Some Americans at Le Mans

Phill Hill, Jesse Alexander, Masten Gregory, Richie Ginther, Lance Reventlow, Le MansIt is June 23, 1957, not long before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In a quiet moment a group of Americans, some of whom will be driving in the famous endurance race, are found on a pit counter next to the circuit.

On the far left is Ferrari driver Phil Hill, who is to share one of Maranello’s most powerful sports racers, a 335 Sport, with Englishman Peter Collins. Phil has his camera as he also was an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Their car had burned a piston during practice, necessitating an all-nighter by the Ferrari mechanics to repair it. Phil has been up since early this morning to run in the engine on the roads near Le Mans, while Collins sleeps late as he will take the start. Their race, quickly into the lead, will last but two laps before the engine fails again.

Next to Phil is the famous American motor racing photographer Jesse Alexander, from California but then living in Europe, whose evocative work will stand as a monument to his considerable talent for many years to come.

Looking pensive behind his glasses is Masten Gregory, the Kansas Flash, wealthy, fearless and a real racer to boot. Currently living in Modena, he now will drive a Jaguar D-Type entered and co-driven by 1953 Le Mans winner Duncan Hamilton. They will finish sixth overall, behind four other D-Types and a Ferrari.

Next to Gregory and wearing a dark jacket is Phil Hill’s close friend and fellow Californian Richie Ginther. Ginther will become a Scuderia Ferrari driver in a few years but is now getting his first taste of Le Mans in a Ferrari 500TR with Frenchman François Picard, whose private team had a close relationship with the Ferrari factory. Unfortunately, they will retire from the race during the night with engine problems.

Lastly, at the far right is Lance Reventlow, also from California, who had just started racing  with a Cooper F2 car in England and had been entered to race it at Montlhéry outside of Paris the week before Le Mans. Reventlow was the son of Barbara Hutton, from the second of her seven marriages. Hutton was the grand-daughter of F. W. Woolworth founder Frank Woolworth and very well-off as a result. This helped Reventlow finance his new racing team back in California to create the famous Scarab sports cars which would dominate American sports car racing for the next two seasons.

Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection

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