Thursday, June 27, 2013

What Price Glory?

The title of this post does not refer to the stage play, or multiple motion pictures by the same name, which are war related dramas, but rather to a horrendous event of the 2013, 24 Hours of Le Mans. Maybe that does make it war related.

The Le Mans race this year was held under difficult conditions, mainly resulting from repeated bouts of rain that caused poor and mixed surface conditions on the track.

An experienced Danish driver, Allan Simonsen, who drove an Aston Martin in the race, was killed on his fourth lap. I confess that when I came across a video of the accident, I looked at it. I wanted to know what had happened, and why. Thankfully, the crash itself is not visible in the brief video, but some of the driving and conditions preceding it are seen. As you might expect, scrutiny of this event appeared on the Web. Here I quote one person's comment about the video. It appeared on a popular Porsche discussion forum.

"It had been raining.    

"Car looked squirrley before he overcorrected.

"This has turned into a 24 hour sprint race. The teams are driving on the edge the whole time. There was a decent amount of rain and most teams stayed out on slicks anyway to avoid the stop their competitors weren't taking."

To these comments, I responded, "The above sums it up for me. At some point when drivers' lives are devalued in the interest of winning, it's no longer a sport, and no longer interesting."

Oddly, after only 12 posts on the subject of Simonsen's loss, mine was the last and nobody else offered any thoughts. Naturally, this sad event was mentioned in the press (of course, it was sensational) and in remarks made by team bosses and the like. They pointed out that no one has been killed in the race for 27 years. That doesn't make it OK. Somebody remarked, "Bummer . . ." Really?

Today's cars are dramatically more reliable and capable than those of 27 years ago, so keeping a winning advantage often comes down to pit-stop numbers, and the length thereof - almost more than the differences between the various marques of car. Yes, in the midst of this, Porsche is celebrated for its stellar performance, yet again, as it won both the GTE-Pro, and GTE-Am classes, and it deserves congratulations. Not everyone has the history and engineering resources of Porsche.

Nevertheless, does a driver today become a consumable commodity, like tires and brake pads? Do 24 hour sprint races that jeopardize a driver's earthly existence have a place in auto sport? Simonsen was violently killed - because it would have taken too long, in a 24 hour race, to switch to appropriate tires? If so, this is obscene, and can't be tossed off as 'too bad' because it is a risky sport and this happens now and then.

I know I'm preaching about this, but I think people have an obligation to do so. And it's true that the complete cause(s) of the accident are not yet known with certainty; various wet surfaces with different slipperinesses are cited, etc. To me it doesn't matter if subtle additional influences are discovered to have contributed to the crash, because at the root of it they were just pushing too hard. A team can push as forcefully as it can imagine, but not to the point of insanity. A cover-up would not surprise me.

In our enlightened culture today a person can look at Web videos and TV programs that feature 'fails'. Often this means that a person gets hurt, or even killed, and this is viewed as entertainment. No wonder drivers are expendable; this is no better than gladiators fighting to their deaths in ancient Rome.     


nineelevenophilia said...

I also was mistified by the accident and searched for an explanation in video clips.
It seems that tires are not the main cause, but the fact that wheels were on different surfaces thus causing the drift.
Worrying, is that the rail was too close to a big tree (and there are more like that on the track), thus stopping it to deform and absorb the impact. That's a serious safety glitch from the organization.

J911 said...

Thank you for your comments.

I have read a number of analyses of the incident, and what you mention makes good sense. Of course there are a number of factors that are still unknown, so I will keep monitoring the situation as best I can.

Your remarks are appreciated.