The 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans was the 49th Grand Prix of Endurance, and took place on 13 and 14 June 1981. It was also the eighth round of the 1981 World Endurance Championship of Drivers and the fifth round of the 1981 World Endurance Championship of Makes.
The race was run in very hot weather, but the engine test was successful: after the first hour, Ickx and Bell had built a large advance and remained at lead for the rest of the race. They won by an even greater margin than in 1976- 14 laps. Ickx had won Le Mans for the 5th time- surpassing a record set by fellow Belgian Olivier Gendebien in 1962.
The race was marred by the death of Jean-Louis Lafosse, who violently crashed his Rondeau in the early stages on the Hunaudieres while following the Lola T600 of de Villota/Edwards/Fernández. No cause has ever been determined although a piece of debris is seen flying away from the car just before the Rondeau suddenly steers to the right, along with pre-crash photographs showing evidence of damage from an off-track excursion, suggesting suspension failure as a possible cause.
Thierry Boutsen, who would go on to drive in Formula One, had earlier escaped a large accident in the second hour, destroying his WM-Peugeot but without causing injury to himself; race marshal Thierry Mabillat was fatally injured in the accident; and 2 of his colleagues, Claude Hertault and Serge David, were seriously injured but survived; the latter lost an arm.
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