Worst crashes in motorsport history

June 5, 2021

Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier became the latest casualty in the world of international motorsport. The 19-year-old Swiss rider was hit by another bike after falling from his own at Mugello in Italy. Dupasquier was reportedly treated on the circuit for over half an hour, but even the best of efforts couldn’t save him as he succumbed to his injuries.

With motorsports always being a high risk, high reward profession, let’s take a look at some of the worst crashes in motorsport history:


Rally de Portugal 1986

The Portuguese leg of the World Rally Championship was well known for scores of fans standing very near – or sometimes even on – the tarmac. The drivers knew this and feared this rally for that very reason, but the officials couldn’t care less as making rallying more popular came above the security protocols. As feared, the Ford RS200 of Joaquim Santos came over a crest and lost balance, the car plowing into the crowd and killing three and injuring many more. This massive crash later went on to reveal glaring flaws in the cars that led to the demise of Group B cars.


The 1978 Italian Grand Prix

The bizarre crash at the Italian Grand Prix was a preventable one but, more importantly, no one should have died. At the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, a mix up with starting lights caused the race to commence even before all the cars were in position. The result was a nine-car pileup due to cars in the back half catching up with the leaders and causing a major crash. Ronnie Peterson got stuck in his burning car following the crash. He suffered leg injuries and minor burns but was pulled out by his fellow drivers. Poor communication between the race officials and medics meant Ronnie had to wait another 20 minutes before help arrived. He later died the following day from complications due to his injuries.


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Marco Simoncelli

Italian rider Marco Simoncelli lost his life in a sickening MotoGP crash at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia in 2011. Simoncelli lost control of his bike only four minutes into the Malaysian MotoGP race and was hit by Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi as his bike slid across the track. He lost his helmet on impact and lay unconscious on the track, despite all the effort from the on-site medical staff, he was pronounced dead within 45 minutes of the crash as a result of the terrible head and chest injuries he suffered.


Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s Crash Daytona 500

February 18, 2001 is a dark day for racing fans, especially for NASCAR fans. On the final lap of the Daytona 500, heading into Turn 4, Sterling Martin’s front bumper bumped Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s rear bumper. Earnhardt veered off track before swinging back into the racing line. Ken Schrader had nowhere to go and thumped Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s car into the wall at over 160mph. Unfortunately, Earnhardt had hit the wall at a bad angle with enough force to cause injury, including a fatal skull fracture. Investigations later revealed that the impact was equivalent to falling from a height of 25 metres.


Niki Lauda’s Crash at Nürburgring

The 1976 German Grand Prix was held at the famous Nürburgring, a challenging track with a dangerous reputation. Things were made even worse due to wet weather conditions. On the second lap, Niki Lauda lost control of his Ferrari coming out of a fast left-hander and hit the wall, with his car bursting into flames. Things went from bad to worse when another car hit his Ferrari and splattered fuel all over it. Engulfed in flames, Niki had to wait until fellow drivers and race marshals could get him free. Lauda suffered several burns and scars, but remarkably carried on and went on to win two more World Championships.


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Scott Kalitta’s Fatal Crash

Scott Kalitta was one of the most successful racers in American drag racing history. In 2008, he was taking part in a qualifying round for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals held in New Jersey. In the closing stages of the race, his engine exploded, damaging the parachute that was meant to slow his car down. His car continued through the sand trap and over a retaining wall at over 125 mph before clattering into a crane. Scott died on impact and NHRA took lessons from the incident by extending the length of the sand traps and padding the retaining walls.


Tour de Corse ’86

During the ’80s, the cars of the World Rally Championship pushed the limit in terms of power and speed on non-racetrack surfaces; this era of cars belonged to the notorious Group B class, famous for their very light bodywork and turbocharged engines. But it was only a matter of time until the power became too much for the narrow country lanes. During the 1986 Tour de Corse, Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto crashed their Lancia Delta S4. The car veered off track, down a ravine and landed on its roof before bursting into flames. Both men died at the spot, with their car unrecognisable once the fire was put out.


San Marino Grand Prix 1994

The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix will be remembered as the day Formula 1 lost its most loved and respected driver – Ayrton Senna. But only a few will remember that Ayrton was not the only casualty in that infamous Grand Prix. Rubens Barrichello almost ended his career when his car went airborne and hit the tyre barrier, resulting in a broken leg and a few broken ribs. Roland Ratzenberger died the following day, during the qualifying session. Despite these two incidents, the officials decided to stage the race that was to claim Senna’s life.


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The 1957 Mille Miglia

The Mille Miglia was a yearly endurance race similar to modern rally racing. In 1957, a mixture of speed and spectators led to the banning of this event. This race had two fatal crashes, the most serious involving Alfonso de Portago and his co-driver Edmund Nelson. The Ferrari that they were driving was reportedly running at over 120mph when a tyre burst. The blown tyre caused the car to veer off road, rolling over and reportedly tearing the two drivers in half. The car also struck a crowd near the track, killing nine people.


Le Mans Disaster 1955

In the 24 hours Le Mans race of 1955, Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes Benz was on the front straight and was trying to make a pass on a much slower Austin Healy. However, confusion regarding track position meant that Levegh’s Mercedes violently hit the back of Austin Healy’s car which catapulted into the air killing the Frenchman and 81 other spectators in what was the darkest day in motorsport history. After this incident, Mercedes Benz withdrew from Motorsport racing for over 30 years.


Written By
Rahul Saha


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