Braking for the Esses

Mercedes, Le Mans

Two Mercedes-Benz 300SLRs on the descent from Dunlop Bridge toward the Esses at Le Mans on the afternoon of June 11, 1955 in front of a huge crowd of spectators. The two Mercedes have their air brakes up to assist their braking with portholes cut in the raised bodywork for better rearward vision at the demand of the Le Mans scrutineers. The first 300SLR is being driven by Pierre “Levegh” (whose real name was Pierre Bouillin) and followed by Karl Kling in the second car. Neither of these Mercedes were in the leading group and would be lapped in the second hour of racing. Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, driving the leading 300SLR which was competing in an early race “grand prix” with Mike Hawthorn’s Jaguar D-Type and Eugenio Castellotti’s Ferrari 121LM, had discovered that the air brake if left only partially lowered on corner entry resulted in an aerodynamic downforce benefit. This gave the Mercedes a distinct advantage.

It was not long after this photograph was taken that Kling overtook Levegh and began to pull away from his teammate. Levegh, along with Mike Hawthorn who had recently lapped him, were then left to become two unfortunate participants in the greatest tragedy in the history of motor racing.

Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection –






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