How a quadruple amputee raced in 24h of Le Mans

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BERNAT LÓPEZ / © RACERZ

Frédéric Sausset is a quadruple amputee, but that didin’t stop him from racing in 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans. While on vacation in southwestern France in 2012, Frédéric Sausset, a 49 year-old French businessman, sustained a scratch on his hand, which developed into a potentially deadly infection called purpura fulminans.

After battling the infection, Sausset fell into a coma and later awoke with his arms amputated at the fore-arms, and his legs cut off just above the knees. Luckily, Sausset survived the endeavor, but struggled psychologically in the months following his operating. That’s when, according to Autoweek, he decided upon a new goal to “give [his] new life a purpose.” That new goal was to race at 2016 24h of Le Mans.

“I have dreamt about racing since I was a child, but after the accident it was a challenge that I had to complete”, he said the morning before the race. “It took some time for this idea to formulate in my mind. I woke up from the coma in August but it wasn’t until October that I began to have ideas”, he added.

How to make it possible?

Operating a car, racing or otherwise, has remained fundamentally the same for over a hundred years. And so, despite missing his feet, legs, arms and hands, Frédéric and his team were forced to work within the constraints of able-bodied drivers. They began aboard a smaller, less powerful VdeV racer before progressing to the same sort of Morgan sports-prototype chassis used by other teams contesting Le Mans’ LMP2 class.

Car prototype 

Steering remains conventional, albeit with Sausset’s single bespoke prosthetic arm attached with a pin and ball-joint to an adapted steering ‘wheel’. Turning this arm over steers the car left while pulling it down switches momentum right. It’s a simple solution, but one that requires immense strength in Frédéric’s right shoulder to change direction at speed while incurring several G through the corners and under braking.

Meanwhile, a pressure-sensitive pad under each of Sausset’s thighs is wired to the accelerator and brake pedals. The more force he exerts on each determines the rate of acceleration and braking, just as his feet would have previously done. Both the seat and steering wheel can be removed, allowing his team-mates to drive the car as they normally would.

Just to finish the 24 hours of Le Mans is an achievement for any team, but Frédéric and his race team finished in 38th position out of 60, which is just incredible. It just goes to show what can be achieved, both technologically and with willpower and passion.