The nine that got away

Graham Hill drove an electric mix of machinery in a Le Mans career that spanned three decades and 10 starts. He made his debut in the 24 Hours with Lotus in 1957, but his first taste of the Circuit de la Sarthe came the previous year. The up-and-coming driver was still working as a mechanic when he was allowed to undertake a handful of laps during practice.

Jabby Crombac had smoothed the way for Lotus’ entry by offering one of the team’s Climax-engined Elevens to local farmers Andre Hechard and Roger Masson. “That pleased the organisers because they gave as many entries to local lads as possible to help attract spectators,” explains „lobby. ‘They had to nominate a third driver and I said it should be Graham.”

But the Englishman didn’t get to drive in the race, nor would he the following year when he was promoted from mechanic to driver. Cliff Allison managed just three laps in their Eleven before either Hill or Pete Lovely could take the wheel.

Engine problems would account for Hill during his next four starts at Le Mans. In 1962, he and Richie Ginther led the race in Project Aston Martin DP212, but it wasn’t until his F1 seat with BRM resulted in a drive in the experimental Rover-BRM turbine in ’63 that he made the finish.

In 1964, Hill and Bonnier were second to Nino Vaccarella and Jean Guichet’s works Ferrari 275P, though they were never quite in the hunt in Ronnie Hoare’s Ferrari 330P prototype. Hill raced at Le Mans twice more in the 1960s — once in the Rover-BRM (10th in 1965) and then in an Alan Mann Ford GT40 (retired with suspension failure in ’66). Then he turned his back on the race — until a very tempting offer from Matra.