Two Disabled Drivers Meet at Le Mans

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Many drivers entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans want to make history by winning the race or breaking records.

But for Nigel Bailly of Belgium and Takuma Aoki of Japan, competing in the classic French race will be a turning point in itself as they are the first handicapped teammates in racing history.

Bailly and Aoki paralysis from the waist down as a result of injuries from motorcycle accidents. Aoki was a Grand Prix motorcycle racer before being injured in an accident in 1998.

Bailly was injured in a motocross accident when he was 14 years old. Two months after the accident, he was back in a go-kart race.

“The dream of competing has been on my mind for years,” said Bailly, now 31. “I’ve always watched Le Mans on TV. I just wanted to go and race.”

The cars previously had only one disabled driver. Frederic Sausset in 2016 and Jean de Pourtales Bailly and Aoki will drive together with non-disabled Frenchman Matthieu Lahaye. At Le Mans, they will share tips behind the wheel of a modified Oreca LMP2 prototype sports car that allows Bailly and Aoki to shift and brake with their hands.

After competing at passenger car events in Belgium, Bailly sausageFounder of Sausset Racing Team 41, or SRT41, an academy for disabled drivers. He became the first quad amputee to race and finish at Le Mans.

The SRT41 had planned to race at Le Mans in 2020, but delayed its entry due to the pandemic.

“Coming back this time with a team of mainly disabled drivers and as team principal represents a new challenge,” said Sausset. “This is a new way of working towards a very high level of involvement in sports, creating another wonderful world.”

Changes have been made to the LMP2 car, which can beat the Circuit de la Sarthe at an average speed of 148 miles per hour. Bailly and Aoki accelerate, brake and use the clutch via the steering wheel.

An extra paddle on the left side of the steering wheel acts as the throttle, while a right side bar is used for braking and downshifting. As Lahaye drives, she presses a button to activate the normal foot pedals.

Bailly and Aoki completed two races in the LMP2 car, taking part in the European Le Mans Series events this year in Barcelona, ​​Spain and Le Castellet, France. But these were four-hour races. Le Mans will be six times longer and present a significantly greater challenge.

“The physical side is okay,” said Bailly, who focused on cardio, neck and arm strength training to prepare for Le Mans. “The most complicated thing will be the mental side. It will be harder for that.”

The SRT41 car enters the race via: garage 56 project that allows innovative cars to compete outside of normal regulations. Pierre Fillon, president of race organizer Automobile Club de l’Ouest, said the SRT41 project was “close to our hearts”.

“Le Mans is all about getting over yourself,” Fillon said. “History is full of tales of heroism, and let us not belittle our words: Frédéric Sausset is a hero.”

Using the SRT41 story as inspiration, the club partnered with Sausset as part of its small driver initiative to improve access to road safety education for young people with disabilities. “It goes beyond the limits of competition,” said Fillon.

The SRT41’s goal is to finish the race, but Bailly said he wanted to “prove to the world that we can race against other people.”

“We need to elevate the way we race without making any mistakes,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing for us, but we will do our best.”

Sausset told his drivers to “enjoy every moment” of their Le Mans debut, calling it “the greatest race in the world”.

“The main key to success is humility, never going beyond your skills and above all focusing on the work and the goal: crossing the finish line at 4 pm on Sunday,” said Sausset.

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