Watch this 1956 D-Type dodge cyclists around Le Mans
Nowadays, onboard hot laps of famous tracks abound. The top echelon has commentary provided by the drivers, which offers a coveted glimpse into their unique driving styles—from apexes to braking zones. Thanks to tiny cameras mounted inside wings, and microphones the size of chickpeas, this isn’t difficult to pull off, and comes at almost no inconvenience to the drivers behind the wheel.
But it didn’t used to be that way. Cameras were larger, microphones more bulky and complex. That’s why we can’t help but marvel at this commentated lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe by British driver Mike Hawthorn in a 1956 D-Type Jaguar.
A few things stick out to us. Right as he’s getting started, take a look at the size of the apparatus they strap around his neck. It’s like his orthodontist (they had those then, right?) tossed him a full set of headgear and sent him on his way. The mic sits pressed closely against his mouth, only adding to the discomfort.
Second—and maybe more alarmingly—is the amount of normal traffic on the roads. Remember, a large portion of La Sarthe is actually normal roadway, converted for a few weeks per each year into the track for racing’s toughest endurance challenge.
Still, the amount of cars, trucks, and even cyclists that Hawthorn has to dodge is considerable. He almost clobbers a cyclist coming onto the Mulsanne Straight. To say safety was rather lax back then would be putting it mildly. There’s virtually no guard rails anywhere on the track.
At the end of the lap, he points out the location of the 1955 Le Mans disaster which saw the deaths of 83 spectators, the injuries of nearly 180 others, and the death of French racing driver Pierre Bouilin (who raced as Pierre Levegh.)
Interestingly, that crash began when Hawthorn pulled right on the straight to head into the pits, causing a slower Austin-Healey to swerve left, directly into the path of the much faster Mercedes-Benz of Pierre Levegh. The Benz launched off the back of the slower car and into the crowd. The crash ultimately saw Mercedes-Benz retire from motor racing until 1989.
You can hear Hawthorn’s tone get slightly somber there, and rightfully so. It’s still considered the worst racing accident in history.
There’s something endearing about this particular commentary—it makes Hawthorn seems human during this lap, and makes his feats in the actual race even more impressive. Sadly, Hawthorn would pass away just three years later in a car crash on a British motorway.
First-hand commentaries and onboard laps offer a unique perspective on something none of us will ever experience ourselves. What track would you want an old-school, commentated lap on? Let us know in the Hagerty Forums below.