LE MANS, France, June 12, 2011 (AFP) - Scottish driver Alan McNish walked away unhurt after a spectacular crash in first hour of the 79th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours race on Saturday as Audi suffered two huge smashes.
AFP - A man stands near the crashed Audi R8 of German Mike Rockenfeller during the 79th edition of Le Mans 24 hours endurance race on June 11, 2011
The two-time winner of the race clipped the front of Anthony Beltoise's Ferrari as he came out of the Dunlop chicane and went slewing across the track and the gravel to hit the tyre wall at high speed.
With a handful of photographers ducking for cover as debris, including a wheel, flew from the car, the Audi pirouetted on top of the wall before coming down to land upside down on the gravel side.
The Dumfries-born driver, who won here in 1998 and 2008, stepped out of the cockpit and walked away apparently uninjured, much to the relief of the Audi pit staff.
The safety car was deployed for the next hour and the vehicle was needed again just after 2030GMT when a second Audi, with Germany's Mike Rockenfeller at the wheel, crashed and caught fire.
Rockenfeller managed to escape unaided from the wreckage, caused by a collision with a Ferrari, before the Audi's engine burst into flames.
"We don't know exactly what really happened," said Audi chief Wolfgang Ullrich told autosport. "The only information we have is that Rockenfeller left the car himself."
McNish's teammate Tom Kristensen, who was chasing a record ninth victory in the race, said that the earlier accident had shaken him.
"The car was going beatifully, the mechanics were doing a fantastic job and all three Audis out front looked really nice," said Kristensen. "The accident was terribly frightening.
"Thank God nothing happened to any spectators or photographers, or at least that's what I hear. The barrier did a good job and the monocoque did a fantastic job. In that sense to see Allan coming out (of the car) was (good) adrenaline. He's in the medical centre now and we want to hear more good news. I'm sure he will feel some pain."
The Ferrari also slid into the tyre wall but with far less effect.
The safety car was immediately sent out as marshalls set to work righting the car and freeing McNish.
The car, which he was sharing with Kristensen, and with Dindo Capello, was totally wrecked.
The safety car was deployed for an hour before free racing began again.
Beltoise said the incident happened so quickly.
"I saw nothing. I took the corner and felt a big shock to the car, and then I saw the Audi on its roof," he said.
After six hours, the Audi of pole-sitter Benoit Treluyer led by over a minute from the Peugeot of Alexander Wurz with two more Peugeots, driven by Sebastian Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin, tucked in third and fourth spot.