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Driver dies in 24 Hours of Le Mans race

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PARIS (AP) – Danish driver Allan Simonsen died Saturday following a crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the first driver fatality at the high-speed endurance event since 1997.

Race organizers said the 34-year-old Simonsen was taken to the hospital after his Aston Martin No. 95 crashed about 10 minutes into the race. The Dane spun at high speed and his car skidded into the barrier at the Tertre Rouge corner where cars typically reach speeds of up to 170 kph (105 mph).

Simonsen died at the hospital soon after arrival “due to his injuries,” organizers said.

Sebastien Enjolras lost his life in pre-qualifying in 1997. The last driver fatality in the 24-hour race was Jo Gartner in 1986.

The worst crash in Le Mans history occurred in 1955 when Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes flew into the crowd, killing more than 80 spectators.

Aston Martin Racing, which had entered five Vantage V8 cars between the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes, will continue in the race at the request of Simonsen’s family.

The safety car came out after Simonsen’s crash and the race was held up for nearly an hour to repair the guard rail.

Simonsen was participating for the seventh time at the endurance race, which is won by the team that completes the most laps in 24 hours with up to three drivers alternating. He finished second in the GT2 class at Le Mans three years ago. He had the fastest time in qualifying Thursday in the GTE Am class.

Simonsen and Danish co-drivers Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard were leading the GTE Am class in the world endurance championship after topping their category at Silverstone in April and finishing second in Spa-Francorchamps last month.

IndyCar series leader Helio Castroneves tweeted: “Very sad to know about the fatal accident of Allan Simonsen on Le Mans today. Praying for him and (his) family.”

Another IndyCar driver, Tony Kanaan, tweeted: “Such a tragic news on the passing of (at)AllanSimonsen. Sad day in motorsports again. Thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Another driver death occurred Saturday in Germany. Two-time champion Wolf Silvester died because of “health problems” during the German VLN Endurance Racing Championship, race organizers said.

Safety marshalls said Silvester, 55, apparently lost control of his Opel Astra OPC, and when they approached the stopped car on the track they found him sitting motionless in the seat. The dpa news agency reported that Silvester had a heart attack.

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