The 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 15/16th)

Ferraris all the way

Right from the start this year’s race was short of runners, for a great number were withdrawn before the week of Le Mans began; all the reserves were brought in but the entry still totalled only 49 cars instead of the maximum of 55, and this included the Rover-B.R.M. turbine car which was running in an event of its own.

Scrutineering: Colin Chapman had kept to his word of last year and did not make any Lotus entries and even refused to allow his works drivers to take part with other people’s cars. The line-up of cars was getting so short that the organisers bent the rules to get everyone possible through scrutineering, and even extended the hours of scrutineering way beyond the maximum in order that Lola could get one of their exciting 4.7-litre coupés in, after they had been held up by bad weather.

Practice: This year practice meant more than mere testing periods, for the line-up for the start was to be by practice times, and it began to look as if the works Aston Martin team of two DB4GT coupés and a brand new Prototype 215 with 4-litre engine, 5-speed rear-mounted gearbox and independent rear suspension, were going to be a serious challenge to all-comers, for they were reaching around 180 m.p.h. down the Mulsanne straight and had a very strong team of drivers. Unlike previous Aston Martin cars these were really motoring by any standards. However, near the end of practice the trio of works 250P Ferraris and the North American Racing Team’s front-engined 4-litre ex-sports Ferrari began to show their paces and dominated the line-up, though Phil Hill with the new Aston Martin was in fourth position. The Cunningham team of three new lightweight Jaguar E-types, with hard-tops, and the two A.C. Cobras, with 4.7-litre Ford V8 engines were all lacking maximum speed down to Mulsanne, it being a simple question of b.h.p. The 4-litre Ferrari coupés were giving 385 b.h.p. and the 3-litre works cars must have had 350 b.h.p., whereas the Jaguars and Cobras were under 300 b.h.p.

The line-up: Ferrari paired his drivers Bandini/Scarfiotti, Parkes/Maglioli and Surtees/Mairesse, all on rear-engined V12 prototypes, the middle pair having an earlier car with normal G.T.-type clutch layout on the rear of the engine, the others having the G.P. type of clutch out behind the rear-mounted gearbox. All three carried rolled-up wire netting “tracks” in the passenger’s seat to assist in getting out of any sandbanks, which are still traditional at Le Mans. Ferrari remembered Parkes last year with the 4-litre coupé, and obviously had little confidence in his drivers.

Chinetti’s N.A.R.T. had Pedro Rodriguez/Penske in the open 4-litre car, Gurney/Hall in a Type 330/LM, a 4-litre V12 Prototype coupé, and Gregory/Piper in a brand new GTO Ferrari. Other Ferraris likely to be up among the leaders were two more 330/LM 4-litre coupés, with Noblet/Guichet and Sears/Salmon, and the GTO of Abate/Tavano.

Aston Martin paired Phil Hill/Bianchi on the Prototype 215, McLaren/Ireland and Kimberley/Schlesser on the G.T. cars, and Porsche had Bonnier/Maggs on their 8-cylinder coupé and Barth/Linge on the open 8-cylinder, both these cars having rubber torsional shock-absorbers in the drive shafts to try and relieve the stresses on the gearbox. Unknown quantities among the fast cars were Simon/Casner with the works-supported Maserati 151 coupé, with full 5-litre fuel-injection engine, the two English Junior drivers Attwood/Hobbs with the lone works Lola coupé, a brand new car this one, the three works-supported Jaguars of Cunningham/Grossmann, Salvadori/Richards and Hansgen/Pabst, and the Lister-Jaguar coupé of Sargent/Lumsden.

Entirely separate from the 24-hour race line-up, but using the same circuit for the same period of time, was the Rover-B.R.M. with turbine engine, as tried out in April but having a slightly more powerful turbine unit, and Graham Hill/Ginther as drivers. The object of this technical experiment was to cover at least 3,600 kilometres in the 24 hours, which would mean an inclusive average of 150 k.p.h. (approx. 93 m.p.h.), and thereby win a special prize put up by the organisers.

The start: By midday on Saturday all the cars had to be lined up in front of the pits and final preparations were being made for the 4 p.m. start, the fast cars at the head of the line rather than the largest capacity ones. The traditional Le Mans run-and-jump start was given and everyone got away well, Phil Hill with the 215 Aston Martin actually taking the lead as they headed for the Dunlop bridge. As soon as the field had got away, Graham Hill, sitting in the turbine car with the engine running, was flagged off to start the Rover-B.R.M. marathon.

1st hour: In a very short distance Simon in the Maserati had passed everyone to take the lead, and he proceeded to motor off to good effect during the next half-hour, leading all the Ferraris. A Rene-Bonnet turned over on the way down to the Esses, its driver, Masson, getting out unhurt, but it caused a lot of people some anxious moments, including Sargent who scraped both sides of the Lister-Jaguar, and Phil Hill, who stopped at his pit to see if he had damaged anything. Kimberley had already been into the pits as his Aston Martin was not running properly, and Fergusson was trying to dig his Elite out of the sand at Mulsanne, where he went on the opening lap. For the first hour the Maserati set the pace, with the Ferraris of Surtees, Rodriguez Parkes and Bandini chasing along behind, no one else being able to keep up. The Rover-B.R.M. was going better than anyone expected and Graham Hill had already caught up to 24th place from starting last.

2nd hour: The pace was getting very fast, Surtees setting a new lap record in 3 min. 56.7 sec., to which Rodriguez replied with 3 min. 56.2 sec., as the fuel loads went down, but still the Maserati was out in front. The Elite had got away from the Mulsanne sandbank and its place was taken by Hutcheson’s M.G.-B hard-top, and he started digging his way out. Just before 1 1/2 hours had gone by cars began to stop to refuel and some changed drivers, Roger Penske taking over from Rodriguez, whereas the works Ferraris did not change drivers at this point. The Maserati went on until nearly 6 p.m. before it refuelled, and then Casner took over, but by this time the Ferraris of Surtees and Parkes were beginning to close up on it, and Penske was holding a steady fourth place. Casner got away in the lead and was just keeping the Ferraris at bay, but Surtees had lapped in 3 min. 53.3 sec. and obviously meant business. One of the Jaguars had gone out with a broken gearbox and Bianchi had taken over the 215 Aston Martin from Phil Hill, only to have the rear axle break up.

3rd hour: Surtees and Parkes overtook Casner and before 6.30 p.m. the Maserati had broken its gearbox and its race was run. Lumsden took over the Lister-Jaguar and had not gone far before the drive from the engine to the clutch broke up, the M.G.-B got out of the sand, to be replaced by the Deep Sanderson coupé which Spender then had to dig out, and another Jaguar was in the pits with gearbox trouble. The Lola coupé was going well, driven very nicely by Attwood, and Graham Hill was still catching and passing cars with the turbine car, taking the two 2-litre GT Porsches with no trouble at all. By the end of this hour a number of cars had fallen by the wayside and there were only 37 still running.

4th hour: The pace settled down, Surtees and Parkes were completely unchallenged, the Rodriguez/Penske Ferrari was following them, and then came the Bandini/Scarfiotti works Ferrari, followed by the two 4-litre Ferrari coupés of Noblet/Guichet and Gurney/Hall. The Aston Martin of Ireland/McLaren was leading all the homologated G.T. cars, but could not challenge the prototypes, the Lola was gaining places and the turbine was running splendidly.

5th hour: The Lola was now delayed by a slipping dynamo belt, regular refuelling stops were taking place amongst most of the competitors, and second drivers were all having a go. Just before the end of the hour the engine of McLaren’s Aston Martin blew up in a big way on the fast curve at the end of the Mulsanne straight, depositing oil all over the road, McLaren coasting to a stop farther on. The cars following spun wildly, Sanderson in one of the Cobras spinning but staying on the road, Salvadori crashed in his E-type Jaguar, and two of the small cars crashed, the Brazilian driver Bino Heins losing his life in the mix-up.

6th hour: The private Aston Martin GT was in trouble with an overheating rear axle and eventually retired, the Sears/Salmon Ferrari 4-litre was going well but getting a bit hot, and the Noblet/Guichet sister car was losing oil and had to retire as it had not covered the regulation number of laps between replenishing stops. Already one of the Alfa Romeos had been disqualified for breaking this rule. At the end of the hour, which was 10 p.m., the three works Ferraris were in full command in the first three places, the N.A.R.T. Ferrari being delayed by treads flying off its Goodyear tyres, much to Dunlop’s amusement. The works-supported GTO Ferrari of Abate/Tavano lay fourth, followed by Gurney/Hall (Ferrari 330/LM), Rodriguez/Penske (Ferrari), Kimberley/Schlesser (Aston Martin) and Gregory/Piper (Ferrari GTO). The 8-cylinder Porsches were creeping up into the picture, the Jaguars were nowhere and the Lola was 15th.

7th hour: The Parkes/Maglioli Ferrari began to give trouble and the fuel system, plugs, and electrics were all suspected, but much time was wasted before the ignition was found to be the cause and corrected. By the end of the hour it had dropped to 17th place, but there were still plenty of Ferraris to move up amongst the leaders and Abate/Tavano took third place, Surtees/Mairesse still leading Bandini/Scarfiotti, with the lone Aston Martin in fifth place.

8th hour: Ferraris of all types were really dominating the race, there being eight in the first twelve places, the odd cars being the Aston Martin in fifth place, the Bonnier/Maggs Porsche 8-cylinder in seventh place, the Barth/Linge Porsche 8-cylinder in 11th place and the Attwood/Hobbs Lola in 12th place. The Rover-B.R.M. was still going perfectly and already way ahead of its schedule and running well within its capabilities. The Koch/de Beaufort 2-litre Porsche GT went out with engine trouble and Abate spun his GTO at Whitehouse bends and wrecked it against a wall.

9th hour: Penske had an oil pipe burst on the N.A.R.T. Ferrari and the subsequent smoke-screen caused Bonnier to run out of road and wreck the Porsche 8-cylinder coupé. Olthoff crashed the little Austin Healey Sprite coupé at Whitehouse and injured himself rather badly. The Aston Martin now lay fourth and the Lola eighth, with the remaining Porsche 8-cylinder in 10th place, all other places in the top ten being taken by Ferraris, with Surtees/Mairesse two laps ahead of their team-mates Bandini/Scarfiotti. The third works car was going properly again but was down in 14th place.

10th hour: The 4-litre Ferrari coupé of Gurney/Hall went out with a broken half-shaft, letting the Aston Martin up into third place. The second 2-litre Carrera Porsche went out with engine trouble. The Lola was still not getting any charge from its dynamo, but was going faster all the time.

11th hour: The last Aston Martin went out in a cloud of smoke as its engine blew up. The Lola was in trouble with a broken selector-arm bolt in the gearbox, and the Hugus/Jopp Cobra was about to be disqualified for taking on oil too soon, when its Ford V8 engine broke a connecting-rod. It was now Ferraris in the first five places, three privately-owned GTO models following the two works cars. The Rover-B.R.M. was now in 10th place overall and there were only 23 runners left in the race.

12th hour: Half-distance and 4 o’clock in the morning. The night had been clear with a heavy dew and a few mist patches, but nothing serious. Ferraris now filled the first six places, with Gregory/Piper in third place well ahead of the two Belgian GTOs run by the Equipe National Belge, driven by “Elde”/ Dumay, and “Beurly”/Langlois.

13th hour: At 4.30 a.m. the Lola gearbox was repaired and it was back in the race, going as well as ever. Daylight was back once more.

14th hour: The Gregory/Piper GTO was delayed by burnt out dynamo brushes. Hobbs was in the Lola and arrived at the Esses at high speed unable to get 3rd gear; he hit both banks and wrecked the car, escaping unhurt himself. Only 19 cars left running, plus the Rover-B.R.M. turbine car which was running as well as ever, though drivers suffered from cold feet in the small hours, there being no water pipes or radiator to keep them warm!

15th hour: Things were well settled. Ferraris were in the first six places, the Surtees/Mairesse car in complete command of the race. The Cunningham/Grossman Jaguar was holding seventh place, but was being rapidly caught by the Parkes/Maglioli works 250P Ferrari. The Gregory/Piper car was down to fifth place, due to delay.

16th hour: Gregory puts the GTO into the sandbank before Arnage corner in his hurry to make up time after the dynamo trouble. Has to spend more than half an hour digging it out. Number of runners now reduced to sixteen, the healthy ones doing regular stops for fuel and driver changes, some changing tyres and some changing brake pads. Ferraris still in first six places as the Parkes/Maglioli car moved up as the Gregory/Piper one dropped back.

17th hour: A quiet hour apart from Gregory arriving back at the pits and having the front of the bodywork straightened out a bit and the lone Jaguar losing its brakes at the end of the Mulsanne straight and crashing into the straw bales. Arrived at pits slowly and very bent.

18th hour: The Parkes/Maglioli Ferrari moved up a place, but it was still Ferraris all the way. The Rover-B.R.M. turbine car was running as well as ever and was the only way the British could hold up their heads against the Ferrari onslaught.

19th hour: The Jaguar was repaired with bits from another car and Briggs Cunningham rejoined the race, to much applause from the crowds. Mairesse took over the leading car from Surtees and crashed at Esses, the driver burnt slightly by a fire that broke out. They had been two laps ahead of the Bandini/Scarfiotti car but had not realised this. The two young Italian drivers now led the race by 16 laps from the first GTO Ferrari.

20th hour: The morning sun was now getting hot as the time moved on towards midday, and tiredness was overcoming everyone. In the 19th hour the open 8-cylinder Porsche driven by Barth arrived at the pits on three wheels, the right rear axle stub having sheared off. Luckily this happened on the approach to the pit-lane and the car came to rest in the pit-lane, so Barth was permitted to push it to the Porsche pit where mechanics set to work and fitted a new stub axle, brake assembly, disc and wheel, and Linge set off with the car just before 11.30 a.m. This dropped the car from fourth to eighth place and let the A.C. Cobra of Sanderson/Bolton up into sixth place, just ahead of the Rover-B.R.M.

21st hour: There were now only 15 runners left, including the turbine car, with Ferraris in the first five places, the leading car of Bandini/Scarfiotti now touring round, the two Belgian Ferraris were both 17 laps behind and the Parkes/Maglioli car was catching them.

22nd hour: The Gregory/Piper Ferrari GTO caught and passed the A.C. Cobra, giving Ferraris the first six places, there being only six Ferraris still running, so it can safely be said that the Maranello cars were dominating the scene. Most of the cars were looking oily and dirty and some sounded very woolly and ragged, but meanwhile the Rover-B.R.M. turbine car looked clean and was going as well as at the start of the demonstration. Before the end of this hour it had covered the distance imposed by the organisers, to qualify for the special prize, and could have stopped and gone home. It was eighth overall, headed only by Ferraris and the 4.7-litre A.C. Cobra.

23rd hour: The last of the three French Alpine-Renault coupés went out with engine trouble, leaving thirteen cars still running in the race, with one of the Rene-Bonnet coupés in trouble and a long way behind. The Rover-B.R.M. made the total up to 14.

24th hour: Preparations were made for receiving the finishers, the pit area became knee-deep in gendarmes, the Rover-B.R.M. seemed to be running better than any of the competitors. The Parkes/Maglioli Ferrari was on 11 cylinders and was in second place at 3 p.m. during last stops, but dropped back behind the “Beurlys”/Langlois GTO and settled down to third place, leaving the Ferrari customers to have the glory of second place. The Bandini/Scarfiotti car was over 200 kilometres ahead and the two Italian drivers were finding the last hour a nervous strain. In the last few minutes of the race the five Ferraris got into line-ahead formation, followed by the cheeky M.G.-B of Hutcheson/Hopkirk.

It was a Ferrari grand slam; eleven cars started and six finished, in the first six places, two went out with engine trouble, two crashed and one broke an axle. The Lotus Elite and the M.G.-B, both of which had spent a long time in the sandbank at Mulsanne, finished the race, which more than repaid the drivers for the hard work of digging them out. The Porsche of Barth/Linge and the Jaguar of Cunningham/Grossmann, both of which were extensively rebuilt at the pits, finished the race, showing that it pays to “never give up.” The Rover-B.R.M. turbine car did much more than was expected or required of it and impressed everyone.

Ferrari cars were in the first six places on distance, the first four places on Index of Performance Handicap, and 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th on the Handicap of Thermal Efficiency. Without fear of contradiction it can be said that Ferraris were all-conquering at the 1963 Le Mans 24-hour race. If you want a good car, buy a Ferrari; if you want a car for the future it could well be a Rover-B.R.M. turbine car. It is now 16 years since the Ferrari V12-cylinder layout was first created, and there are people who think Jaguar and Aston Martin engines are old-fashioned. Perhaps the V12 Ferrari engine was advanced when it first appeared. The winning Ferrari set up a new record for distance and speed in the 24 hours.—D. S. J.