There are plenty of upsets and shocking finishes in the history of motorsport. Off the top of my head, I can name last year’s Formula 1 championship decider in Abu Dhabi (duh), not to mention the 2008 decider at Interlagos, with the whole “is that Glock!?” deal. The final round of the 1998 World Rally Championship is another worthy mention, where Carlos Sainz Sr. famously declared his chances of winning the title in the final round were “99 percent myself, 1 percent [Tommi] Mäkinen.” Sainz’s engine blew up about 330 yards from the finish line of the last stage. How’s that for bucking the odds?
For me, though, none of those compare to the hand-over-mouth brutal ending of the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans. And while I’m well aware that this is still fresh in the memory of hardcore racing fans, I firmly believe we as a community still don’t fully appreciate how dumbfounding this finish was.
That said, for those who have never seen it, I’m not going to spoil it — you deserve to experience it for yourself untainted. Leave a comment when your jaw hits the floor.
Here’s how it all unfolded:
Compared to Abu Dhabi last year, which was really only surprising thanks to ex-race director Michael Masi’s creative interpretation of the rulebook, this episode was jarring for major, consequential reasons. And while I vaguely remember tearing up at Felipe Massa’s defeat in front of his home crowd after doing everything right in ’08, I still think that doesn’t compare to a stunner like this, at the world’s greatest endurance race, at the end of 24 hours of fierce, grueling competition.
After all, they don’t call it the “23 hours and 57 minutes of Le Mans.” I watch the video above probably three times a year. Every time, even now, it still leaves me speechless, as Radio Le Mans’ John Hindhaugh’s frantic, confused call eternally reverberates in my brain.
The losing team would get its comeuppance a few years later, running a car that was virtually uncontested. I don’t think that could ever soothe the pain of this nightmare, though.