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From the Marbles

Audi destroyed in horrific crash at Le Mans; second crash hours later

That, friends, is about as horrific as racing crashes get.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of motor racing's most prestigious events, got underway this morning and it didn't take long to reach its first major accident. Allan McNish, in his No. 3 Audi R18 TDI, collided with a slower Ferrari 458 Italia and rocketed into the outside wall.

When McNish reached the barrier, fortunately covered in tires, the Audi impacted violently, dug in and flipped high in the air — all while spewing debris, large and small, through a crowd of photographers, race marshals and nearby fans. Incredibly, McNish soon exited the destroyed Audi and walked under his own power to a safety vehicle. Additionally, the bystanders directly in the car's line of fire appeared to emerge — unbelievably — relatively unscathed.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, run in northern France, is the world's oldest sports car endurance race, having been run annually since 1923. Teams of at least three take turns driving, with the winning team being determined by which one completes the most laps in the 24-hour time period. 

McNish is a past winner at Le Mans, having won twice in his career and most recently in 2008. The Brit is also a two-time American Le Mans Series Champion. At the time of the incident, McNish was attempting to pass Anthony Beltoise in the Ferrari. Beltoise had just exited the pits. {ysp:more}

"I have absolutely no idea what happened. I was on my second lap after a pit stop. I didn't even see the Audi coming up behind me," a visibly irritated Beltoise said on pit lane, waiting for his car to be repaired.

Beltoise's Ferrari is in Le Mans' GT class, and as a result is much slower the McNish's Audi in the Le Mans Prototype class. For comparison, the Ferrari was nearly 35 seconds slower during qualifying around the 8.4-mile course.

The crash brought the safety car on course and the race remained under the yellow flag for 71 minutes while repairs were made to the tire barrier. The race has since restarted and is scheduled to finish Sunday morning, United States time.

 UPDATE: A second scary crash involving Audi and Ferrari happened after nightfall.

Mike Rockenfeller, driving an Audi, closed quickly on a Ferrari driven by Robb Kauffman, co-owner of NASCAR's Michael Waltrip Racing, and Kauffman's car clipped Rockenfeller as he hit the dirt to attempt the pass. Waltrip, the two-time Daytona 500 winner, and Kauffman were driving in the 24-hour race for the second year, and it was Kauffman's turn behind the wheel.

The initial contact sent Rockenfeller headfirst into the Armco barrier surrounding the straightaway. Unlike McNish's crash earlier, there were no tires to cushion the blow that Rockenfeller's Audi suffered. Because the impact was on the straight, the closing rate between the Audi Prototype and the Ferrari GT was at play. Rockenfeller was likely going over 170 mph when he and Kauffman touched and he hit the wall.

There were no other cars around the two, so to the naked eye it looked that Kauffman had plenty of room to move to the left to get out of Rockenfeller's way.

It was confirmed that Rockenfeller was able to climb from his car under his own power and reports said he is "OK" but he was transported to a local hospital after the crash.

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