LE MANS 24 HOURS 1958 version 2

 Version 1

THE RAIN is still falling hard and relentlessly, but our tired backs have received so much water during the past 24 hours that we no longer pay any attention to our soaked clothes. This is a moving moment. The Star-Spangled Banner is playing over hundreds of loud speakers, and facing a crowded grandstand on a podium, looking tired but beaming with joy, two young men seem to be on top of the world. One is the Belgian Olivier Gendebien and the other one is the popular Santa Monica hero, Phil Hill. They have just scored a most impressive win with their Ferrari in the toughest Le Mans race in history.

This is indeed a great moment and Americans can be justly proud of Hill, first American sportsman to win this great 24-hour classic. Hill and Gendebien can also be proud of winning this 26th 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was run under such terrible conditions that only 20 cars' out of 55 starters were able to complete the race, and actually only 17 could be classified as having covered the official distance.

The winners average was 106.2 miles per hour, only 7.4 mph slower than last year's victory by the bigger Jaguar, running with ideal weather conditions. Great honor ~ must also go to that little 750-cc Osca, driven by de Tomaso and Davis, for winning the Index of Performance in spite of the late and aggressive attacks of the favorite DB. Panhard. Osca and Ferrari-two Italian makes. two victories-made the Italians forget their defeat of last year.

Let us now go back a few days earlier. On Wednesday and Thursday nights before race day. (Saturday, June 21st), practice was on and the latest and best sports cars of the world were noisely animating the 8.3 miles of this beautifully made circuit: The crowds were already gathering to watch the finest of sports cars. All the factory teants " we can think of were there, with the exception of the greatly missed and colorful teams of Mercedes and Maserati.

Although Jaguar was not quite there officially, it was still very much present in the form of the twice-winning Ecurie Ecosse. This time the successful Scotsmen had two cars, 3-liter D-types driven by Fairman/Gregory and Lawrence/Sanderson. The Jaguar forces were completed by the factory-supported car of Hamilton, driving with Bueb, the two Lister-Jaguars of Halford/Naylor and Dubois/Rorfssell (Belgian) and the French Jaguar of Mary /Guelfi. Later on, when a car dropped out of practice, the Jaguar of Charles Young joined forces, making an impressive total of Coventry products. .

Aston Martin had three cars of the factory DBR-1 type plus the two-year-old DB-3S of the Whitehead brothers. The teams for Aston Martin were Moss/Brabham, Brooks/ Trintignant and Salvadori/Shelby. There was nothing new about these cars that we had just seen at the Nurburg Ring.

It was the same for all three factory Ferraris which, except for minor details were the same. At the last moment Ferrari wisely decided not to enter his two prototypes, the 3-liter V-6 and the V-12, 4-overhead cam, judging that his well proven 3-liter 12-cylinder Testa Rossa was just the car for Le Mans, and he was so right! The teams were Hawthorn/Collins, Hill/Gendebien and von Trips/Seidel. A fourth team was planned but Munaron had an accident and Musso had n()t recovered from his Spa incident. The Fer­rari factory was certainly well supported with no less than six other Testa Rossas privately entered. Three of those were driven by Americans: one by Gurney/Kessler, one by Hugus/Erickson and the other by Martin and the Frenchman Tavano. The big-car list was completed by the 3-liter Maserati of Godia/Bonnier.

In the 2-liter class we had a French Maserati and a 2-liter Ferrari. of the 18-year-old Pedro Rodriguez, co-driving with Behra's brother Jose. Rodriguez' 16-year-old brother Ricardo was turned down- by the organizers as being too young. Porsche had entered a 1600 Spyder driven by Behra/Herrmann. In direct competition with the Porsche was the 2-liter Lotus of Allison and Hill. This class was completed by a Peerless (a plastic-bodied GT coupe using a Triumph engine) and two AC-Bristols, one being a sleek­looking prototype reminding us of the earlier Lotus-Bristols.

In the 1500 class Porsche had two factory cars, plus two privately owned ones to compete with the sole 1500 Lotus of Chamberlain/Lovely. Factory Porsches were driven by Barth/Frere and Frankenberg/Storez. The others were driven by de Beaufort/Linge and Colas/Kerguen. Frankenberg's and Barth's were the latest type fin-tailed cars while the others were normal Spyders. The 1500 class also included two new Alfa Romeo Giulietta coupes with bodies by Zagato. Needless to say, they were not there to beat the Porsches but to give a good demonstration of their possibilities.

Three cars were entered in the 1100-cc class: two Lotuses and one Tojeiro, a new sports car using a Coventry-Climax engine with a Volkswagen 4-speed gearbox. The Tojeiro had only one rear brake, that being a single disc mounted on the car's differential.

The 750-cc class was of course mainly French, with four DB-Panhards, four factory Panhards and two Renault VP's. Facing the French cars were three Stanguellinis, two Lotuses and two Oscas. One of the Oscas' was the factory en,try of de Tomaso/Davis and the other was a French­owned car to be driven by La Roche/Radix. That car had a new streamlined body which reminded us very much of its adversary, the Lotus. From the outside the Lotus looked like all other Lotuses, but this time the engine they were using was not a sleeved-down 1100-cc Coventry-Climax, but a 4-cylinder marine engine also made by Coventry Climax with its original displacement of 650 cc raised to 750 cc.

The DB and Panhard firms have really worked hard during these past months to present new cars. and engines. Two in each team were Spyders and the other two were coupes. Better streamlining had been achieved in both instances and weight was at last cut down to 945-990 pounds. The DB had a new twin-ignition head giving 60 hp, and Panhard had a new twin-overhead cam head giving them 66 hp at 7500 rpm, a gain of 12 hp over previous engines.

As we can see by this list, there were actually very few nouveautes presented this year at Le Mans, where we have been used to seeing so many interesting prototypes. It seems that with the new regulations and with the competition getting keener all the time, manufacturers are not inclined to run untried prototypes at Le Mans-this is unfortunate.

Perhaps a special prize should be given to manufacturers entering new cars in the race in order to encourage them. The inspection of the cars was handled in a familiar atmosphere and was marked by an amusing incident. As we said earlier, Ferrari was minus a car because of injury to two of his pilots, Musso and Munaron. When we arrived from Paris with Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn, we decided to playa joke on Ferrari's racing director, Tavoni. Peter, helped by Mike, arrived at the inspection grounds with his arm tucked under his jacket and in a sling. He said to Tavoni, "Well, I guess this is it. No Le Mans for this year!" The emotional Tavoni almost fainted, and it took a long time and many laughs before he recuperated. Back in the inspection lines, in the big-car class Jaguar weighed the most along with, surprisingly, the Ferraris. They were both around 2200 Ib, while the Aston Martins were a good 220 lb less.

According to Le Mans tradition practice was held in the evenings, which allowed only short daylight training for the cars. There were no spectacular battles between makes this year as everyone was careful and reasonable, thinking of the long day of raciI)g ahead. It was wise of them, but of course it killed the interest in the trials a bit. Although there was a big crowd (nearly 50,000 who came to see just a few cars practicing in the dark! ), the atmosphere was not as warm as in other years.

Most of the trials were run on dry pavement and the best time was achieved by Stirling Moss who pushed his Aston Martin to 121.7 mph or 4 minutes 7 seconds. Brooks's Aston Martin took the second-best time and the majority of other Aston Martin drivers were quicker than the other cars. The fastest Jaguar, driven by Fairman, did 4 min 13 sec, while the same time was done by Hawthorn in the Ferrari. The others from Ferrari were around 4 min 20 sec.

Sensation of the trials was the time done by Allison's 2 liter Lotus. The sleek English car did 4 min 13 sec for an average speed of 117.45 mph, a lot faster than Behra's Porsche which did 4 min 29 sec. Barth was the fastest of the 1500's with 4 min 31 sec, while the Lotus was the best in the 1100 class with 5 min 10 sec. De Tomaso's Osca was the best in the 750's with 5 min 19 s~c, a time which shook everyone, especially the French 750's whose best was about 6 sec slower. The general opinion of those trials was marking Aston Martin as favorite, with Jaguar and Ferrari behind them with equal chances. In the 2-liter class the Lotus was not expected to hold out for 24 hours against the Porsche, which was also favored in the 1500 class. In the 750-cc as well as in the Index the Osca was favored over the French cars and the Lotus (last year's Inder winner) which had been disappointing in practice, their Coventry Climax marine engine being not yet perfected.

Encouraged by what looked like fine weather, a very large crowd (which was to total 150,000 by racing time) invaded the circuit in theOmorning, early enough to have a picnic on the spot and to have a good look close up at the cars before the 4 :00 start. At Le Mans the cars are required to line up in front of the pits several hours before the start, which is a good thing for public interest and which adds a great deal to the pre-race atmosphere. A large majority of the drivers are also around their cars giving a last-minute check to their seat positions and checking every detail with their mechanics and team managers.

With 30 minutes to go a solid line of blue-uniformed gendarmes began clearing the track of all unauthorized people, leaving only the drivers, mechanics and a few officials on the track. With 5 minutes to go the drivers took their positions across the track from their cars. The tension gradually increased and the crowd shouted their enthusiasm and their disapproval of the photographers who were gathered on the banking along the track partly blocking their vision.                          '

The loudspeaker then asked for silence in the tradition of the Le Mans start, and the amazing thing is that when the Race Director raises his flag marking 30 seconds to go, complete silence reigns in front of the stands. From then on the emotions take over and things start happening so fast that time no longer counts. You can hear the cavalcade of 55 pairs of feet running quickly across the track, then a sort dead period before the first engine roars to life, immediately followed by the thunder of dozens of others. The firstcar sparking to life was the green car, No.2. Almost simultaneously the car was shooting toward the bridge, so spectacularly fast that by the time it went under the other cars had barely started to move. The driver of the green Aston Martin was Stirling Moss who was renewing his exploit of the Nurburg Ring by taking a 200-yard lead on the next man. This time it was Tony Brooks, who was pressed by a horde of Jaguars and Ferraris.

With the road full of multi-colored cars and the stands packed to capacity, it made a very beautiful sight. The crowd talked excitedly about the really indescribable spectacle they had just seen, while the engine noises were disappearing far away through the esses of Tertre Rouge and down the long 4-mile straight. Four minutes and 30 seconds after his standing but flying start, Moss shot past the pits with a long quarter of a mile lead on Hawthorn, Brooks, von Trips and Gendebien. Then leading the big pack came Salvadori's Aston Martin. The show was on and right from the beginning you could feel the struggle of the first hours, or as I call it, the Grand Prix of Le Mans.

Today was no different from other years and we were witnessing that always spirited duel between Moss and Hawthorn. Last year Mike won this short fight, but this year it was Moss's turn. After 5 laps Stirling was 13 seconds ahead and was gaining on every lap dispite of the fact that Mike was pushing harder all the time. It was finally Hawthorn who set the lap record with the remarkable time of 4 min 8 sec or 124.4 mph, a slower time than last year's but let us not forget that the cars had an engine displacement 25% smaller.

After an hour of faultless driving Moss was leading the field (meaning Hawthorn) by 26 sec. Then came von Trips' Brooks, Gendebien and the first Jaguar driven by Hamilton. The pace had been so great, over 116 mph, that all the competitors with the exception of the first. three leaders had been lapped at least once. Behra was leading in the 2-liter class and Storez in the 1500 class, clearly emphasizing the potentialiti'es of the Porsche. In the 750-cc class de Tomaso was running away from everyone and leading the Index as well. Disaster had already struck the Jaguar clan with both Ecurie Ecosse cars retiring with piston trouble, just asthey did at Sebring. The fabulously fast 2-liter Lotus of Allison, which went as high as eighth overall in the early stages of the race, was also out with overheating problems.

The following hour saw Moss increasing his lead over Hawthorn to I min 35 sec, lapping regularly at a speed close to the lap record of the day (121 mph). Hawthorn, in order to stay with Moss, had perhaps asked too much horn his car which now seemed to be suffering from a slipping clutch. Von Trips and Brooks were rapidly closing in on him some 15 sec ahead of Gendebien, who was easily leading Hamilton's Jaguar. Dan Gurney was seventh, driving very well in­deed for his first time out at Le Mans. Shortly after the two-hour mark Moss was suddenly missing and, the news came soon that his crankshaft had broken. At just about the same moment an enormous storm fell on the circuit, flooding the tralck and nearly drowning the spectators. Visibility was nil, the drivers had to turn on their headlight's and it was under these condition that the first change of drivers was made with many cars overshooting their pits. Rapidly the whole aspect of the race changed with the new drivers having to get the feel of the track under such hazardous conditions.

With the night falling and the rain pouring harder than ever things became worse on the track and a terrible series of accidents began, a series which was to end only with the checkered flag. Between 6:30 in the evening and 10 :00 at night no less than 12 cars were involved in bad crashes.

Several people were injured and one unfortunately lost his life when his Jaguar went out of control just beyond the Dunlop bridge. The driver of the car was Mary who finished third last year in the same Jaguar. Also involved in this terrible acci. dent was Bruce Kessler who ran into the remains of the Jaguar at high speed just a few seconds after the crash. Luckily, Kessler was thrown out of his car and received only serious bruises and broken ribs. His car, however, was completely demolished and burned. Another American, Jay Chamberlain, crashed his Lotus and was lucky to be picked up off the track before Picard's Ferrari crashed into the totally destroyed car. Jay and Picard were both fortunate in receiving only minor injuries. Among the other casual. ties were Lewis-Evans (who had replaced Shelby as co-driver with Salvadori) in his Aston Martin; Hebert whose Giulietta burned to nothing and Charles, whose Jaguar crashed at high speed into a Lotus, sending another pilot to the hospital. All this had been a dark series and it is surprising in a way that we did not have more serious in­juries or consequences. The race had been so full of excitement so far that neither the cold, the rain nor the mud seemed to have discouraged the spectators, who were still watching the gtind in great numbers.

At 10 :00 P.M. we found the Hill/Gendebien Ferrari leading the race by over a minute in front of von Trips/Seidel. Then, closing up rapidly, was the Hamilton/Bueb Jaguar which had just passed the last Works Aston Martin of Brooks/Trintignant. High-speed driving coupled to unthinkable weather conditions had really taken their toll among the entries, and after only six hours of racing no less than, 21 cars were already eliminated. The Hawthorn/Collins Ferrari had fallen back to llth place while the Behra/Herrmann Porsche had moved up into fifth. The next hour saw the Jaguar driver Bueb driving magnificently, quite at ease in the wet. After a remarkable progression the Jaguar was passing the leading Ferrari (then driven by Gendebien) shortly after 11 :00. The two cars, the red and the green, were now traveling together and the pair was soon joined by von Trips, splendidly driving the other Ferrari. The hour was exciting and everyone felt that the final winner of those 24 hours would be the car coming out victoriously from this three-way battle. A few minutes before midnight Hill took over Gendebien's Ferrari and it was not long before Hamilton did the same on the Jaguar and Seidel on the second Ferrari. This brings us to the most crucial moment of the race. It was this moment, full of tension, that Hill chose to give us the best demonstration of his talents and to establish himself as one of the world's finest sports car drivers on a wet surface. In roughly two hours and a half this California driver not only regained first place, but managed to put his car over a lap ahead of Hamilton's Jaguar. It is known in motor racing circles that Hamilton is one of the best you can find in the wet, and especially at Le Mans. Well, it was this man who was beaten there by Hill and everyone could only cheer in praise of this performance.

The halfway mark found only 26 cars left in the running. The hour was now 4 :00 A.M. The weather was by no means improving, and it was on a sort of desolate battlefield that a sad glare announced to us the light of anew day. In the near-empty pits the weary mechanics and team managers were doing their best to keep up their spirits against the elements, but you could now count the number of spectators left.

Still in the lead was the Hill/Gendebien Ferrari, beautifully holding its hard-fought place. In second, still trying.pard, was the Jaguar, a lap behind the Ferrari.Von trips' Ferrari had disappeared from the scene after Seidel crashed it quite badly. In third place, some 5 laps behind the leader, was Brooks/ Trintignant's Aston Martin which was still going strong. In fourth was the very fast Porsche 1600 of Behra/Herrmann, in fifth the Whitehead brothers Aston Martin, in sixth the well driven Lister-Jaguar of Halford/ Taylor, and in. seventh place overall, the un­disputed leader of the 1500 class, Barth; Frere's Porsche. The ,only 100% American team left was Hugus/Erickson, doing very well in ninth position. The battle for the Index of Performance was truly terrific with the lead changing several times during the night between de Tomaso's Osca and Lau­reau's Deutsch-Bonnet. Because tlle cars were in the same 750-cc class, it greatly increased the interest in this competition.

As we have said earlier, the turning point of the race was during the night. hours when Phil. Hill firinly secured first place. Hill's codriver, Gendebien, lapping with perfect regularity, was definitely more at ease in the daylight. He beautifully completed Hill's job by keeping the stubborn Jaguars away.

The morning hours, along with more storms, had naturally taken more casualties, and the conditions were most miserable for all. Hawthorn/Collins' Ferrari had retired, Brooks/Trintignant's Aston .Martin was out with gearbox trouble, and we had not a single car left in the In the 750cc class. The Lister-Jaguar had had difficulties but was able to rejoin the race after a 135-minute pit stop during which a broken camshaft was changed. The Behra/Hernnann Porsche had been in and out of its pit with brake di.ffi­culties, after leading the Whitehead Aston Martin for many hours. The well driven Aston had taken third place away from the Porsche, but their terrific duel was by no means finished and was the last until the checkered flag fell.

With only a few hours left in the running it seemed that nothing could now alter the final issue of this well fought race. At one time the Jaguar gained on the Ferrari, but soon the red car put on more steam and its lead was increased rapidly to just under two laps. This display of superior speed did not seem to impress Hamilton who seemed to be driving faster all the time. This fine showing was not going to payoff for the fighting Hamilton, however. Before noon, just as a new storm. fell heavily on the circuit, Hamilton left the' road ~nd was sent to the hospital with only slight injuries. With him disappeared the last Jaguar, making it a tOJlgh day for the Coventry firm.

It was under a menacing black sky that a triumphant Phil Hill crossed the finish line, ending one of the wettest and most difficult 24 Hours of Le Mans in history. It had been a most interesting race, but what a calvary for the drivers, spectators and photographers (whose cameras had a splendid test of reliability, Second car home was the valiant Aston Martin, and third was the Behra/Herrmann Porsche. Their 1600-cc car was followed just a lap later by Barth/Frere who certainly finished strongly in this race. The performances of these two Porsches were truly remarkable and were admirably complimented by the fifth place overall de Beaufort/Linge Porsche which had gone splendidly for an older-type car. Sixth place was taken by the Belgian Ferrari of de Changy / Beurlys, beating the American team of Hugus/Erickson whose performance was comendable. Behind Hugus was the AC Bristol prototype which had given a first class performance for its first racing appearance. It was driven by Bolton/Stoop. The Index of Performance winner was the de Tomaso/Davis Osca which accomplished the feat of finishing 11th overall, just a lap in front of its direct adversary, the DB of Laureau/Cornet. Those two cars had given us a wonderful show during all of the 24 hours, and although the brilliant Osca victory was truly merited, the defeat of the DB was more than honorable. The little French car, derived from a production machine, had the consolation of taking second place in the Index and' the whole official DB team of three cars managed to finish the race.

The 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans was a real triumph for the Italians, and a sweet revenge for their defeat there last year. Ferrari had also secured his title of Champion of the World's Constructors, and Osca confirmed their Sebring Index of Performance victory which places them now on the top of the world's best smaller cars. Germany had a good day once again with the Porsche which placed four cars in the first 10. It had been a very bad day for England whose sports car honor was fortunately saved by the privately entered Aston Martin. All of the Jaguars had retired, as did the factory Aston Martins and all the Lotuses except one the 750-cc which finished in last place. It was a good thing that the two AC-Bristols finished up in the list, while for its first time out, the Peerless was able to compete without trouble through the long hard test. It was the third time that Ferrari has won Le Mans, and it was in the wet against Hamilton that they did it the last time in 1954 when Gonzalez/Trintignant won at the wheel of the 5-liter. The Osca had truly given us a sensational demonstration of the possibili­ties of their 750-cc car. Two Oscas were entered and two were at the finish. One was first in Index and the other one fourth, a reliability display which should give a boost to Osca's sales.

The winning 3-liter Testa Rossa Ferrari can now be rated as one of the most successful sports cars made by Ferrari, with four wins out of five starts in this year's season. The Ferrari victory and the Jaguar defeat might speed up another significant event. It was rumored here that the Coventry firm will return to competition next year. Jaguar officials did not confirm this, but it would be wonderful to see Jaguar and Fer­rari resume their terrific competition here.

The Le. Mans organization was tops, as usual, with excellent press and photographer facilities. The only thing that was not up to their usual high standard was the slowness of emergency crews in getting to the scene of an aecident.

When we left the track, more rain was falling. We were wet and tired, but we were happy to have seen this great race. We hope next year's weather will be better.

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Author: ArchitectPage