"Pierre Levegh"

Full Name:
Pierre Eugene Alfred Bouillon
Born:
22nd December 1905
Paris, Ile-de-France
Died:
11th June 1955 (Aged 49)
Le Mans, Pays de la Loire, Le Mans 24 Hours
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

It is inevitable that the death of "Pierre Levegh" during the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours, in an accident that also claimed the lives of over 80 spectators, overshadows his exploits as a racing driver.

Running sixth in the third hour of the race, his Mercedes-Benz 300SLR was starting its 35th lap when Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healey swerved to avoid the pit-bound leading Jaguar of Mike Hawthorn. The cars of Macklin and the following "Levegh" touched and the Mercedes was launched into the earth bank opposite the pits. The Frenchman was thrown clear and killed instantly. The car disintegrated and wreckage flew into the crowd with unprecedented tragedy.

Family background and racing career

Pierre Bouillon’s uncle was Alfred Velghe who had raced in the early days of the sport as "Alfred Levegh". The nephew took the same pseudonym in deference to him and began racing in the late 1930s. A Paris car dealer, he made his debut at Le Mans in 1938 sharing a Lago-Talbot with Jean Trévoux – retiring that year and the next when now partnered by René le Bègue.

"Levegh" was one of the first to compete after World War II – his Lago-Talbot T150C finished second behind Eugène Chaboud at Brussels in 1946. Sadly, the Le Mans disaster was not the first time that "Levegh" had been involved in tragedy. His Maserati 4CL crashed into the crowd during the 1947 French Grand Prix killing two spectators.

Seventh in the 1950 Belgian GP on his championship debut was his best result in six such starts with a Talbot during that year and the next. He returned to Le Mans in 1951 and finished fourth with an open converted single-seater Talbot.

Driving solo at Le Mans

Dissatisfied, he had a new Lago-Talbot T26GS for the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours and his was a drive of rare endurance and speed. That he held a four-lap lead when he retired with little over an hour to go was not unique – but that he had almost won the race single-handed was. His engine was not running cleanly and "Levegh" was concerned that co-driver René Marchand would break it. So he tried to make it to the finish without help only for his crankshaft to fail within sight of victory.

Mercedes won that day and it was with the German marque that "Levegh" should have had his best chance of Le Mans victory three years later. Driving something other than a Talbot at Le Mans for the first time, "Levegh" joined John Fitch in the number 20 Mercedes 300SLR. However, that opportunity turned to tragedy on an unimaginable scale.

Championship seasons