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Saturday, June 12, 1999 Published at 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK


Brundle crashes out at Le Mans

Mercedes were unwilling to chance another frightening crash

Briton Martin Brundle's hopes in the Le Mans 24-hour sportscar race crashed to a halt on Sunday morning, leaving the field open for the BMW team.

Brundle's Toyota, which had held the lead for two hours, collided with a chicane as hydraulic trouble began to take its toll.

Soon after Toyota's second car, driven by Belgian Thierry Boutsen, left the track in the Dunlop chicane, ending up in a sand pit.

Rescue teams took half an hour to get Boutsen out from the cockpit and take him to hospital. He was complaining of back pains and was also feared to have broken a collar-bone.

To make matters worse for Toyota, their third team - the all-Japanese crew of Uko Katayama which had been in fourth place - had a long pit stop for checks, raising fears that it might not finish the gruelling course.

At the halfway stage the BMWs of Kristensen and Joachim Winkelhock were still first and second, with the Audi of Emanuelle Pirro lying third.

Mercedes in trouble

Earlier Mercedes pulled its only remaining entry from the race after Britain's Peter Dumbreck somersaulted off the track in a spectacular crash.

The crash occurred as Dumbreck was entering the Mulsanne straight, the fastest part of the 13.8km Sarthe course, with rivals BMW leading the race.

The silver Mercedes suddenly became airborne and rocketed high into the air, somersaulting five times before crashing into the trees on the other side of the safety barrier. Almost miraculously, the driver escaped unscathed.

It was the second such incident of the day involving the German team. During the morning warmup, young Australian Mark Webber had a similar crash when his Mercedes flipped and landed on its roof before skidding to a halt.

Webber had also crashed heavily in Thursday's qualifying session.

In both incidents the drivers were fortunate to escape serious injury. Mercedes, who last won the race in 1989, decided not to take any chances with the one remaining entry and withdrew from the race.

Dumbreck, racing for the first time at Le Mans, was taken away from the crash in an ambulance and later examined at the trackside hospital.

Mercedes officials told Le Mans radio network that the driver was fine and had been released.

After Webber's accident, Mercedes had briefly considered pulling its ill-handling cars off the starting grid.

It was almost 44 years to the day since a Mercedes was involved in the worst accident in motor racing history at Le Mans, a crash that haunted the team for decades.

At least 82 people died on 11 June 1955 when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes scythed into a spectator enclosure.

The German team also withdrew from that race immediately and did not officially return to Le Mans until 1980.

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