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06/13 2016

All systems go for quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset at 24 Hours of Le Mans GARY WATKINS

Frederic Sausset is running Le Mans

Frederic Sausset’s crew gets him and the car ready for a stint in the 24 hours of Le Mans.PHOTO BY ADRENAL MEDIA

GARAGE 56 ENTRY FEATURES SPECIALLY EQUIPPED OPEN-TOP MORGAN-NISSAN LMP2

When quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset explained his dream—racing the 24 Hours of Le Mans—to the French classic’s powers that be, he could easily have got a firm “non.” Instead, he got tears in his eyes and a tentative “oui.”

Vincent Beaumesnil, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO—the Le Mans organizer) sporting manager, was bowled over by Sausset and his improbable ambition. Christophe Tinseau, partnering with the 47-year-old Frenchman and acting as his driver coach, remembers the introduction to the ACO.

“There were tears in Vincent’s eyes when Sausset explained what he wanted to do,” says former Cadillac factory driver Tinseau. “He couldn’t have been more helpful.”

Most significantly, he offered the special slot on the Le Mans grid—Garage 56—reserved for a car displaying innovative technology. Nissan’s DeltaWing and ZEOD RC experimental racers had used Garage 56 in 2012 and ’14.

Sausset’s story is amazing. He picked up a severe infection from a small scratch in summer 2012. A condition known as purpura fulminans set in, resulting in the amputation of both hands and his legs from above the knees.

Photo: Frederic Sausset

“There were tears in Vincent’s eyes when Sausset explained what he wanted to do. He couldn’t have been more helpful.”PHOTO BY ADRENAL MEDIA

In his darkest days, the illness almost killed him. All the while he dreamed of running Le Mans. He was bent on fulfilling that dream after coming out of the hospital in early 2013, he says, “to give my new life a purpose.”

The controls he’s using to drive his open-top Morgan-Nissan LMP2 were developed initially to get him back behind the wheel of a road car.

These controls are simple but clever because the system can be removed, allowing his Le Mans teammates—Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet—to drive the car conventionally. Sausset steers with his prosthetic right arm, plugging it into his own steering wheel. His thighs activate paddles in the seat, applying the brake and accelerator pedals via removable levers.

The concessions to his disability are a full automatic gearbox, turned off for his teammates, and power-assisted ABS brakes.

Getting into the Morgan is perhaps less clever: Sausset is suspended from a pole and lowered into his seat. It’s not pretty, but it allows him to fulfill his ambition.