These drivers prove that no obstacle is impassable when the love for racing charges through your system

 

The Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, has had some great names contest its 24-hour Grand Prix d’Endurance since it was first run in 1923. Its drivers have included Derek Bell, Jackie Ickx, Steve McQueen, Jochen Mass, Tom Kristensen and Allan Mcnish — the list is immense and each name is coveted by any pilgrim who makes the annual journey to France in the middle of June each year. But have you heard of Frederic Sausset? What about David Birrell?

In recent years Le Mans has been the centre of a technological revolution as top teams, Porsche, Audi and Toyota, develop hybrid racing cars that use less fuel than their predecessors but go five seconds a lap faster. Not only this but the technology used in these racing machines will soon be in ordinary family cars available to the public.

Outside of the transfer of technology from the track to the road however there is another area of society where Le Mans is becoming increasingly relevant. One of the drivers to finish this year’s race was the aforementioned Frederic Sausset, a French driver racing for his own team. It is an incredible achievement for any driver to complete the gruelling test that is Le Mans but for Sausset it was an even greater feat as he finished the race alongside two other drivers despite being a quadruple amputee.

To enable him to race his Morgan-Audi LMP2 machine certain modifications were made so that both Sausset and his able-bodied teammates, Christophe Tinseau and Jean Bernard Bouvet could drive. Sausset’s seat insert was fitted with two paddles, one for each thigh, that were connected via levers to the pedals enabling him to accelerate and brake. Further modifications were made to the gearbox that was modified to run both as a semi-automatic and fully automatic, for when Sausset drove using a prosthetic arm connected to the steering wheel to turn the car.

The driver change was a simpler affair with Sausset being lifted out attached via straps to a pole manned by two crewmen, after which his seat insert would be removed, the steering wheel changed, and the semi-automatic gearbox engaged. Motorsport is not without its dangers however, and in the unlikely event of an accident actuators under the seat would raise Sausset enabling him to roll out of the car.

Sausset did not however encounter any issues and was able to competently complete the 8.469 mile course in an impressive four minutes and two seconds. This may have been twenty-six seconds off the quickest LMP2 machinery, but considering the physical effort of driving an LMP2 car with just one prosthetic arm and given his lack of experience compared to other drivers, it is an astounding achievement.

Sausset in fact is not the only amputee driver who has his eyes on a long-term career at Le Mans. David Birrell, currently racing a Group 5 Mini with Woodard Racing Organisation in the Brit Car series, lost both legs below the knee as a result of striking an IED whilst fighting in Afghanistan. He intends to be the first disabled athlete to race at Le Mans without adaptions or hand controls.

Birrell, like Sausset, has pace to back up his ambitions, finishing third in the Max 5 Championship last year with the help and continued support of Mission Motorsport, a charity that uses motorsport to help soldiers recovering from injuries — psychological as well as physical. With the help of Mazda they provide modified MX5s for soldiers who, like Birrell, have suffered amputations. Birrell though is different, preferring to drive an unmodified car whilst having to effectively relearn how to drive via muscle memory. So far this season Birrell and his able-bodied teammates have come second in their class on two occasions.

The message that Sausset and Birrell send out then is that motor-racing as a profession is not only accessible to the able-bodied but one that, with a little determination and self-belief, is open to anyone.

 

Image: http://www.tuttosport.com/news/motori/gare/2016/02/12-8409471/a_le_mans_senza_gambe_n_braccia_sausset_za