LE MANS 24 HOURS 1955

11th - 12th June

60 starters 31 classified finishers

The last time that there were 60 cars at the start. What promised to be a thrilling duel between the might of England and Germany was cut brutally short. The tragic accident happened at 18H28 when, in front of the tribunes, Levegh's Mercedes - Benz took off over the back of Macklin's Austin Healey which had swerved to avoid Hawthorn's pit - bound Jaguar. The German car hit the bank and then exploded, its engine cutting a swathe through the massed crowd causing at least 82 deaths and many injuries. The race however continued amid controversy and recriminations. At 2H00 on Sunday morning Merceds - Benz withdrew the 2 remaining cars which were in first and third places leaving Hawthorn and Bueb to bring their D-type home to a joyless win. Aston Martin's second place was their best ever Le Mans result. None of the Ferraris or Maseratis saw the chequered flag. Porsche won the Index of Performance and their class, while the Bristo1s repeated their 1954 success. A certain Colin Chapman, making his Le Mans debut in a Lotus, was disqualified for having gone back onto the track without awaiting the authorisation of a marshal. It was perhaps a portent of things to come! The Tuesday after the race, Mr. Bourges Mounoury, the minister of the interior, suspended all forms of car racing on French territory until further notice. This example was to be followed by other countries and in 2008, it still remains in force in Switzerland. The start was given by Count Maggi, president of the Mille Miglia organisation committee.

CIRCUIT :

13, 492.km layout. The road between Tertre Rouge and Maison Blanche was resurfaced. An underground passage was dug under the Le Mans/Tours main road just after the start of Les Hunaudieres. Volumetric fuel gauges were installed for refuelling.

REGULATIONS:

The minimum interval between refuelling stops was increased from 30 to 32 laps -(432 kms). Fuel tank capacity was limited to 200 litres. Third increase since the restart of the statutory imposed mimima.

STARTERS:

60cars 5 nations 26 makes

France: 1 Constantin, 4 D. B. s, 1 Gordini, 4 Panhards, 1 Sa1mson, 1 V. P Renault. Germany: 3 Mercedes - Benz, 6 Porsches.

Great Britain: 3 Aston Martins, 1 Austin Healey, 3 Bristo1s, 2 Coopers, 1 Connaught, 2 Frazer Nashes, 5 Jaguars, 2 Kiefts, 1 Lagonda, 1 Lotus, 3 M. G. s, 3 Triumphs.

Italy: 5 Ferraris, 3 Maseratis, 1 Nardi, 1 Osca, 1 Stanguellini.

U. S. A : 1 Cunningham.

SUMMARY:

The 3 Mercedes - Benz SLRs entered were derived from the Formula 1 car which had dominated grand prix racing since mid 1954. They had an unusual rear - mounted flap actuated by two hydraulic arms and serving as an airbrake. The power output of their engine was given as 300 bhp, some 60 fewer than that of the Ferrari 121 LMs. The Jaguars were similar to the 1954 D - Types while the 3 works Aston Martins had 4 speed gearboxes in contrast to the Lagonda's five speed one. Finally, the single Cunningham was Offenhauser - powered making what was the make's final Le Mans appearance. With 60 cars on the track it was obvious that the disparity in speeds was dangerous. The first incident due to this happened during Wednesday's practice when Moss's Mercedes pitted at the same time as a little D. B. and hit the French car which in turn, struck Jean Behra and 2 journalists who were standing by the pit counter. The resulting leg injuries kept Behra out of the race. On Friday night Bayol wrote off the new 3 litre Gordini injuring himself seriously in the process.

When the huge field was released at 16HOO on Saturday afternoon, it was a Ferrari driven by Castellotti which bounded to the front. He was still there after 30 minutes followed by Hawthorn's Jaguar and Fangio's Mercedes. As 17HOO struck the British and German cars went ahead of the Italian one at grand prix speeds. At 18HOO, only 2 seconds separated them, their duel keeping the huge crowd on tetherhooks. Half an hour later it all went terribly wrong. Hawthorn, in the lead, decided to pit just after having passed Lance Macklin's Austin Healey as the cars came towards the start/finish area. He pulled over to the right to go in and slowed. This led to Macklin, who may have been looking in his mirrors to see where the Mercedes were, swerving to avoid him. "Levegh" who was coming up to overtake him at high speed was unable to avoid the Austin Healey and the Mercedes - Benz took off over its rear and hit a concrete section of the bank. The car literally exploded on impact and the engine and front end ploughed through the crowd like a gigantic scythe cutting down everyone in its path. At least 82 people were killed outright and many more seriously injured. The unfortunate "Levegh" was killed in the impact but in a final gesture raised his hand to warn Fangio of the impending disaster. The Argentinian managed somehow to scrape through between the pits and the wrecked Austin Healey to take the lead.

Charles Faroux decided that the race should continue reckoning wisely that stopping it would only add to the chaos and block the roads to the hospitals. However, what was happening on the track was now of academic interest. Just after 02HOO the 2 remaining Mercedes were withdrawn leaving the Hawthorn - Bueb Jaguar in an unassailable lead. Around OH700 on a wet morning, the Rolt - Hamilton Jaguar went out with a seized gearbox while the third team car had sunk itself in the sand at Arnage during the night. The struggle for second place between the sole surviving Aston Martin of Collins and Frere and the Valenzano - Musso 3 litre Maserati, resolved itself in favour of the English car when the Maserati went out with a broken clutch around midday. It was Jaguar's third win but there was little joy in the team's hearts as the dark - green car took the chequered flag.

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Author: ArchitectPage