Danish driver Allan Simonsen died following a crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Saturday in the first driver fatality at the high-speed endurance event since 1997.
Simonsen, a leading GT driver, had qualified on pole in his class, the GTE Am category of race-prepared road cars, and was a favourite to finish strongly in La Sarthe. After nine minutes of racing and on the fourth lap, his No95 Aston Martin came off at high speed at the Tertre Rouge corner.
The car spun at high speed and skidded into the barrier at the Tertre Rouge corner where speeds reach up to 105 mph.
The violence of the impact showed as a tire from Simonsen’s car rolled on the track while a door hung open, reports the Fox News.
The race was stopped for an hour to repair the safety barrier.
Le Mans organisers The Automobile Club de l’Ouest issued a statement reporting that emergency services were immediately at the scene to attend the stricken driver.
It continued: “In a serious condition, Allan Simonsen was transferred immediately to the Circuit Medical Centre where he died soon after due to his injuries.
“The Automobile Club de l’Ouest wishes to express its great sadness following this incident, and extends its deepest condolences to the family and those close to Allan Simonsen.”
Simonsen died at the hospital soon after arrival “due to his injuries,” organizers said.
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing’s managing director described the incident as a “terrible tragedy”. No further statements were expected while the accident is under investigation and the cars continued to race on despite the tragic circumstances.
“Tragically, and despite the best efforts of the emergency services in attendance, Allan’s injuries proved fatal,” Aston Martin Racing said in a statement on its website.
Simonsen was the first driver to die during the race since Austrian Josef Gartner, driving a Porsche, in 1986, and the 23rd overall, including fatalities in qualifying for the race.
Simonsen’s last win came in April at Silverstone where he won the GT-AM class in the Aston Martin with Poulsen and Nygaard.
Simonsen had taken part in seven Le Mans 24 Hour races, with a best finish of second in class in 2010. Racing since 1999, he won the Danish Formula Ford Championship, the Australian GT championship and the Asian Le Mans Series.
He shared his car for Le Mans with fellow Danes Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen in the class that mixes pro and amateur drivers over the 24 hours, with Simonsen the top professional in this strong driver squad, writes the Giardian.
Jean Todt, the FIA president, and Pierre Fillon, president of Le Mans organizer the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, paid tribute to Simonsen.
“Allan was an extremely talented and experienced sports car driver who had raced in every corner of the world and was highly respected by his peers and his team,” they said in a joint statement.
“For many in endurance racing, Allan was above all a good friend who displayed his passion for racing on and off the track. His loss will be felt by the FIA, the ACO and the greater motorsport family.”