On this day in... 1962

08th July 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

American Dan Gurney headed to France and the third World Championship Grand Prix on the super-fast sweeps of the Rouen-Les-Essarts circuit eager to finally get on the 1962 scoresheet for his works Porsche team 55 years ago today (July 8th).

After suffering gearbox failure in Holland, a first-lap shunt in Monaco and then failing to start in Belgium, he needed to upset the British-powered applecart beginning to gather momentum.

Graham Hill and Jim Clark were the form men. Both had scored their maiden victories in recent weeks – Hill for BRM at Zandvoort, Clark for Lotus at Spa – and Hill led the drivers’ championship ahead of the series’ fourth round courtesy of that win and a second and a sixth.

Qualifying at Rouen confirmed the status quo, thanks to a top-two lockout from Clark and Hill. Gurney’s flat-eight 804 Porsche, however, could only manage sixth, 1.7sec adrift of pacesetter Clark in the V8-powered Lotus 25.

Englishman Hill got the jump on his Scottish friend and rival to lead from the off, holding on to his advantage until just after half-distance. The first bit of drama kicked in on lap 30 when the BRM made light contact with the Cooper of fellow Brit Jack Lewis during lappery, negating Hill’s 20-second lead over Clark. 

The Lotus moved ahead as a result but, undeterred, Hill was soon back under way, charging up to Clark’s gearbox and retaking the lead after just a few tours.

Gurney meanwhile was quietly and efficiently making his way up the field, sitting pretty in third, awaiting further drama to befall the leaders.

And he got his wish within a few minutes of Hill passing Clark. The Lotus’ suspension failed, putting Clark out of the race. That just left Hill, who was some way up the road.

All Gurney’s stars aligned within 10 more laps when the BRM developed engine trouble. Hill lost several laps before rejoining, eventually to finish ninth, some 10 laps in arrears.

And so Gurney went on to make F1 history, joining the list of first-time winners and also giving Porsche what would be its only World Championship Grand Prix victory as a constructor. It would be more than two decades before its TAG-badged engines would secure multiple world titles with McLaren, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost in the mid-1980s.

French GP, 1962

1. Dan Gurney (USA) – Porsche 804, 54 laps

2. Tony Maggs (ZA) – Cooper T60-Climax, 53 laps

3. Richie Ginther (USA) – BRM P57, 52 laps

4. Bruce McLaren (NZ) – Cooper T60-Climax, 51 laps

5. John Surtees (GB) – Lola 4-Climax, 51 laps

6. Carel Godin de Beaufort (NL) – Porsche 718, 51 laps

Photography courtesy of LAT Images

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