Les vingt - quatre heures du Mans

A review

THERE is little point at this late stage after the Le Mans 24 hour race in giving a lap by lap or hour by hour detailed account of the event; it is sufficient to précis the major happenings between 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21st and 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 22nd, and then look more closely into the why's and wherefore's of the event. For the first two hours weather conditions were good and Stirling Moss, driving a DBR1/300 Aston Martin ran away from the rest of the field. Without apparently stressing the engine Moss built up a commanding lead ready for when his co-driver Jack Brabham took over, but after only 2 hours 10 minutes of racing the Aston Martin engine broke in a big way and Moss stopped at Mulsanne. This left Von Trips (Ferrari), Brooks (Aston Martin) and Hawthorn (Ferrari) battling for the lead, but the last of the three stopped to refuel and Collins took over. As if in sympathy with Moss' retirement, the skies burst asunder and torrential rain fell which prevented any further serious racing, and foul weather conditions continued throughout the evening, the night, the early morning, and intermittently, all day Sunday.

Due to driver changes and the second driver not being able to keep up the pace of the number one driver, both the Trips/Seidel Ferrari and the Brooks/Trintignant Aston Martin lost ground during the evening, while the Gendebien/Hill Ferrari gained a commanding lead. The Collins/ Hawthorn Ferrari was delayed at the pits for a long time with clutch trouble and it was never able to re-challenge the leaders, finally retiring from the fray, while any hopes of a Jaguar challenge looked meagre indeed, for the two Ecurie Ecosse D-types had retired within 30 minutes of the start, both with burst pistons and in the opening stages the only other Jaguar of any consequence, that of Hamilton/Bueb seemed to be outclassed. However, though the car might have been outclassed by the Ferraris and Aston Martins, the drivers most certainly were not, and in the rain and dark of Saturday evening, the car moved steadily up the leader board. Just before midnight on Saturday, in terrible weather conditions Bueb did a fine job of driving, weaving in and out of the slower cars and caught and passed Gendebien who was driving the leading Ferrari. The Belgian driver then stopped for fuel and Phil Hill took over, but shortly after that Bueb came in for a refuel and to hand over to Hamilton and though the dark green Jaguar got away before the Ferrari appeared, by the end of the next lap Hill had caught and passed Hamilton.

For a brief spell the rain stopped, though everything was still very wet and the Ferrari drew further and further away into the lead. During the early hours of the morning the Brooks/Trintignant Aston Martin which had been lying third went out with transmission trouble and Seidel put his works Ferrari into a ditch and by consistent and reliable running the Debra/Henmann 1600 Porsche RSK came up into third place, followed by the two Whiteheads in their privately prepared DB3S Aston Martin. Around breakfast time on Sunday the Porsche developed brake trouble and lost a lot of time having a brake drum and brake shoes replaced and this let the Whitehead's into third place, behind the Hamilton/Bueb Jaguar. The leading Ferrari was running comfortably within its limits, neither Hill nor Gendebien having to take risks in the continual rain, nor did they need to strain the Ferrari engine or brakes. At midday on Sunday it was still raining, and Hamilton spun off the road in the second place Jaguar and this let the Whitehead's in second position with the Behra/Herrmann Porsche now third and fully-braked once more. With now nearly 100 miles lead the Ferrari toured round, going just fast enough not to look ridiculous and won what must have surely been the wettest Le Mans on record.

If we first of all look at the Le Mans entry from a technical standpoint and deal with engines, the outlook was very depressing. With the 1958 F.I.A. ruling in force limiting engine sizes to 3 litres, the cars battling for the lead seemed very slow and Hawthorn's fastest lap in the dry stages of the race on Saturday afternoon does not compare favourably with his 1957 record. Last year in a 4.1-litre Ferrari he did 3 mins. 58.7 secs. (203.015 k.p.h.) and this year his best was 4 mins. 08 secs. (195.402 k.p.h.) with the 3 litre Ferrari, a creditable time and a complete justification of the F.I.A. attempt to reduce the speeds of sports cars, but as a spectacle for the public, and Le Mans is nothing more nor less than that, some of the glamour of the race was gone. Reviewing the engines of the 3-litre category, we find Ferrari has gone back to a basic design that originated in 1946-47, of a 60 deg. vee 12 cylinder with chain-driven single camshaft to each bank and which since that date, has appeared in all sizes from 1500 c.c. to 4900 c.c., the 1958 engine being virtually identical to the production 250 G.F. unit. The Jaguar 3-litre engines date back in basic design about as long as the Ferrari unit and mounted as they were in standard D-type chassis which dates back to 1954, there was a distinct air of the vintage about the place. Aston Martin at least were using 1957 cars in their DBR1/300 models, and the engines did have the latest cylinder heads, but four main bearing crankshafts on a six-cylinder goes back to the dark ages. As far as the Lister-Jaguars and private Testa Rossas 3-litre Ferraris were concerned their engines followed the factory cars from Maranello and the D-types. The Whitehead's DB3S really is an old one, but meticulously prepared and tuned as shown by their second place, and the only advantage of stagnation in design amongst factory teams and near-factory entrants is that the true private-owners can get a look in. To complete the big car class, there was a lone 300S Maserati, whose six-cylinder engine was outdated in 1956.

Passing into the 2-litre class we still find no new engines, the 1600-c.c. Porsches merely being enlarged versions of the proven Spyder engine, while the Bristol engines in the A.C.s were embarrassing to see, for on the day before the race there was a gathering of pre-war Le Mans ears and there were present two B.M.W.s with virtually the same engines. Lotus were using a 2-litre version of the Coventry-Climax twin-cam engine in one of their cars, while other entries in this class were 4 cylinder Ferrari and Maserati that were dug up from the past. In the 1500-c.c. category the ever-present Porsche Spyder engines were there, the twin cars Climax again and two Giulietta Alfa-Romeos, once more nothing new, while the three 1100-c.c. cars, two Lotus and a Tojeiro, used the ever-faithful single cam Climax engine. It was not until the 750-c.c. group that anything new in engines could be found and that was the 650 c.c. single-cam Climax engine, enlarged to 747 c.c. to be put into Lotus cars. The works Lotus broke its engine in practice and did the race with the 1957 engine that was a modified 1100 c.c. unit, so that left only one 1958 engine, that in the French-owned Lotus 750. Taking the basic flat-twin Panhard engine both Monopole and Bonnet produced new versions, the former with a double o.h.c. cylinder head and the latter with a new arrangement of pushrod o.h.v. using camshafts mounted high in the crankcase and short pushrods. Stanguellini and OSCA in this class used well-tried twincam four cylinder units. There was an idea that the Le Mans 24-hour race was the proving ground for the engines of tomorrow's touring and sports car engines, but that now seems difficult to justify.

On the subject of chassis design and suspension, the outlook was a little brighter for the Lister chassis was making its first appearance on the Sarthe circuit, as was the new A.C. space-frame chassis, designed by Tojeiro; the 1100-c.c. Tojeiro, the Peerless saloon, the 1958 RSK Punches, the Lotus Fifteen in 2-litre and 1 1/2-litre form and the two Panhard-Monopoles with double-wishbone and coil spring i.f.s. in place of the double transverse leaf spring Panhard suspension. It is surely ironical that the Sarthe circuit, which is noted for its smoothness and kindness to chassis and suspension design, should this year see most technical newcomers in this department; whereas engines, which really do undergo a severe testing during 24 hours running, saw little that was new. It certainly seems that competitors went to Le Mans this year intent solely on winning the £4,000 prize money for first place and not for the purposes of testing and development to "improve the breed" as we have been mislead to believe was the purpose behind the 24 hours of Endurance in the past. There was a distinct feeling this year that interest in the Le Mans race from the point of view of car builders was waning, while entries were not only down in number but also in quality. With an entry limited to 55 it was surprising that only 4 reserves were received, while among the 55 were some runners that gave the impression that the Automobile Club de l'Ouest were scraping the bottom of the barrel to make up the number.

In all, 56 cars were permitted to start, and of the 112 drivers involved the most outstanding impression was that of the number of American drivers taking part, many of them making their first European appearance, while others were having their first 1958 race in Europe at this event. While their participation is to be encouraged it is a pity that some of them who have good driving ability come all this way to be lost in the maelstrom of the vast number of drivers competing, often being second drivers, so that their true ability is never fully appreciated. To the casual onlooker at Le Mans, and most of the onlookers are casual, some of the drivers were probably never even noticed, especially if their cars broke down and they did not finish. Two such drivers were Dan Gurney and Pete Lovely, both of whom made names in American club racing and it would have been interesting to watch racing on equal terms with European drivers; Gurney drove a private Testa Rossa Ferrari in the opening stages of the rare and made an excellent impression by keeping up with the leading works cars, sitting right behind Salvadori's DBR 1/300 Aston Martin with ease, but Lovely was only second driver on a 1500 c.c. Lotus and by the time he had a chance to drive the car was giving trouble so, no estimation of his ability could be made. There were other similar cases, not only confined to American drivers, but to British ones making their first appearance outside the U.K. The Le Mans 24 hour race is certainly not the race in which to try and make a name, yet often drivers do make a reputation on winning this 24 hour classic but if we are going to look for racing drivers, the G.P. d'Endurance is not really the right place. Then there are the drivers who enter, practice, learn the circuit, risk I their necks in night practice and then never even take part in the actual event because they are number two drivers and their number one team mates either break the curs or crash them. Among this year's non-driving drivers were Brabham (very relieved as Aston Martins had only allowed him five practice laps and expected him to partner Stirling Moss), Gregory who waited in vain for Fairman to reappear with the first of the Scottish Jaguars, Lawrence who did likewise, watching Sanderson make a very short race; Graham Hill who watched Allison drive their 2-litre Lotus for a few laps until it overheated, and numerous others. They must have all wondered why they ever bothered to visit Le Mans, while even worse frustration is suffered by those drivers who get the car into a good position and have their co-drivers blow it up or crash it; among such were von Trips (Seidel put their car in the ditch), Gurney (Kessler crashed their car into a Jaguar), Bueb (Hamilton put their D-type off the road), Salvadori (Evans crashed their DBR1/300 Aston Martin), Lauga (Herbert rolled their Giulietta over), Stacey (Dixon put the 750 Lotus in the sand) and so on. One cannot blame the drivers concerned, especially on the Le Mans circuit which is noted for its high accident rate, and, in particular, under the weather conditions prevailing in this year's race, but no doubt when a driver hands a car over to his co-driver, seemingly in good condition and then the crank breaks or it crashes, there must be a certain desire to call him "an incompetent idiot."

When it is all finished and the fatigue and strain of the 24 hours driving is over most people's immediate reaction is "never again," but after a few weeks the attitude changes and thoughts turn to the next year's event. There is no doubt that Le Mans has a strange fascination for designers, drivers, mechanics and spectators alike, and part of this fascination is in the unknown quantities contained in 24 hours of racing, while another part is the long tradition of the race, dating back to 1923. Also there is the arduousness and boring fatigue of the whole affair which many people willingly suffer once a year just to be able to say "The racing game is not an easy life all the time, there's always Le Mans."

What of this year's race itself? Among the potential outright winners on distance, handicap and in the various classes, the most outstanding impression was one of over-confidence by the majority of British entries. With all the D-type Jaguars out-dated and too slow with 3-litre engines, Aston Martins were a dead-cert for a win, while the Jaguar owners knew that victory with the same cars came in 1956 and 1957 by sheer reliability and suitability to the circuit and the race. Yet not a single Jaguar nor a works Aston Martin finished the race. A three-year-old Aston Martin finished second, having been prepared, tuned and serviced throughout the race by mechanics from Motorworke Chalfont, having no assistance from Feltham, and Peter and Graham Whitehead were obviously racing purely for the fun of the thing, to them it is essentially a sport. Lotus won the Index handicap so easily last year with a 750-c.c. entry that this year a repeat performance using a new Climax engine seemed easy but the Lotus Eleven with rigid rear axle and enlarged 650-c.c. engine just was not fast enough to challenge the 750-c.c. OSCA. After striving to make a success of the Lotus Fifteen with the twin-cam Climax engine lying on its side, Chapman had to do some hurried redesigning and raise the engine nearly upright, having a 17 deg. tilt the opposite way. The combined efforts of Lotus and Climax had failed to achieve the maximum h.p. output from the horizontal engine position and the hurried lifting up was obviously untried before Le Mans; this applied also to the 2-litre Lotus Fifteen and both cars were in trouble front the start of the race. Not content with 750, 1500 and 2000-c.c. entries Chapman also ran a reliable and proven Lotus Eleven in the 1100-c.c. class but this had engine trouble. There was a definite impression that Lotus Engineering were trying to do too much with their limited resources. On the other hand A.C. Cars entered a normal Bristol-Ace driven by the Swiss drivers Pathey and Berger and the new Tojeiro space-frame car driven by Stoop and Bolton and both cars finished, being ninth and eighth respectively; and though they did not go impressively fast, at least they showed reliability, and an overall plan in keeping with their ability. The lone Peerless saloon did a similar job, its Triumph T113 mechanical components hardly likely to cause concern and, although it finished, it was unfortunately too slow to be officially classified as a finish. Two Lister-Jaguars made their first appearance at Le Mans and both had trouble with the Jaguar part of the combine, the Belgian car breaking an oil pipe and the Halford/Naylor car having gearbox trouble, which was a pity as it way lying seventh overall at the time.

Of the continental cars, Ferrari entered three V12 cylinder 3 litres with de Dion rear ends and modified bodywork having a smooth front with slots for letting air into vital places, in contrast to the production Testa Rossa cars which have the rather functional looking divided nose and wheel fairings. It is interesting that the prototype for this production car appeared at Le Mans last year, complete with rigid rear axle, and this year there were six production versions competing in private hands; perhaps Le Mans does develop-the-breed, if only the breed for the next year's race; Porsche entered three 1958 RSK cars, two with 1588-c.c. engines and one with the normal 1498-c.c. engine, while they gave support to the Beaufort and Linge with an RS car. Had not the Frankenberg/Storez car been run into during the night it is very likely that Porsche cars would have finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth, for as it was they were third, fourth and fifth, crossing the line more or less side by side after running the last few laps of the race in line-ahead order. As already mentioned, but for being delayed by brake trouble the Behra/Herrmann car would have been placed second overall. For what it was worth they won the 2-litre class and the 1 1/2-litre class with what has now become a traditional display of speed and reliability. It's possibly time that Porsche stopped playing safe and had a go for an outright win at Le Mans. The works supported 750-c.c. OSCA of de Tomaso and Cohn Davis was one of the most outstanding things of the whole race and their win on Handicap and the £4,000 prize was well-earned and should do that courageous little Bologne firm a great deal of good.

Perhaps the most outstanding impression left in the mind after this year's race was the number of crashes and the wreckage of cars that lay around the circuit. Even in the best years the number of crashed cars at Le Mans is remarkable, for it is surely one of the most dangerous races on the calendar, but with so much money at stake few people are prepared to complain about the danger or try to stop the race, but this year, with appalling weather conditions, and an even larger percentage of "first-time" drivers, the carnage was remarkable. Many of the crashes were caused through poor visibility, others were due to cars arriving on the scene of an accident before any warning could be given, some were clue to baulking by slower cars and others the result of plain carelessness. Of the 36 cars that retired, 15 ended up as wrecks, some totally destroyed, others merely bent, and of the drivers one lost his life and the other 14 got away with it. The 1958 Le Mans 24-Hour race was a memorable one in many ways, perhaps not the worst in memory, but certainly the worst for some years.—D. S. J.

Mont Ventoux hill climb

The week following Le Mans the Porsche team went to Mont Ventoux, near Avignon for the second round in the Hill Climb Championship and, as in Greece, the factory Borgward team were their main opponents. The championship being limited to 1500-c.c. sports, Behra's car had to have an engine change after leaving Le Mans. Perfect weather enabled the first five cars to beat the old record for the 21.6 kms. mountain climb.

Prix de Paris

This year's small meeting held on June 15th, on the Montlhey road/ track circuit was almost entirely dominated by Coopers, the main event for F2 being over 100 kms.

Jean Bloxam

Mrs. Jean Bloxam asks us yo point out that the accident in which she was involved while practising for the B.A.R.C. Members' Meeting at Goodwood on June 14th, when her Aston Martin DB3S coupé was badly damaged, was caused through avoiding a competitor who spun in front of her, and not through an error of judgment on her part.