THE 24 Hours of Le Mans is the ultimate event in sportscar racing.
The gruelling twice-around-the-clock event pushes both man and machine to the breaking point, and many often plunge over that line.
Drivers must be at their best, both physically and mentally, to tackle the unique challenges of endurance racing. To just complete in – let alone win – one of sports most coveted events is recognised as an achievement in itself.
It could be assumed such a gruelling event would bar someone missing limbs that are vital to controlling a race car from competing.
You would assume wrong.
In 2012, French businessman Frédéric Sausset contracted a deadly bacterial infection, forcing doctors to amputate his forearms and both legs above the knees.
Sausset is not a professional racing driver – in fact he has only been racing competitively for roughly 12 months – but this year the ex-businessman will create history when he races in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Less than four months after the 46-year-old underwent surgery, he hatched a plan with close friend, professional driver, and mentor Christophe Tinseau to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in an LMP2 prototype. Four years later, the plan is becoming a reality.
The FIA, along with 24 Hours of Le Mans organisers ACO, have granted Sausset and co. an entry under the experimental Garage 56 banner.
Previous Garage 56 entries include a hydrogen-powered car, Nissan’s hybrid ZEOD RC, and the oddball Delta Wing.
You may be asking how, exactly, a bloke with no arms or legs manages to pilot a 300km/h road car?
Sausset will use controls under each thigh to accelerate and brake, with a prosthetic limb attached to his right arm affixed to the wheel giving him the ability to steer the Morgan LMP2.
Cutting his teeth in a CN Ligier in the French VdV endurance series, the beefed up LMP2 is a significant step up for Sausset. However, he’s coping with the change well.
"There are no complaints about the Morgan LM P2. The car is very neutral in its behaviour,” he told Endurance-Info. “The driving position is different from the CN Ligier because I'm lying. The [layout] of Le Mans should suit better because there is no big left turn.”
The Frenchman will share driving duties with two able-bodied teammates, including Tinseau, who will use traditional controls.
Racing without legs or arms throws up some unique challenges, with Sausset having to be hoisted into place inside the car.
To qualify for the June 18th race the former businessman needed to complete 10 laps in his OAK Racing Morgan LMP2 during last weekend’s test day.
Sausset passed with flying colours, lapping within a four-minute range, which puts him on par with some slower GTE cars.
Meanwhile, Tinseau pushed the modified LMP2 car to a best time of 3:48.253 – placing the team 33rd overall from the opening practice, three seconds adrift of the slowest LMP2 car.
"You have to know how to balance the arm and effort. Then it's learning", Sausset told Motorsport.com. "In this car it is very long, and for me it is an additional handicap.
“After six or seven laps I slipped! We must take this test day to improve everything that can be. I am surrounded by team and my family. An adventure like this, we cannot win it alone.”
Sausset and his SRT41 team will compete outside the overall classification of this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour.
Photo credit: Pascal Aunai