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Safety First?

There were several heart in the mouth moments at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans, most notably perhaps, amongst a race peppered by significant contact incidents, the double incident that accounted for the #1 Richard Mille Racing Oreca, Sophia Floersch andhit Franco Colapinto coming together after the csrs ahead of the battling pair braked early for a slow zone, Floersch then harpooned by the #74 Racing Team India Ligier of Tom Cloet when the Oreca was helplessly stationary across the track.

Happily, there was no lasting damage to any of the drivers concerned, we can be grateful for the safety systems in the cars nowadays for that.

The avoidability of the incidents is one for race officials to determine, a task they undertake with rigour and fairness every time cars take to the track.

There is therefore a question to be asked about the decision making process and timeline which put Clerk of the Course Patrick Morisseau into the position he was standing to give the checkered flag at the end of the race.

This writer was observing the developing battle in LMP2 for what was then 2nd place, (but became the battle for the win, after the heartbreaker of a last lap failure for the then leading #41 Team WRT Oreca), from the broadcast booth with the rate of closing between the chasing pair clearly on an intercept trajectory from 3-4 laps out.

That being the case it seems surprising at best that a high-ranking official should make the decision to go out onto the racing surface, with, no protection from yellow flags ahead of the finish line, and advance several metres towards the middle of the track to wave the checkered flag.

The near-miss that followed was a heartstopper with the winning #31 WRT Oreca swerving through slow-finishing cars to make the line and being forced to swerve again when Robin Frijns saw the flagman at the last moment, almost taking out the GTE Pro winning Ferrari in the process!

I love the pageantry of the big race and support wholly too the moves to boost safety levels for the sport. But mistakes by race organisers and officials have to be investigated, explained and, if justified and necessary, to have consequences too.

The post-race headlines for Le Mans this year were about glorious victory, and the dawn of a brand new golden era, but they came within a couple of metres of being something altogether darker.