The red cars continued to bleed. The leading Ferrari 335S of Mike Hawthorn threw its left-front tread before the two-hour mark; new leader Jean Behra was fit to be tied when co-driver André Simon returned on foot after a seized UJ had ruptured their Maserati’s fuel tank; and Stirling Moss/Harry Schell, simmering in the Zagato coupé version of the mighty Maserati 450S, and already delayed by a fractured oil pipe, would soon suffer the same failure.
JUN 23rd 2017
Jaguar D‑Type 1957, part 2: Ecurie Ecosse scoops historic Le Mans double
Piston problems would then eliminate two works Ferrari – Hawthorn had set a new lap record in a doomed bid to recover the lead – and the Scuderia’s remaining car was being hampered by fading front brakes; Hawthorn had been warned by the team that its old-hat drums would not go the distance.
Whereas the disc-braked Jaguars were relentless and reassuringly reliable. Ivor Bueb was holding second place when he handed the faster of Ecurie Ecosse’s D-Types to Ron Flockhart. By 6.30pm, the Edinburgh driver was leading. The team’s other D, having run outside the top 10 in the early stages, was also making solid progress and benefiting from others’ misfortunes and unpreparedness; for now, however, it appeared to be the slowest of the privateer Jags.
The fastest – along the Mulsanne Straight at least – was that of the rambunctious Duncan Hamilton. Despite being sacked from the works team for disobeying orders to win the previous year’s Reims 12 Hours, he found himself now benefiting from the guest presence of Jaguar’s famous team manager ‘Lofty’ England and its most experienced race mechanic Len Hayden. Co-driven by up-and-coming American Masten Gregory – bespectacled, spectacular and none braver – this ex-works, long-nose car, XKD 601, featured a 3.8-litre XK ‘six’ running on Weber carbs rather than Lucas fuel injection and was clocked at 179mph – a figure of little comfort when twice its headlights failed.
The other Ds were in the vivid hues of Equipe Nationale Belge (canary yellow with a broad central stripe of forest green) and the French blue of Equipe Los Amigos. Though both were short-nose 3.4s, the former, prepped and tended to by works mechanics, was substantially the quicker. Shared by journo-racer Paul Frère and motorbike/rally convert ‘Freddy’ Rousselle, who had co-driven the same car to fourth place as the latest of late replacements in 1956 – Roger Laurent walking away mere minutes before the off – XKD 573 this time looked set for a podium result until it suffered ignition failure, stranding it on the far side of the circuit. Though Rousselle, from Verviers, used his practical smarts to fashion a temporary repair of the contact-breaker, much time was wasted and he was destined to finish fourth again.
And so it was Le Mans-born Jean Lucas, another rally man and more familiar in Ferraris, who finished on the podium, XKD 513 co-driven by rookie ‘Mary’, real name Jean-Marie Brussin, a manufacturer of synthetic diamonds. Not until the early morning was this evenly matched pairing overtaken by the theoretically faster long-nose D of Ninian Sanderson/’Jock’ Lawrence.
Thus Ecurie Ecosse was running one-two, its reliability seemingly impregnable and its scheduled, regulation pitstops – Esso fuel and oil, water and Dunlop tyres – the epitome of efficiency. While the depleted Scuderia Ferrari downed pit boards for Sunday lunch, Ecosse’s mechanics Stan Sproat and Ron Gaudion were grabbing snacks and catnaps; their boss ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson went without sleep the entire time.
Hamilton’s race was too exciting in comparison. Slipped engine timing caused overheating that fried the exhaust pipe, which in turn seared a hole in the floor and sent flames jetting into the cockpit; Gregory, fourth at the time, kept his foot in. Patched using bulletproof steel plate – don’t ask! – they charged through the night to make up lost time and, or so Hamilton thought, passed the works Ferrari on the finish line to take fifth place. In fact, he was still a lap shy and so the quintet of D-Types had to ‘make do’ with a 1-2-3-4-6.
Hamilton almost ran over “some very stupid and overexcited Scotsmen” celebrating this incredible result. Ecurie Ecosse had remained immaculate to the end, its year-old production Jaguars defeating the serried ranks of prototypes and setting a new record: 2732 miles. It was the Coventry marque’s fifth victory since 1951 at the Circuit de la Sarthe, a hat trick for its svelte D-Type, and the second win apiece for Ecosse, Bueb and Flockhart.
The 25th running of France’s most famous motor race was almost entirely British: three-quarters of the top 16 was UK machinery. All four Lotus Elevens finished, for goodness’ sake, the brace of works cars winning the 1100cc and 750cc classes, scoring a one-two in the Index of Performance and securing the Rudge-Whitworth Biennial Cup.
Ecurie Ecosse had little time for its celebration, however. Charismatic boss David Murray enjoyed new challenges – he was the first Scottish driver to contest a World Championship Grand Prix – and could not, therefore, resist the lure of the following Saturday’s Race of Two Worlds at Monza, a supposed showdown between the best from both sides of the Atlantic. While his transporters were loaded, he, Lawrence and Wilkinson went ahead to recce the route, some Alpine passes having being shut by storms. Their advisory message was to be sent to the Automobile Club Lyon, where the team would collect it. It never arrived: the message, not the team. Erring on the side of caution, those hard-pressed transporters had to take the long way round, via Nice and Menton, a journey that took three days – and included the replacement of a broken suspension spring.
Europe’s only representative in the 500-mile race (comprised of three heats) on Monza’s bankings, the Jaguars were outgunned by the lighter, smaller and more powerful Indy roadster single-seaters, but again they proved reliable, finishing 4-5-6 in the hands of Jack Fairman, Lawrence and Sanderson.
Tired but satisfied, the long return journey could, at last, be undertaken – once one of the transporters had had a broken pin in its steering box repaired. Only when Scotch Corner was navigated did it begin to feel like a homecoming. At least now there was time for celebration. Albeit not much. The D-Types needed to be readied for the next round of the World Sportscar Championship: the Swedish GP at Kristianstad.
Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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