Le Mans tragedy: Former Manchester student’s debut overshadowed by death of ex-teammate

By Mark Shales

Former Manchester student Matt Howson’s Le Mans 24hours debut was overshadowed by the death of a former teammate last weekend, despite a strong showing for much of the race.

Aston Martin’s Allan Simonsen, a partner from his Formula Renault days, was killed after nine minutes of racing after crashing at the Tetre Rouge corner.   

And Howson, whose KCMG team were forced to retire with a major oil-leak after 19-and-a-half hours, admitted it was hard to carry on.

“It was a bittersweet affair for a number of different reasons,” he told MM. “Qualifying was superb and the warm-up went very well so we were pretty happy going into the race.

“But everything was overshadowed when a driver was killed on the fourth lap.

“He was somebody we all knew and a really nice guy. It all seemed particularly cruel because we all had to carry on with our job and try not to think about it – a bit of me felt very guilty

“It put an odd gloom over everything because we’re all there to do our job and all chasing our dream but one person’s been killed doing the same thing.”

The 29-year-old Manchester Metropolitan psychology graduate was taken under Simonsen’s wing when he first started out test-driving Formula Renault cars in 2001.

But despite the horrifics, Howson, currently in his 13th year in motor racing, insists he cannot afford to let it affect him too much.

“Sadly it’s just part of the sport,” he added. “It’s difficult at the time because you’re there in the same competition and racing past the accident site.

“You’ve seen the driver the week before so it’s much closer to home than death usually is, but at the same time we all know the risks.

“I remember him being a particularly nice, warm, bubbly character which is not that common in motorsport – there’s a lot of attitudes and egos – so he was someone I looked up to a lot.

“You just hope that something can be learnt to reduce the likelihood of a fatality in the future.”

The Morgan LMP2 – one of just four cars in the 33-strong class using Michelin instead of Dunlop tyres – had been well in contention with less than a fifth of the race remaining.    

Howson was sharing driving duties with teammates Ho-Pin Tung, an ex-Chinese Formula One test driver for BMW Sauber, and former Swiss Super GT driver Alexandre Imperatori.

And the former teammate of Lewis Hamilton admits it was not a nice feeling to be woken up and informed of the car’s retirement.

“It’s gutting for all the lads because everyone’s worked for nearly 20 hours to get that car to the finish,” he explained.

“Inevitably when it doesn’t make that finish you feel like you’ve failed.

“If it wasn’t for the mechanical problems we would have been challenging for a podium position and maybe even for the win though, so you can’t really ask for more on your first Le Mans.”

Picture courtesy of David Merrett via Wiki Commons, with thanks.

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