“Le Mans 1955” is a beautiful and horrifying short animated film by Quentin Baillieux, depicting the worst disaster in motor sports history, Pierre Levegh’s crash during the 1955 24h du Mans. More than eighty people were killed and 180 were injured when Levegh’s car crashed into the grandstands. It has won several awards already and has been nominated for the 2020 Academy Awards.
The film is not 100% historically accurate, but mercifully, it barely touches on the crash itself. The dead are depicted with sheets over them, not the true horror of bodies torn apart and the horrific fire (see below the fold for newsreel footage). This is a human film about emotions and decency when faced of disaster. One important true point: it was John Fitch’s outrage that led Mercedes to withdraw from the race.
John Fitch’s story is a fascinating one. He was a World War II american bomber and fighter escort pilot, one of three americans to shoot down a Messerschmitt Me262 (the first jet airplane). He took up motorsports after the war and was fairly successful. But it was his post-racing career as an inventor that made the biggest impression, developing Fitch barriers (barrels of sand) and many other safety devices that have saved thousands of lives. He also found a way to improve fuel efficiency in gas-powered engines, reducing waste of gasoline and diesel.