Aston death crash mars Le Mans
LE MANS DRIVER KILLED: Danish driver Allan Simonsen (front centre) takes the start in his Aston Martin for the the Le Mans 24 Hours. He died when he crashed into a safety barrier barely 10 minutes into the race. Image: AFP
Author: ALAN BALDWIN
LE MANS, France - Le Mans suffered its first race fatality in 27 years on Saturday when Danish driver Allan Simonsen crashed his Aston Martin only minutes into the 24 Hour sports-car classic at the La Sarthe circuit.
The death cast a pall over a race celebrating its 90th anniversary and its 81st running, but the team vowed to carry on in tribute to the 34-year-old and at the request of his family.
Jean Todt, president of the International Automobile Federation, and organisers expressed their "profound sadness" after the experienced Dane was pronounced dead at the circuit medical centre.
58-MINUTES OF PACE CAR
The most recent fatality connected with the race was Frenchman Sebastien Enjolras, killed during pre-qualifying in 1997, but the last driver to die during the race was Austrian Jo Gartner in 1986.
After the accident, the next 58 minutes were led by the PACE car as repairs were carried out to the barriers at Tertre Rouge until green flags signalled a return to racing on a glistening track dampened by showers.
Germany's Andre Lotterer had led at the time of the accident in the No.1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro diesel hybrid but his hopes of a third successive victory with team mates Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer suffered a major setback at the quarter distance.
A problem with the motor generator kept the car in the pits for 43 minutes while mechanics worked to fix it and it eventually returned to the track in 24th place and 12 laps behind.
The No.3 Audi also hit problems, dropping to fourth after limping back to the pits with a right rear puncture and then also requiring repairs in the garage.
While the No.1 car was stalled, the No.2 Audi took the lead with Denmark's eight-times winner Tom Kristensen at the wheel in the car he shares with Britain's Allan McNish and Frenchman Loic Duval.
At the seven-hour mark, Toyota was second and third - as the team was at the end of the first hour before leading briefly in the second.
Audi, winner at Le Mans for the past three years and 11 times in the last 13, had started in 1-2-3 formation after dominating Wednesday and Thursday qualifying with rivals Toyota in fourth and fifth.