Audi driver crashes out after great start
Scotsman taken to hospital after he clipped Beltoise's GTE Pro Ferrari in early part of race
LE MANS, FRANCE // The first hour of the Le Mans 24 Hour race was marred yesterday by a huge accident for Audi's Scottish driver Allan McNish.
McNish, a former champion, had enjoyed a superb start from fifth on the grid to be running second shortly before the hour mark. He clipped the GTE Pro Ferrari of Anthony Beltoise while attempting to lap the back marker as the cars headed down towards the Esses, crashing violently into the barriers.
The Audi R18 suffered a crushing impact and slewed over the Armco railing, throwing debris over trackside marshals and photographers.
McNish was extracted safely from his car but there was no immediate word on whether any spectators had been hurt.
The accident forced the safety car on to the track.
Despite the extensive damage done to both the R18 and the crash barrier, an Audi spokesman confirmed McNish had escaped serious injury.
"He's fine," the spokesman told reporters. "He's more gutted about retiring from the race."
McNish was taken by ambulance for medical checks by both circuit and Audi doctors. The spokesman confirmed that the two-time Le Mans winner would then be taken to the local hospital for a precautionary scan.
It all marked an early end to a day which had promised so much.
McNish had been enjoying a stellar drive having overtaken the Peugeot of Sebastien Bourdais early on before getting the better of Franck Montagny just after the 20-minute mark to establish an Audi one-two-three.
McNish had already overhauled teammate Benoit Treluyer and had just challenged Bernhard for the lead when the Scot became entangled with Beltoise.
"I have absolutely no idea what happened," Beltoise said. "I was on my second lap after a pit stop. I didn't even see the Audi coming up behind me.
"The impact was very heavy. I'm disappointed for Audi, and I hope Allan is well. I'm doing fine, but I was just very surprised by the accident."
The head of Audi Sport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, felt the blame lay with the back marker.
"The Ferrari closed the door, Allan had no chance whatsoever," Dr Ullrich said.
"He went off very quickly, but luckily managed to get out of the car unharmed. To see that the cars are so strong is good, but that's not the way we like to demonstrate it."
Such was the size of the crash, repair crews were still working on rebuilding the barrier an hour after the accident. As the drivers circled under the safety car, Bernhard held the lead over Treluyer.
The safety car eventually pulled in at the end of the 24th lap.
* Press Association
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