FIA WEC: 24 Great Cars that didn’t win at Le Mans – Part One

1
254
The drivers race to their cars at the start of the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Daimler AG

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most highly anticipated events on the motorsport calendar.

The famous endurance race is part of the coveted Triple Crown of Motorsport, alongside the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500.

Subsequently, it is a race that many drivers and manufacturers dream of winning, but not all of them were successful.

And with the 2019 edition nearby, here’s are some of the cars that failed to triumph at Le Mans.

Mercedes-Benz SSK: 1931-32 24 Hours of Le Mans

During its production life, only 37 examples of the Mercedes-Benz SSK were made. Image sourced from supercars.net

Mercedes-Benz first appeared at 1931 and were determined to get to winning start with the SSK.

Using a supercharged, six-cylinder engine which produced 180 bhp @ 3,200 rpm, the SSK  reached speeds of 108 mph (173.8 km/h).

The car was entered by Russian Boris Ivanowski, who also raced that year. Alongside him was co-driver Henri Stoffel.

In 1931, the SSK set a then-record lap time of 7:03, at an average speed of 86.49 mph (139.2 km/h).

Despite their pace, the pair were unable to keep up with the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 LM of Lord Howe and Sir Henry Birkin.

As a result, Ivanowski and Stoffel settled for second place and were seven laps down at the finish line.

In 1932, Stoffel entered the car once again, albeit as the owner of the entry, and handed over driving duties to Paul and Marcel Foucret.

However, the car failed to finish and retired after 22 laps.

Aston Martin DB2: 1949-51 24 Hours of Le Mans

A restored Aston Martin DB2 pictured competing in the Le Mans Classic. Image sourced from supercars.net

After the outbreak of World War II, Le Mans was put on hold until peace was restored across mainland Europe.

The 1949 edition was the first to take place after these events and saw Aston Martin enter three pre-production versions of the DB2.

The car used a Lagonda straight-six and produced 105 bhp @ 5,000 rpm and had a top speed of around 110 mph.

Out of the three cars entered that year, only one would survive the race with Arthur Jones and Nick Haines. They finished a distant eighth, behind the victorious Ferrari 166 LM of Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thompson.

One of the other cars saw Frenchman Pierre Maréchal crash heavily after his DB2 experienced brakes problems. Although he was taken to a local clinic, he succumbed to his injuries the next day.

In 1950, Aston Martin DB2 put in a much stronger effort at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

In addition to achieving a 1-2 finish in the 3-litre class, the performances of George Abecassis and Lance Macklin were good enough for fifth overall.

Then in 1951, the DB2 once again claimed top honours in the 3-litre class, but also finished third with Macklin and Eric Thompson.

After these signs of progress, the marque decided to develop a new challenger in their pursuit of victory at Le Mans.

Aston Martin DB3S: 1952-58 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Aston Martin DB3S in action during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Image sourced from supercars.net

The 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans saw Aston Martin debut their brand new DB3S. It carried an inline-six engine with 225 bhp @ 5,500 rpm, and maxed out at approximately 140 mph (225.3 km/h).

It looked promising for the British marque, but they faced problems in the car’s early life. In 1952 and 1953 respectively, reliability issues prevented them from competing the distance.

1954 saw them introduce a coupe version of the DB3S, but this didn’t do much to change their fortunes. This led Aston Martin to revert back to the standard version for 1955.

In a race marred in tragedy, Peter Collins and Paul Frère claimed second place behind Jaguar’s Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb.

Collins came much closer to victory alongside Stirling Moss in 1956, with the pair finishing only a lap behind the winning Jaguar.

This would prove to be the closest a DB3S came to success, as the Jaguar D-Type dominated proceeding in 1957.

Privateers A.G. and Peter Whitehead would also finish second with the same car the following year, but were laps down on Ferrari at the finish.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR: 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR that was used by Stirling Moss to win the 1955 Mille Miglia, alongside navigator Denis Jenkinson. © Petrolicious

During the mid-1950’s Mercedes had become a dominant force in motor racing.

The team were successful in Formula One with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. In addition, the 300 SLR won the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio rounds of the 1955 World Sportscar Championship.

With this in mind, many expected the Germans to do the same at Le Mans.

Using the same engine from its F1 car, the W194. As a result, the power varied between 296 and 310 bhp @ 7,400 rpm.

The specification of the engine varied on a track’s characteristics and how the engine was tuned. At its peak operating power, the 300 SLR was capable of hitting 186 mph (300 km/h).

This caused concerns amongst their rivals, Ferrari and Jaguar. However, a fatal crash opposite the pits would cover the 1955 race in infamy.

The 1955 Le Mans Disaster

Jaguar’s Mike Hawthorn had recieved a signal from his team to pit at the end of the lap. On his in-lap, he passed Mercedes’ Pierre Levegh whilst being chased by Aston Martin’s Lance Macklin and Fangio.

As he approached the pit area, which was positioned on the right-hand side of the track, went across and braked. Behind him, Macklin did the same, but swerved his car to the left in avoidance of Hawthorn.

Consequently, this put him in the path of Levegh, who had nowhere to go and the two cars collided. Seconds before, the Frenchman waved his arm to warn Fangio of the forthcoming collision.

This infographic details how the incident unfolded along the pit straight during the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Herrick/Wikipedia Commons

At around 120 mph (200 km/h), Levegh’s Mercedes launched over Macklin’s Aston Martin into the crowd of spectators. Levegh fell out of the car and ended up with fatal fractures to his skull.

80 spectators also perished, with many more suffering serious injuries.  As this happened, Fangio managed to squeeze through, thanks to Levegh’s warning in his final moments.

In the following hours, Mercedes held an emergency meeting to determine whether they should continue the race. Then, with their two remaining cars running in first and third respectively, Mercedes withdrew.

The German team also asked Jaguar to pull out of solidarity, but they declined.

Despite winning the Formula One and World Sportscar Championships at the end of 1955, Mercedes quit motorsport although.

Porsche 718 RSK Spyder: 1957-59 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Porsche 718 – pictured here in its RSK Spyder speification – was moulded into different versions during its production life between 1957 and 1964 © Gooding and Company

Porsche will be forever associated with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, having won the event a record 19 wins. On top of this, seven of these were consecutive between 1981 and 1987.

However, before their maiden triumph in 1970, Porsche experienced some hardships.

The Porsche 718 RSK Spyder was rear-wheeled and debuted at the world’s greatest endurance race in 1957.

Producing 142 bhp @ 7,500 rpm from its mid-engined, five-speed gearbox, the 718 RSK Spyder could achieve 155 mph (249.3 km/h).

Driven by Umberto Maglioli and Edgar Barth, the car reached mid-distance before crashing out.

The following year, Porsche were able to finish the race and finished well, with Jean Behra and Hans Herrmann taking third place.

Despite the breakthrough, they were no match for Ferrari’s 250 Tessa Rossa, which won the race by ten laps.

In contrast, the 1959 race was a disaster. After entering four cars, disappointment followed as all of them failed to finish due to a variety of failures.

In response to the lack of durability, the car was modified for 1960 and the 718 RSK Spyder was retired.

Ferrari 250 GTO: 1962-1964 24 Hours of Le Mans

A fleet of Ferrari 250 GTO’s are paraded by Ferrari Classiche every five years. © Ferrari Classiche

Arguably one of the most iconic racing cars ever produced, the Ferrari 250 GTO first took to the tarmac in 1962.

Its 3-litre, V12 engine produced around 300 bhp @ 7,500 rpm. Because of this, the slick coupe maxed out at 174 mph (280 km/h).

Between 1962 and 1964, it claimed the FIA GT Manufacturers’ Championship for the famous Scuderia. Yet, an overall victory at Le Mans always eluded it.

The 250 GTO finished second and third respectively in 1962, with Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet in the lead car.

However, the factory effort of the 330 TRI/LM was always going to be a bridge too far. Subsequently, Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien were comfortably five laps ahead at the finish.

In 1963, similar circumstances occurred as the 250 GTO finished second once again. However, it was the Ferrari 250P that prevented it from taking the top prize.

Its final entry at Le Mans took place in 1964 and once again faced a steep incline for the overall victory.

Instead, Ferrari’s attention was drawn to the stiff competition in the GT class from the Shelby Daytona Cobra.

The race between the two was tense throughout and went down to the wire. At the end Shelby topped the GT standings by just one lap.

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY