The Aston Martin folks always have referred this way to the win by Aston Martin at Le Mans on June 21, 1959, after years of trying. For 1959 Aston Martin had made a huge effort to achieve reliability for Le Mans, especially with respect to their transmissions which had always been rather problematic. Here is Carroll Shelby taking the checker from Jacques Lhoste who is giving his famous salute to the winner. Shelby shared the winning Aston DBR1/300 with Roy Salvadori. Another DBR1, driven by French driving star Maurice Trintignant and Belgian journalist Paul Frère would finish second one lap behind.
The practice period looked good for Ferrari which had brought three of their new 250TR/59s. The Italian cars recorded times which were some 7-8 seconds faster than the three Aston DBR1s. Reg Parnell, acting now as team manager for Aston after many years as their front line driver, gave Stirling Moss and co-driver Jack Fairman the assignment to try to go out and break the Ferraris by tempting them into a competitive “grand prix” for the initial hours. Moss led at the end of the first hour but his Aston was eventually overtaken by the Ferraris and retired around the six hour mark with engine failure.
Once the sun came up, the leading Ferrari of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien, winners the year before, began to have severe overheating, most likely from a blown head gasket and retired, leaving the two remaining Astons in first and second places which they held to the finish at reduced speed. The retirements had been extensive during the 24 hours with the third place car, a Belgian-entered Ferrari 250GT, 26 laps behind the Shelby/Salvadori Aston Martin, and only 13 cars remained running at the finish.
However, this win could just as easily ended in retirement, or worse. During the night Salvadori brought his DBR1 in with a severe vibration. After a first check he was told to go out slowly and report if it got worse. It did. Finally, they jacked up then rear of the car and found that part of a tread had broken off one of the rear tires. The wheel was changed and the vibration disappeared. Had this not been found, it might well have resulted in transmission damage or a catastrophic tire failure. It did cost the leading Aston to lose 10 minutes, and the lead, to the remaining Ferrari of Hill and Gendebien which would subsequently retire with overheating. The Final Victory had been achieved.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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