A British victory at Le Mans! Thanks to William Lyons for building the new Type “C” XK 120 Jaguar, to Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead for driving one to a brilliant victory, and to Stirling Moss for taking the lap record in another of these Jaguars in the early stages of the World’s most important sports-car race and thus breaking up the Talbot opposition, this came true in the year’s race.
The winning Jaguar covered 2,243.9 miles in the two rounds of the clock, a speed of 93.49 m.p.h. 3.76 m.p.h. faster than last year. They finished, to British cheers, nine laps ahead of a 4½-litre Talbot, driven by Meyrat and Mairesse. Moss’ 105.1 m.p.h. lap record beat the 1950 Talbot record by 2.26 m.p.h.
Le Mans, Friday
The French cannot understand this at all. Traditionally, Le mans’ weather should be blazing sunshine, but today it is overcast and last night it was so wet that few drivers went out to practise. This evening there is a light drizzle, but as the dusk gathers the grandstand enclosure is filling up well with spectators anxious to see the night practise. Most of the cars are out, and among the fast ones, one notices, as they sweep by behind the beams of their headlamps, that the Jaguars are going very well, with a most steady and reassuring hum from the engine. The French Talbots seem to spend most of their time at the pit and there seems to be some unhappiness about their plugs. The very impressive Cunninghams which we have visited in their garage at Le Mans (a model of efficiency) are not out this evening. There are so many Ferraris (of various types) that they take some time to sort out, but one or to of them are going very fast.
Noon – It is not just a light drizzle any more, but real hard rain. The course around which we have just motored, with its very smooth surface, is undoutebly going to be slippery. Do English drivers still mind rain less than the Continentals?
2 p.m. – Everyone in the motoring world is parading up and down in front of the pits now, including several American friends: Charles Lytle, who wrote to us some months ago that he was never likely to come to Europe: Alec Ulmann: and Peter Helch, who says it is quote easy to draw!
4 p.m. – After all the rain relented; and when the breathless silence descended on a Le Mans start it was dry, even if the skies were grey. Charles Faroux, debonair with his tricolor in hand, gets younger every year. Intolerable silence: the flag drops: and a babel of sound. The Allards, Nos 1 and 2 are well away, then the indecipherable melée of the pack. The 19th Grand Prix d’Endurance is on.
4:30 p.m. – Gonzales, on Talbot No. 7, after a brilliant start, was first past the tribunes at the end of the first lap, then Moss on Jaguar No. 22, then Cole on No. 1 Allard. The Cunninghams and the Ferraris are taking things much more steadily at the start. On the third lap, Cole is missing and later comes in with a battered right-hand back wing. Almost simultaneously, Moss goes by Gonzales just past the tribunes and at 4:20 the Jaguar leads.
8 p.m. – The Bentleys who put the English green on the map of Le Mans look as if they have some very worthy successors in these Jaguars. No. 23, driven by Talbot, which has just been taken over by Marinon, and two Jaguars are in the first two places. What is more, by my watch, Stirling Moss on the leading car has gone round in 4 mins. 50 sec., which means over 104 m.p.h. The rain still holds off and the roads are drying nicely.
We looked in vain just now for No. 23 Jaguar and alas! it does not seem to be going to reappear. Leslie Johnson, vainly trying to telephone, is a more dejected man than somewhat. The car is out with no oil pressure, he tells us, and he has not even had a rider. Moreover, Fangio has now taken over No. 6 Talbot fro Rosier, and in the gathering dusk, with a light drizzle falling, has clipped 2 sec. off Moss’ lap record. From the Jaguar point of view, there are rather a lot of these Talbots.
The Cunninghams are going vert steadily, but are hardly threatening the leaders. There seems to be a little trouble with their gearboxes, which we have heard of before with American cars. Huntoon on Briggs Cunningham’s own No. 3, comes in soon after dark with a faulty light dipper and complains that “she’s sticking a bit on second.” “Then leave her in high” says le patron. But when Huntoon tries to go off again there does not seem to be much clutch, and he cannot get any gear in. Finally the engine stalls. “Put her in gear,” commands Alec Ulmann: “now start your motor.” And the big car goes off on the starter, presumably “in high,” till the engine fires. There are virtues as well as vices in these American cars.
It has come on to rain in earnest now, and the field is thinning perceptibly.
By 10 o’clock though it was some time before we realised it (the score-board is by now very much behind the times), No. 20 Jaguar, the Peter Walker-Peter Whitehead car, was in second place behind Moss and Fairman’s No. 22 and Fangio on No. 6 Talbot had by brilliant driving got ahead of his team-mate Marinon on No. 7. Then, a few minutes ago, there was drama in the Talbot pit. Fangio came in to hand over, the car was refuelled in good order. Rosier took his place in the driving seat, pressed the starter and – nothing happened. He tried again; nothing. Tried yet again; the engine turned on and started a carburetter fire, easily blown out by the mechanic. Tried again; nothing. Rosier throws his hands up in despair. The French spectators groan. Rosier tries again; the engine starts and away goes No. 6, after a devastating delay.
The rain continues pitilessly: but a large and devoted crowd still throngs the enclosures. I suppose that while there’s motor racing on, a French crowd will drown, if necessary.
5 a.m. – It has been a night of almost continuous rain, but while this has reduced speeds it has not saved the field from heavy casualties. Both the fast Talbots, Nos. 6 and 7, are out, but so is the leader, Moss and Fairman’s Jaguar, which, it seems, lost all its oil pressure like Biondetti’s and broke something before it could even get to its pit. Two of the Cunninghams have gone, one with the transmission trouble which was not unexpected, Briggs Cunningham’s own with something more surprising – a steering column which broke at the base, fortunately at low speed, down near Arnage: but the third car is now in second place. Hall and Navone’s Ferrari, after getting up into second place, has apparently used up all its electricity on its lights, and when it stops at its pit, there is none left to restart the engine. Sidney Allard’s car arrives in the darkness apparently on fire in a big way, but the second car is still running. The Walker-Whitehead Jaguar still leads, and the Aston Martin team is still complete, with the cars going beautifully, Macklin and Thompson’s lying third.
With the down the rain has stopped, but it is perishing cold for a midsummer morning.
9 a.m. – First there was a patch of blue sky, then a gleam of sunshine, and although there is still plenty of cloud about, it is much more like a Le Mans day. Walking down to the S bends in the early morning we saw No. 5 Cunningham abandoned just beyond the Dunlop bridge. It may have gone out with transmission trouble, but it seems to have hit the bank at the side of the road in the process. The Aston Martins are particularly impressive through the bends, but everyone is going much more slowly than yesterday, which, as the Jaguar has a lead of some seven laps, is hardly surprising from its point of view, and it is content to lap at about 95 m.p.h.
12:30 p.m. – About an hour ago there was something like consternation in the Cunningham pit, for the one remaining car, which was looking like a certainty for second place, was seriously overdue, and finally came in short of a cylinder, to judge by the sound of it. The driver, it seems, suspected a valve or piston, and after a stop of nearly an hour all hope1 of second place has gone, and the car goes off slowly, still on less than eight cylinders, although it has already qualified. This lets Macklin and Thompson’s Aston Martin up into second place, but the No. 9 Talbot, driven by Meyrat and Mairesse is coming up very fast and a terrific duel looks like developing for second place. The leading Jaguar, however, is so far ahead that, barring accidents, its position looks unassailable.
3:30 p.m. – No. 9 Talbot is in second place and drawing away from No. 23 Aston Martin, but the performance of these Aston Martins, which are all still running, and looking and sounding as good as ever, is perhaps the outstanding feature of the race.
1st: P. Walker and P. Whitehead (Jaguar), 2,243.9 miles at 93.49 m.p.h
2nd: P. Meyrat and G. Mairesse (Talbot)
3rd: L. Macklin and E. Thompson (Aston Martin)