Top 10: most dangerous car races

Sam Bisby

By: Sam Bisby

As long as there have been cars, there have been car races. Although it was initially described as "not a race", the world’s first car race was run from Paris to Rouen on 22 July 1894. Since then, motor racing has grown internationally with hundreds of automotive races occurring annually and hundreds of millions invested every year; thousands of fans flock to races every week as a result, while dedicated channels air many meetings from around the world.

However, as seen in this year’s Japanses Formula Grand Prix, motor racing has its dangers and those at the helm of such fast machines are prone to injury and even death every time they enter the cockpit. Here are arguably the most dangerous races from the numerous decades of motor racing.

24 Hours of Le Mans

Noted as the world’s oldest active endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe. The race was first run in May 1923 and it has only been cancelled ten times since then (due to WWII). With nine wins to his name, driver Tom Kristensen is described as ‘Mr Le Mans’ and holds the record of most victories of what is known as one of the most prestigious car races in the world.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a 24 hour race during which drivers balance speed and the car’s reliability. The worst accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was in 1955, when driver Pierre Levegh and 80 motor sport spectators were killed. However, there accidents still occur every year at this dangerous race, with Aston Martin Racing driver Allan Simonsen fatally crashing in the early laps of the 2013 race.

Dakar Rally

The off-road endurance rally raid originally started in Paris and finished in Dakar since 1979; however, in 2009 the event moved to South America due to security issues. Open to amateur and professional motorists, the rally involves trucks, motorbikes, quads as well as cars on which the drivers need to traverse up to 560 miles per day.

The Dakar rally has resulted in 60 deaths, including the 1988 event which was marred by the deaths of six people (only three of which were participants). Even the event’s founder, Thierry Sabine, died in a helicopter crash during a sandstorm in the 1986 Dakar Rally.

Baja 100

The off-road Baja 100 race allows many vehicles from motorcycles to large trucks. Occurring in the Baja California peninsula, the course consists of a point-to-point race as well as a loop race. The race has been featured in two films, the Timerider and Dust to Glory.

The Baja 100 is dangerous due to spectator sabotage. Although the spectators don’t intentionally cause the drivers harm, the spectators stage obstacles such as digging holes for entertainment value. Interestingly, the great and late Paul Newman became the oldest driver when he competed at the age of 80 in 2004. 

Paris-Madrid race

Over 220 racers were present at the 1903 start line, with the race covering 1,307 kilometres and featured some of the greatest car makes including Fiat, Mercedes and Renault. The race suffered many issues ranging from insufficient crowd control, resulting in spectators standing in dusty roads, decreasing the visibility.

By the finish line, half of the cars were retired or crashed, 100 drivers were wounded and eight people were killed. Marcel Renault, co-founder of the famous car manufacturer, was one of the motorists severely injured and unfortunately died 48 hours after the accident. 

Mille Miglia

As one of the most famous endurance races on the planet, the Mile Miglia began in 1927 and ran for 30 years, seeing drivers and navigators tackle the 1000 mile round trip that departs from Brescia. Following two fatal crashes, the race was cancelled in 1957; the first crash took the lives of Ferrari driver Alfonso de Portago and navigator Edmund Nelson, along with nine spectators.

The race took 56 lives in its initial lifespan; these days the race is run on open roads similar to the original route, but is much more sedated in these modern times and is often taken at much lower speeds.

Indy 500

Billed as the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500 celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011. The Indy 500 is generally held over the last weekend in May at the 2.5 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana and involves professional drivers in single-seat purpose-built cars for the 500 mile-long race. In its 103-year history, there have been 24 recorded fatalities.

Malaysia rainforest challenge

For drivers looking for a race with a difference, the Rainforest Challenge is the ideal event. The Malaysia race spans 800km of off-road driving and takes place over six days, the challenge is to follow the route through the jungle in the chaotic wind and rain of monsoon season.

24 Hours of Nürburgring

Founded in 1970, the touring and endurance 24 Hours of Nürburgring race is intended for amateur drivers. The annual event occurs on the north loop of the Nürburgring in central Germany during May with the potential for over 200 cars. There has only been one well recorded death during the 24 Hours of Nürburgring even though there are actually no run off areas on the circuit. 

Pikes Peak

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is also described as the Race to the Clouds as the track spans 12.42 miles, climbs 4,720 ft with an average grade of seven per cent and features 156 turns. Started in 1916, motorcycles, cars, quads and trucks take part in the hill climb race to the summit of the Pikes Peak based in Colorado. There have been five fatalities on Pikes Peak. This year’s events saw a fatal accident occur at the finish line, when motorcyclist Bobby Goodin raised a hand to celebrate finishing when he lost control of his vehicle.

Safari Rally

The nine day 300km endurance rally through East Africa means participants have to combat sand, heat, animals and challenging roads. Despite these factors, the Safari Rally participants have managed to escape with very few tragic fatalities or injuries. With the home advantage, Shekha Mehta has been the most successful driver celebrating five victories during his career.