This is a rather unusual Le Mans start as a mechanic helps Luigi Chinetti climb into his Ferrari 166 Spider Corsa at the start of the Grand Prix of the 24 Hours of Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps which took place on July10-11, 1948. Chinetti, who at this time had returned to France from America where he had spent the war years and was operating a small Ferrari dealership in Paris, will be driving with Louis Chiron from Monaco. A lot of the field has already departed down the hill to Eau Rouge.
Standing behind Chinetti’s car with the dark glasses is Scuderia Ferrari driver Franco Cortese who here will be in a Fiat 1100S, entered by the Milan team Scuderia Ambrosiana, which would be eliminated in the race by an accident. The car just behind the Ferrari is an HW-Alta with British gentleman driver George Abecassis in it who will be driving with his HWM business partner John Heath. Heath had built up their car from a prewar Alta chassis and engine. The HW was probably as fast as any other car in the race but Abecassis during the night and rain, leading the race, would miss a corner and end up in a ditch. Although the car was recovered and brought back to the pits, it would be disqualified for receiving non-team assistance. Heath and Abecassis would soon call their cars HWMs after the name of their jointly-owned company HW Motors.
Chinetti would take the early lead after recovering from his slow get-away and would set the fastest lap, but his and Chiron’s Ferrari would retire with head gasket failure which may have been caused by the poor quality of the fuel supplied to all the competitors. At the left is Chinetti, not long after the start, on the hill from Eau Rouge up to Raidillon in heavy rain. The Ferrari would retire at about 8:30 PM after only a few hours. Chinetti would continue to race this Spifer Corsa several times in 1948, including a win at the 12 Hours of Prix at Montlehéry, then he sold it to Briggs Cunningham who with the Colliers raced it several times. However, Chinetti would return to Spa-Francorchamps a year later with different Ferrari and won overall.
The final winners of the 1948 race were St. John Horsfall and Leslie Johnson with an Aston Martin DB1 at an average of only 116kph due to the terrible conditions.
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Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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