First run in 1923, this morning began the 88th year of the 24 hour endurance race called the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The race will end tomorrow morning, Sunday.
Le Mans is a city in France. The sports car race that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe, a combination of public roads and purpose built race track. The Wikipedia link will tell you all about the race.
Today there were two terrible accidents, one in daytime, only 50 minutes after the start, and the second this evening after dark. Both involved Audis. In the first, the car flew through the air, struck a wall and broke into pieces. Both drivers walked away. This leaves the Audi team with only one car left in the race.
Ernest Hemingway is quoted as having said, "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games." I suppose because in all three of them death is sometimes a result of the sport itself.
Last week, during qualifying for the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, a new young driver crashed into a tire wall and was badly concussed. He is all right, but he tried to drive practice yesterday for the Canadian Grand Prix and determined he's still not in good enough shape to withstand the g forces that stress drivers of Formula 1 race cars. In 2009 Felipe Massa, driving for Scuderia Ferrari, was struck in the helmet during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix by a suspension spring that had come off Rubens Barrichello's Braun. Massa crashed into the tire barrier and was life-threateningly injured. I was watching on television. It was terrifying.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Formula 1 Grand Prix series are road races. There are other road race series, run on closed tracks with chicanes, uphills, hairpin turns and esses. This is not oval track racing, which is altogether another animal and a sport in its own right. And I was watching the 2001 Daytona 500 as Dale Earnhardt drove into the wall on the last lap and died.
But road racing is what I love. I love the tracks; I love watching the really great drivers, like Lewis Hamilton, make their cars look like they're dancing. I dread the crashes. And I love the sport. There's nothing like a really masterfully performed pass on a curve.
I hope I never am watching again when someone dies driving really fast around a road course because they love to drive that way and do it publicly so I can enjoy the beauty and the thrill vicariously.