Peter Dumbreck's 1999 24 Hours Of Le Mans crash (lost on-board footage of LMGTP accident; 1999)
On 12th June 1999, during the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, Peter Dumbreck was driving an LMGTP-class Mercedes-Benz CLR, when it suddenly went airborne because of an aerodynamic design flaw with the Mercedes. The vehicle crashed into the trees at the side of the track, where despite the violent nature of the accident, Dumbreck escaped unharmed. While the crash was shown multiple times on television, no coverage of the crash from the on-board camera was made publicly available.
In April 1999, Mercedes announced the line-up of one of its three teams that would compete in the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, consisting of lead driver Christophe Bouchut, Nick Heidfeld, and Peter Dumbreck, the latter having signed for the factory team in the fall of 1998. The trio would be driving a Mercedes-Benz CLR for the race, which was first tested in February 1999, with the car being considered by some experts and Mercedes itself to be a Le Mans favourite.
However, the car suffered from a serious aerodynamic flaw, where it lacked aerodynamic stability. An overly long bodywork overhang meant significant air could be built up underneath the car's low nose when following another or climbing a hill, increasing the pitch of the car which then converted the front downforce into lift. Eventually, the lift exceeds downforce generated, causing the car to become airborne. Mark Webber ended up flipping his car during qualifying after following an Audi R8R through the Mulsanne corner. The vehicle ended up somersaulting backgrounds before landing wheel-first and experiencing a major crash into a safety barrier. During the warm-up for the race, Webber again flipped the Mercedes, this time landing on its roof and requiring stewards to extinguish the car. Webber escaped uninjured both times, though would later ultimately quit endurance racing in favour of single-seaters, eventually entering Formula One in 2002.
Despite Webber's massive crashes, Dumbreck and the rest of the Mercedes continued to prepare for the race, with the #5 Mercedes qualifying seventh out of 47 cars. On lap 75, Dumbreck was in third place, and was chasing a Toyota TS020 driven by Thierry Boutsen. Suddenly, his car flipped, with it somersaulting four times and reaching a height of almost 50 feet, before flying over the barrier and landing near the trees not far from a marshal post and a billboard. Initially, Dumbreck was unconscious following the accident, and when he was stretchered away, he was concerned he was paralysed.
Ultimately however, Dumbreck was found to be uninjured once given a check at the hospital. Mercedes meanwhile withdrew its remaining CLR from the race, and would leave Le Mans and endurance racing altogether, having not returned to the motorsport category since. It also led to safety changes concerning the design of Le Mans-spec cars, as well as track modifications to avoid any repeats of the crashes. Dumbreck's crash is deemed one of the most famous in motorsport history, with The Speed Channel listing it as the network's fourth most memorable moment.
Dumbreck's crash was replayed multiple times from different angles. However, his CLR was also known to have an on-board camera installed, as footage from it was showcased when Bouchut was driving the car. However, no crash footage from its perspective was ever publicly released. The reason behind this remains unclear, although it is speculated that Mercedes requested no broadcaster aired it while Dumbreck's status was still unknown. As of the present date, on-board clips of the incident remain inaccessible.
- Road and Track documenting the three CLR crashes and providing quotes from Dumbreck and Webber. Retrieved 28 Apr '22
- Auto Evolution documenting the CLR and its crashes. Retrieved 28 Apr '22
- Top Speed detailing the CLR and its aerodynamic instability. Retrieved 28 Apr '22
- Crash detailing Webber's crashes and him deciding to quit endurance racing in favour of single-seaters Retrieved 28 Apr '22
- Racing Sports Cars detailing qualifying results for the race. Retrieved 28 Apr '22
- Influential Moments in Racing detailing the on-board camera in the CLR, where no crash footage from its perspective was ever shown. Retrieved 28 Apr '22