The SERT Suzuki racing team’s challenge at the Le Mans 24 hour race was ended by a bad accident just an hour and three quarters into last weekend’s race.
Run in warm and dry conditions, the no2 SERT Suzuki ridden by Guillaume Dietrich initally survived a front end washout that had the bike sliding off track and clearly impacting something hard out of camera shot.
With the aid of the marshalls, Dietrich was able to get the bike back to the pits, bent bars and a dented rim and flat front tyre notwithstanding.
The battered machine was tackled in the pits by the crew with typical efficiency and only ten minutes later rolled out on track again, with Dietrich back on board.
But clearly things weren’t right as the machine exited pit lane. Dietrich never got up to speed on the circuit and was touring back to the pits when his SERT Suzuki was hit hard from behind by the unsighted Victor Carrasco on the Maco Moto Yamaha, with both bikes and riders being sent cartwheeling down the track.
Fortunately, the only other bike immediately behind the accident was able to take avoiding action and avoid the carnage.
Carrasco was able to run clear of the track despite breaking a leg in the impact, but Dietrich received medical attention where he came to rest just off the track itself. He was later reported to have lumbar, ankle and leg injuries, as well as broken ribs and also a possible punctured lung, but is expected to make a full recovery.
The accident occured when the touring Dietrich, having swung wide onto the run off on the corner, merged back onto the track on the racing line. Though he looked, he clearly expected the riders approaching at speed around the bend to have seen him. Though the first two avoided him, Carrasco was slip-streaming the second rider and was totally unable to take evasive action when the bike ahead of him swerved at the last moment.
The incident is currently on YouTube here but it may disappear again, as the copyright holder removes it.
The accident at Le Mans actually has several lessons for road riders.
The first lesson should be that rear observation before emerging into any kind of traffic has to be effective, you MUST anticipate that people might not have seen you and you shouldn’t be in a hurry to merge into fast moving and busy traffic.
The second lesson should be that on group rides it’s vitally important to leave sufficient gaps between yourself and the rider ahead, precisely to prevent this kind of accident, which often occurs when the group ahead stops for some reason. You need to see what’s going on ahead for yourself.
I’ve been hit myself from behind in precisely these circumstances several times, despite taking measures like showing indicators, using brake lights, slowing gently and even using arm and “waving leg” signals to show I was stopping.
On one occasion I’d stopped to check the map and had been stopped for five or six seconds when the very last rider in the group who’d completely failed to notice five or six other stationary bikes ploughed into the back of me at speed. Fortunately for both of us, he ‘only’ hit the soft luggage, tearing it clear off my bike and wrapping it round my neck but it could have been a lot worse. I know several other riders who have run into the back of others on group rides and one at least brought down several bikes.
The final observation is that it provides a realistic check on what body armour and race leathers can and can’t cope with. Whilst there was a considerable speed differential between the two bikes at the moment of impact – the colliding Maco Moto was travelling maybe twice as fast as the touring Suzuki – it’s not that different from the kind of impact any rider would suffer if he were hit from behind whilst stopped at lights by someone running them.
Helmets almost certainly prevented serious or fatal head injuries and the clothing prevented serious abrasion injuries from sliding down the track, but body armour really can only absorb limited amounts of transferred energy and it’s unfortunately this kind of impact that exceeds its capabilities. It’s worth remembering that when you ride on the road, which is full of stationary trees and walls, as well as cars moving at different speeds all around you!
The win ultimately went to the no 11 GSR Kawasaki, with last year’s winners, the no 1 YART Yamaha Austria team twelve laps down in second place.
The no 95 QERT Quatari Endurance Racing Team finished first in the Superstock class, and a very creditable 7th overall.
I wish both riders a speedy recovery.