear that Hawthorn, too, had either forgotten or blocked the memory of it all out of his mind. Big smiles and grins would beam from his face as he hoisted the champagne and sipped, savoring the victory. This would be yet another coal heaped onto the already white hot flame of controversy.
The day before, in the midst of his titanic battle with the German car driven by Fangio many of the French would be pleased at the sight remembering all too well the days of German occupation during World War II. But the following day, after the devastating accident, of which Hawthorn would be one of the major players in the catastrophe, the mood would be entirely different. While this principal player in the tragedy would be sipping the champagne many of the French newspapers would boast of some very nasty headlines aimed at the controversial Brit. One in particular would read very simply, 'Cheers Mr. Hawthorn, Cheers'.
While nothing could compare with the sheer vastness of the devastation to human lives, the aftermath of the accident would be just as tragic. Blame, finger pointing, accusations and immature behavior would all seem to rule the events following the accident.
There would be many witnesses that would note Hawthorn's reaction and words immediately after stepping out of the car one lap after the accident. With tears streaming down his face he would let many others, including Rob Walker and Lance Macklin know that he had made a mistake. But despite the fact this story would change later, something that would forever embitter Macklin, Hawthorn, and the rest of the drivers, would be released from all guilt when evidence from an amateur film showed just how quickly events transpired.
And while many would want to make Hawthorn public enemy number one in the incident, especially when reminded of the scenes of him smiling and jovial after taking the victory, many would be unfamiliar with just how depressed he would be remembering the event afterwards.
Nevertheless, the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans would be remembered as the most horrific motor race in history. Instead of being a titanic battle between two powerful manufacturers, the race would be forever remembered, and rightly so, for the vast number of deaths and injured that resulted from racing on a circuit no longer capable of dealing with the speeds more modern cars were able to achieve. Therefore, the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans would bring about the slow evolution in safety in motor racing. Many races would be cancelled. And in Switzerland, motor racing would be banned altogether.
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