1955 24 Hours of Le Mans

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1955 24 Hours of Le Mans
Previous: 1954 Next: 1956
Index: Races | Winners

The Les 24 Heures du Mans was the 23rd 24 Hours of Le Mans, and took place on 11 and 12 June 1955 on Circuit de la Sarthe. It was also the fourth round of the F.I.A. World Sports Car Championship. Some 250,000 spectators had gathered for Europe’s classic sports car race, around an 8.38-mile course. This race is infamous for the disaster that killed 84 people, plus some 120 injured in the most horrendous accident in motor racing history.

Le Mans in 1955

Report[edit]

Entry[edit]

A grand total 87 racing cars were registered for this event, of which only 70 arrived for practice, trying to qualify for the 60 places for the race. The battle of the previous years between Coventry and Maranello concerns was joined by the Stuttgart marque, Daimler-Benz, fresh from their triumph on the Mille Miglia with their new Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. Scuderia Ferrari’s hope were in the hands of Umberto Maglioli and Phil Hill, Eugenio Castellotti and Paolo Marzotto, and Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell driving the new 121 LM. Jaguar arrived with three works Jaguar D-Types. Similar to the cars that raced in 1954, they were in the hands of Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb, the 1953 winners, Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton and Don Beauman and Norman Dewis. They were backed up by a pair of D-Types from the Belgian team, Ecurie Francorchamps, and from the American, Briggs Cunningham team. Cunningham also brought over to Europe, a Cunningham C6-R.[1][2]

Meanwhile, Daimler-Benz assembled an all-star team for the race, pairing Juan Manuel Fangio with Stirling Moss, Karl Kling with André Simon and Pierre Levegh with John Fitch. Simon and Levegh were not regular members of the Mercedes team, but team manager Alfred Neubauer felt it would be popular, even diplomatic, to include two local drivers. Remember, World War II ended only ten years previously, and in the 1952 race, driving solo, Levegh almost won the race, until the 23rd hour when mechanical trouble sidelined him, handing the win the Mercedes.[1][3][4]Their cars, designated W196S although they were commonly called 300SLRs, were rated by many experts as the best sports cars in the world. They were an adaptation of the systems that had brought them dominance in Grand Prix racing to sports endurance racing. Their fuel-injected, desmodronic valve 3 liter straight eight motors were the most advanced of the entire field. Their inboard drum brakes, however, were questionably adequate for their heavier cars facing the tough braking and endurance demands of Le Mans. To compensate, a hand-operated air brake was added to the rear deck for high speed braking.

Race[edit]

The earliest hours of the race fulfilled the expectations of a showdown between the three top marques. Castellotti's Ferrari led from the first lap, followed by Hawthorn in the Jaguar. Fangio's start was delayed by a mishap between his trouser leg and gear shift lever, but he worked his way up the field to join Hawthorn and Castellotti. All three were breaking track records. As the race wore on, Castellotti's pace slowed and he was overtaken by Hawthorn and Fangio. It was an early sign of the mechanical troubles that would force all of the 121 LMs to retire within twelve hours. What followed was one of the classic duels in auto racing history, with multiple lead changes between Hawthorn and Fangio and a record-setting pace.

Two hours into the race, a dreadful accident occurred on lap 35. Hawthorn passed Lance Macklin's Austin-Healey 100S while entering the final straight before the pits. Seeing the Jaguar crew signaling him for a pit stop, Hawthorn moved across Macklin's path and braked hard to enter the pits.[5][6][7][8] Attempting to avoid Hawthorn, Macklin's car briefly remained on the right side of the track behind Hawthorn, kicking up dust with its right wheels, then swerved across the center of the track. Macklin was apparently out of control as he started to swerve, but regained direction after crossing the centerline. But by then Macklin was in the path of Levegh's Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR and the right front wheel of Levegh's car rode up onto the left rear corner of Macklin's, which caused the 300 SLR to become airborne. The photos and video stills illustrate the thin margin – a fender width – between a near miss and complete disaster.

Levegh's car skipped on the earthen embankment between the spectator area and the track, bounced and flipped end-over end through spectator enclosures, then struck a concrete stairwell structure. That impact disintegrated the front end and pitched the car high, somersaulting and hurling debris into the crowd. The front bodywork plowed directly into the crowd. The front suspension, engine, and other debris flew through the spectator area leaving swaths of destruction in front of the grandstands. The remainder of the car landed on the earthen embankment and exploded into flames. Spectators who had climbed onto ladders and scaffolding to get a better view of the track found themselves in the direct path of the lethal debris. Levegh was thrown in a high arc from the tumbling car, and his skull was crushed at some point. When firefighters attempted to douse the flames with water, the fire burned even hotter owing to the resultant chemical reaction with the magnesium alloy frame. Officials put the death toll at 84 spectators, plus Levegh.[3][4][9][10] Macklin's car ricocheted off the pit wall back to the earthen embankment. He was uninjured but his car struck three people, killing one. Fangio dodged between Macklin's and Hawthorn's cars and continued on. Hawthorn was waved through his stop because of the confusion and potential danger.

Ten minutes later, the MG EX182 of Dick Jacobs crashed near Maison Blanche, turned over in the swale and began to burn. Jacobs survived the accident, but was badly injured.

With the driver changes from Hawthorn to Bueb and Fangio to Moss, the Jaguar team's talent was outmatched and the Mercedes team was able to expand the lead it had gained following the accident. As midnight approached, the Mercedes of Fangio/Moss was leading the Jaguar of Hawthorn/Bueb by nearly two laps. The race remained competitive, however, as the lead was whittled to 1 1/2 laps by 2:00am.[11] The Kling/Simon Mercedes followed the Hawthorn/Bueb car by two laps. Race spotters' reports on the Mercedes' braking points led the Jaguar team to believe that their brakes were weakening.[12]

Just after 2:00am, Mercedes team manager Alfred Neubauer stepped onto the track and called his cars into the pits. The public address made a brief announcement regarding their retirement. Chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut then went to the Jaguar pits to ask if the Jaguar team would respond in kind, out of respect for the accident's victims. Jaguar team manager "Lofty" England declined.[12]

With the Mercedes team ordered home, the lead fell securely to Hawthorn and Bueb. Dawn broke under a heavy low overcast and by 6:00am it started to rain. Second place remained in contention until late morning as the Valenzano/Musso Maserati, five laps down from the leader, was chased by the Frere/Collins Aston Martin until the Maserati retired. Bueb, in his first event for the Coventry marque, surrendered the winning Jaguar in the final hour to Hawthorn for the final few laps.

Hawthorn and Bueb covered a distance of 2,569.61 miles (4,135.38 km), over 306 laps, averaging a speed of 107.067 mph (172.308kph). Peter Collins and Paul Frère, in second place in their Aston Martin DB3S were five laps behind at the finish. The podium was completed by the Belgian pair, Johnny Claes and Jacques Swaters, in their yellow Ecurie Francorchamps prepared Jaguar D-Type, who were 11 laps (over 92 miles) behind the winners. The remarkable trio of 1.5 liter Porsche 550 Spyders were fourth, fifth and sixth, ahead of the two liter Bristols, with Helmut Polensky and Richard von Frankenberg winning the Sports 1500 class. The three-car Bristol Aeroplane Company team finished in formation seventh, eighth and ninth at the top of two-liter class.[2]<[13]

Aftermath[edit]

Main article: 1955 Le Mans disaster

The spectacular crash, which came to be known as the 1955 Le Mans disaster, is the greatest tragedy in the history of motorsport, with 84 spectators killed and over 120 injured. The next round of the World Sports Car Championship at the Nürburgring was cancelled, as was the legendary Carrera Panamericana. The accident caused widespread shock and temporary bans on auto racing in several countries. The ban in Switzerland was never lifted. The American Automobile Association stopped sanctioning motor sport competitions, as it decided that auto racing distracted from its primary goals, and the United States Automobile Club was formed to take over the race sanctioning/officiating.[3][4] The racing teams of MG, Bristol, and (after winning the 1955 Grand Prix and Sports Car championships), Mercedes-Benz, disbanded. The horror of the accident caused some drivers present, including Phil Walters, Sherwood Johnston, and John Fitch (after completing the season with Mercedes-Benz), to retire from racing. Fitch was coaxed out of retirement by his friend Briggs Cunningham to help the Chevrolet Corvette effort at Le Mans in 1960 and later worked to develop traffic safety devices including the water-filled "Fitch barrels." Less than three months later, Lance Macklin decided to retire after being involved in a twin fatality accident during the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod.

Much recrimination was directed at Hawthorn based on rumors that he had suddenly cut in front of Macklin and slammed on the brakes near the entrance to the pits, forcing Macklin to take evasive action into the path of Levegh, which became the semi-official pronouncement of the Mercedes team and Macklin's story.[12] The Jaguar team in turn questioned the fitness and competence of Macklin and Levegh. The first media accounts were wildly inaccurate, as shown by subsequent analysis of photographic evidence conducted by Road & Track editor (and 1955 second place finisher) Paul Frere, in 1975.[12] Additional details emerged when the stills reviewed by Frere were converted to video form. The Automobile Club l'Ouest (ACO) conducted an investigation and concluded that the primary cause of the accident was unsafe conditions near the entrance to the pit straight. Tony Rolt and other drivers had been raising alarms about the pit straight since 1953.

Before the 1956 event, the ACO widened the pit straight, increased separation between the road and the spectators, and revised other hazardous stretches of the track. Track safety technology and practices evolved slowly until Formula 1 driver Jackie Stewart organized a campaign to advocate for better safety measures 10 years later. Stewart's campaign gained momentum after the deaths of Lorenzo Bandini and Jimmy Clark.

Official Classification[edit]

Class Winners are in Bold text.

Pos Class No Team Drivers Chassis Engine Laps
1 S
5.0
6 United Kingdom Jaguar Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Mike Hawthorn
United Kingdom Ivor Bueb
Jaguar D-Type Jaguar 3.4L L6 307
2 S
3.0
23 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. United Kingdom Peter Collins
Belgium Paul Frère
Aston Martin DB3S Aston Martin 2.9L L6 302
3 S
5.0
10 Belgium Ecurie Francorchamps Belgium Johnny Claes
Belgium Jacques Swaters
Jaguar D-Type Jaguar 3.4L L6 296
4 S
1.5
37 West Germany Porsche KG West Germany Helmut Polensky
West Germany Richard von Frankenberg
Porsche 550 Spyder Porsche 1.5L Flat-4 284
5 S
1.5
66 Belgium Ecurie Belge /
France Gustave Olivier
West Germany Wolfgang Seidel
Belgium Olivier Gendebien
Porsche 550 Spyder Porsche 1.5L Flat-4 276
6 S
1.5
62 West Germany Porsche KG Germany Helmut Glöckler
Guatemala Jaroslav Juhan
Porsche 550 Spyder Porsche 1.5L Flat-4 273
7 S
2.0
34 United Kingdom Bristol Aeroplane Co. United Kingdom Peter Wilson
United Kingdom Jim Mayers
Bristol 450C Bristol 2.0L L6 271
8 S
2.0
33 United Kingdom Bristol Aeroplane Co. United Kingdom Mike Keen
United Kingdom Tommy Line
Bristol 450C Bristol 2.0L L6 270
9 S
2.0
32 United Kingdom Bristol Aeroplane Co. United KingdomTommy Wisdom
United Kingdom Jack Fairman
Bristol 450C Bristol 2.0L L6 268
10 S
2.0
35 United Kingdom Automobiles Frazer Nash Ltd. France Marcel Becquart
United Kingdom Dickie Stoop
Frazer Nash Sebring Bristol 2.0L L6 260
11 S
1.5
40 Italy Edgar Fronteras Italy Giulio Cabianca
Italy Giuseppe Scorbati
Osca MT4 1500 Osca 1.5L L4 256
12 S
1.5
41 United Kingdom MG Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Ken Miles
United Kingdom John Lockett
MG EX182 MG 1.5L L4 249
13 S
1.1
49 Germany Porsche KG France Auguste Veuillet
United States Zora Arkus Duntov
Porsche 550 Spyder Porsche 1.1L L4 245
14 S
2.0
28 United Kingdom Standard Triumph Ltd. United Kingdom Bob Dickson
United Kingdom Ninian Sanderson
Triumph TR2 Triumph 2.0L L4 242
15 S
2.0
29 United Kingdom Standard Triumph Ltd. United Kingdom W. Ken Richardson
United Kingdom Bert Hadley
Triumph TR2 Triumph 2.0L L4 242
16 S
750
63 France Ecurie Jeudy-Bonnet France Louis Cornet
France Robert Mougin
D.B. HBR Panhard 0.7L Flat-2 236
17 S
1.5
64 United Kingdom MG Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Ted Lund
Switzerland Hans Waeffler
MG EX182 MG 1.5L L4 234
18 S
1.5
65 France Gonzague Olivier France Gonzague Olivier
West GermanyJosef Jeser
Porsche 550 Spyder Porsche 1.5L Flat-4 234
19 S
2.0
68 United Kingdom Standard Triumph Ltd. United Kingdom Leslie Brooke
United Kingdom Mortimer Morris-Goodall
Triumph TR2 Triumph 2.0L L4 214
20 S
750
59 France Ecurie Jeudy-Bonnet France Louis Héry
France Georges Trouis
DB Barquette Panhard 0.7L Flat-2 209
21 S
1.1
47 United Kingdom Cooper Car Co. United Kingdom John Brown
United Kingdom Edgar Wadsworth
Cooper T39 Coventry Climax 1.1L L4 207

Did not finish[edit]

Pos Class No Team Drivers Chassis Engine Laps/Reason
22 S
3.0
16 Italy Officine Alfieri Maserati Italy Luigi Musso
Italy Gino Valenzano
Maserati 300S Maserati 3.0L L6 239
Gearbox
23 S
3.0
22 United States Briggs Cunningham United States Briggs Cunningham
United States Sherwood Johnston
Cunningham C6-R Offenhauser 2.9L L4 196
Piston
24 S
5.0
7 United Kingdom Jaguar Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Tony Rolt
United Kingdom Duncan Hamilton
Jaguar D-Type Jaguar 3.4L L6 186
Gearbox
25 S
2.0
30 France Automobiles Gordini Brazil Hermano da Silva Ramos
France Jacques Pollet
Gordini T15S Gordini 2.0L L8 145
Holed radiator
26 S
750
52 France Société Monopole France Jean Hémard
France Pierre Flahault
Monopole X86 Panhard 0.7L Flat-2 145
Accident
27 S
750
60 Italy Automobili Stanguellini France René Philippe Faure
France Pierre Duval
Stanguellini S750 Bialbero Stanguellini 0.7L L4 136
Ignition
28 S
3.0
19 Germany Daimler-Benz AG Argentina Juan Manuel Fangio
United Kingdom Stirling Moss
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Mercedes-Benz 3.0L L8 134
Withdrawn
29 S
3.0
21 Germany Daimler-Benz AG Germany Karl Kling
France André Simon
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Mercedes-Benz 3.0L L8 130
Withdrawn
30 S
1.1
51 France Automobiles Panhard et Levassor France René Cotton
France André Beaulieux
Panhard VM5 Panhard 0.9L Flat-2 108
Gearbox
31 S
5.0
5 Italy Scuderia Ferrari France Maurice Trintignant
United States Harry Schell
Ferrari 121LM Ferrari 4.4L L6 107
Clutch
32 S
5.0
8 United Kingdom Jaguar Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Don Beauman
United Kingdom Norman Dewis
Jaguar D-Type Jaguar 3.4L L6 106
Accident
33 S
3.0
24 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. United Kingdom Roy Salvadori
United Kingdom Peter Walker
Aston Martin DB3S Aston Martin 2.9L L6 105
Engine
34 S
3.0
12 France "Heldé" France "Heldé"
France Jean Lucas
Ferrari 750 Monza Ferrari 3.0L L4 104
Distributor
35 S
750
58 France Ecurie Jeudy-Bonnet France Paul Armagnac
France Gérard Laureau
D.B. HBR Panhard 0.7L Flat-2 100
Wheel
36 S
1.1
48 United Kingdom Lotus Engineering United Kingdom Colin Chapman
United Kingdom Ron Flockhart
Lotus Mark IX Coventry Climax 1.1L L4 99
DISQ — reversed
37 S
2.0
31 Italy Officine Alfieri Maserati Argentina Carlo Tomasi
Italy Francesco Giardini
Maserati 200S Maserati 2.0L L4 96
Distributor
38 S
1.1
50 France Automobiles Panhard et Levassor France Pierre Chancel
France Robert Chancel
Panhard VM5 Panhard 0.9L Flat-2 94
Fuel system
39 S
5.0
1 United Kingdom Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. United Kingdom Reg Parnell
United Kingdom Dennis Poore
Lagonda DP166 Lagonda 4.5L V12 93
Out of fuel
40 S
3.0
25 United Kingdom Aston Martin Ltd. United Kingdom Tony Brooks
United Kingdom John Riseley-Pritchard
Aston Martin DB3S Aston Martin 2.9L L6 83
Battery
41 S
3.0
27 France Jean-Paul Colas France Jean-Paul Colas
France Jacques Dewez
Salmson 2300S Cabriolet Salmson 2.3L L4 82
Oil leak
42 S
5.0
3 Italy Scuderia Ferrari Italy Umberto Maglioli
United States Phil Hill
Ferrari 121LM Ferrari 4.4L L6 76
Clutch
43 S
1.5
38 Switzerland Walter Ringgenberg Switzerland Walter Ringgenberg
Switzerland Hans-Jörg Gilomen
Porsche 550 Spyder Porsche 1.5L Flat-4 65
Engine
44 S
1.5
43 United Kingdom Connaught Engineering United Kingdom Kenneth McAlpine
United Kingdom Eric Thompson
Connaught ALSR Lea-Francis 1.5L L4 60
Engine
45 S
5.0
4 Italy Scuderia Ferrari Italy Eugenio Castellotti
Italy Paolo Marzotto
Ferrari 121LM Ferrari 4.4L L6 52
Engine
46 S
2.0
69 France Alexandre Constantin France Jacques Savoye
FranceJacques Poch
Constantin C Barquette Peugeot 2.0L L4 52
Gearbox
47 S
1.1
46 United Kingdom Kieft Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Alan Rippon
United Kingdom Ray Merrick
Kieft 1100 Coventry Climax 1.1L L4 47
Oil leak
48 S
750
57 France Ecurie Jeudy-Bonnet France René Bonnet
France Claude Storez
D.B. HBR Panhard 0.7L Flat-2 44
Distributor
49 S
5.0
9 United States Briggs Cunningham United States Phil Walters
United States William Spear
Jaguar D-Type Jaguar 3.4L L6 43
Valve
50 S
5.0
11 United Kingdom Cooper Car Co United Kingdom Peter Whitehead
United Kingdom Graham Whitehead
Cooper T38 Jaguar 3.4L L6 38
Oil pressure
51 S
2.0
36 United Kingdom Automobiles Frazer Nash Ltd. United Kingdom Dick Odlum
Republic of Ireland Cecil Vard
Frazer Nash Sebring Bristol 2.0L L6 34
Engine
52 S
3.0
20 Germany Daimler-Benz AG France Pierre Levegh
United States John Fitch
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Mercedes-Benz 3.0L L8 32
Fatal accident
53 S
750
53 France Société Monopole France Francis Navarro
France Jean de Montrémy
Monopole Sport X88 Panhard 0.7L Flat-2 31
Oil leak
54 S
3.0
26 United Kingdom Lance Macklin United Kingdom Lance Macklin
United Kingdom Les Leston
Austin-Healey 100 S BMC A90 2.7L L4 28
Accident damage
55 S
1.5
42 United Kingdom MG Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Dick Jacobs
Republic of Ireland Joe Flynn
MG EX182 MG 1.4 26
Accident
56 S
750
56 France Automobiles VP France Yves Giraud-Cabantous
France Yves Lesur
VP 166R Renault 0.7L L4 25
Engine
57 S
3.0
15 Italy Officine Alfieri Maserati Argentina Roberto Mières
Italy Cesare Perdisa
Maserati 300S Maserati 3.0L L6 23
Gearbox
58 S
3.0
14 France Mike Sparken France Mike Sparken
United States Masten Gregory
Ferrari 750 Monza Ferrari 3.0L L4 22
Engine
59 S
750
61 Italy Nardi Automobili SpA Italy Dr. Mario Damonte
France Roger Crovetto
Nardi Bisiluro Giannini 0.7L L4 6
Accident
60 S
1.5
39 United Kingdom Kieft Cars Ltd. United Kingdom Berwyn Baxter
United Kingdom John Deeley
Kieft Turner 1.5L L4 4
Overheating

Did not start[edit]

Pos Class No Team Drivers Chassis Engine Reason
DNS S
5.0
2 France Ecurie Rosier France Louis Rosier
France Georges Grignard
Talbot Lago Sport Talbot 4.5L L6
DNS S
3.0
17 France Automobiles Gordini France Robert Manzon
France Élie Bayol
Gordini T24S Gordini 3.0L L8 Accident in practice
DNS S
1.1
45 United Kingdom Arnott Racing Cars United Kingdom Jim Russell
United Kingdom Peter Taylor
Arnott Sports Coventry Climax 1.1L L4 Accident
DNS S
750
54 Italy Moretti Venezuela Lino Fayen
France Herman Rogenry
Moretti 750S Moretti 0.7L L4 Gridded too late
DNS S
750
55 Italy Moretti Italy Giorgio Ubezzi
France Mesnest Bellanger
Moretti 750S Moretti 0.7L L4 Gridded too late
DNS S
750
70 France Société Pierre Ferry France Jacques Blaché
France Louis Pons
Ferry F750 Renault 0.7L L4 Reserve
DNS S
750
72 France Automobiles VP France Jean-Marie Dumazer
France André Héchard
France Jérôme Pourond
V.P. 155R Renault 0.7L L4 Reserve
DNS S
750
75 France Louis Rosier France Jean- Louis Rosier
France Jean Estager
Renault 4CV/1063 Renault 0.7L L4 Reserve

Class Winners[edit]

Class Winners
Sports 5000 6 Jaguar D-Type Hawthorn / Bueb
Sports 3000 23 Aston Martin DB3S Collins / Frère
Sports 2000 34 Bristol 450C Wilson / Mayers
Sports 1500 37 Porsche 550 Spyder Polensky / von Frankenberg
Sports 1100 49 Porsche 550 Spyder Veuillet / Arkus Duntov
Sports 750 63 D.B. HBR Cornet / Mougin
Biennial Cup 37 Porsche 550 Spyder Polensky / von Frankenberg
Index of Performance 37 Porsche 550 Spyder Polensky / von Frankenberg

Standings after the race[edit]

Pos Championship Points
1 Italy Ferrari 18
2 United Kingdom Jaguar 14
3 Italy Maserati 11
4 West Germany Mercedes-Benz 8
5= United Kingdom Aston Martin 6
5= West Germany Porsche 6
  • Note: Only the top five positions are included in this set of standings.

Championship points were awarded for the first six places in each race in the order of 8-6-4-3-2-1. Manufacturers were only awarded points for their highest finishing car with no points awarded for positions filled by additional cars. Only the best 4 results out of the 6 races could be retained by each manufacturer. Points earned but not counted towards the championship totals are listed within brackets in the above table.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Quentin Spurring. Le Mans 24 Hours: The Official History of the World’s Greatest Motor Race 1949-59. Haynes Publishing. ISBN 978-1844255375
  • Brian Laban. Le Mans 24 Hours: The Complete Story of World’s Most Famous Motor Race. Haynes Publishing. ISBN 978-1852270629


World Sportscar Championship
Previous race:
Mille Miglia
1955 season Next race:
RAC Tourist Trophy

External links[edit]