A history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans- Part 2

Post war, motorsport returns in 1946 with a Grand prix on the French Riveria city of Nice whilst over in the USA, the AAA Championship Car Trail had returned with the Indianapolis 500 remaining its jewel in the crown.

In Britain, it would take some time for Motorsport to be re-established. Brooklands would never host a race again, whilst Donington Park was in a temporary state of disrepair. In July 1947, Gransden Lodge Airfield, a 2 1/3-mile circuit based on a former RAF base, held a locally organised twenty lap trophy race which would become the sight of the first post war motor race in mainland Britain. Goodwood Circuit would then follow in 1948 with the Grand Prix returning to Britain at the former RAF base of Silverstone in October 1949.

It would also be 1949 when the Le Mans 24 hours returned to the international sporting calendar, the race would be won by Luigi Chinetti and car owner Peter Mitchell-Thomson in the first overall victory for a Ferrari at Le Mans. Chinetti reportedly drove the Ferrari an incredible 23 and a half hours of the 24-hour race. The return of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was unfortunately not without tragedy when Pierre Marechal, driving for Aston Martin, crashed heavily at the White House corner. Over in the USA, 1949 would additionally see the launch of the NASCAR organisation.

1950 would be a major year in motorsport, seeing the launch of the Formula One World Championship, for Grand Prix Cars, and in 1953, The World Sportscar championship, of which Le Mans 24 would be the centrepiece, although the calendar was incredible. The Mille Miglia, Carrera Panamericana, The 24 hours of Spa, the RAC Tourist Trophy as well as the recently established Sebring 12 hours and the Nurburgring 1000km, made up the championship.

With a World Championship came new interest, Le Mans in 1953 was incredible, the event had become truly an international annual sporting event that manufacturers flocked towards. Jaguar, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Lancia and the American Cunningham companies among others entered cars in the new championship.

The heroes of Grand Prix racing, Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Louis Chiron would be among the entries to start at Le Mans in 1953.

The track hadn’t changed in style since the bypass of the town was installed in 1933—however, the cars had improved dramatically. The Jaguar C-Types that went onto win the 1953 Le Mans 24 did so at an average speed of 106.46 mph—considering that just twenty years earlier the average speed was just 76mph—the advancement in technology was stark, meanwhile Ferrari would take the inaugural championship honours in the WSC.


The Le Mans disaster of 1955 is the greatest loss of human life in a motorsport event with 83 spectators being killed and substantial injuries of many more. The tragedy would occur when Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR was thrown into the crowd following a high-speed accident with a slower Austin-Healey and Jaguar D-Type. Many people have an opinion on who was to blame but we’ll focus on the post-effects of what happened on the Le Mans 24 hours and the greater motorsport world.

The race itself would continue in 1955, although Mercedes-Benz would withdraw both cars, whilst Jaguar would go on to win the race. Mercedes-Benz announce it’s withdrawal from Grand Prix Racing and at the end of the season, from the World Sportscar championship leaving Mercedes-Benz completely out of manufacturer-run topflight motorsport until 1988.

The general public and motorsport would feel the impact of the crash internationally. The American Automobile Association would cease championship organisation in the United States through its contest board, leading to the formation of USAC. Switzerland would place a permanent ban on circuit based motor racing for generations. Whilst in France, immediately following the disaster, the French assembly would suspend all motorsport until changes to track safety where implemented. The British Royal Automobile Club would follow a similar course. The tragic circumstances of 1955 led to safety becoming a more paramount factor in the development of the sport.

Le mans underwent changes to its layout for 1956. The road around White House was made wider and brought lower to improve sightlines, the spectator area opposite the pitlane was completely redesigned, placing spectators further back and on a raised platform with a low wall in between the raised spectator area and the track.

The return of Le mans in 1956 would see a second victory for the Jaguar D-Type, this time by the Scottish Ecurie Ecosse team, finishing ahead of the Aston Martin of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins. The team would go on to claim the 1957 edition of the race with Jaguar’s D-Type once again.

In 1958—like the start of the decade—Ferrari are back on top at Le Mans with American Phil Hill. Jaguar’s domination had fallen due to new rules brought in governing the engine size to three litres. With Jaguar out of the picture and Maserati in financial ruin, Ferrari retained its works status, with Aston Martin as it’s main rival.

In 1959, David Brown, owner of the Aston Martin brand, struck back at Ferrari with the incredible driving team comprising of Carroll Shelby, Roy Salvadori, Maurice Trintignant and Paul frere taking overall 1-2 honours in the Aston Martin DBR-1’s.

1959 would also see Aston Martin claim the World Sportscar Championship from Ferrari. The company’s efforts in factory colours would be diverted to the Formula One programme for 1960, whilst Ferrari would take another victory at Le Mans 24, ending a decade of much change at the French endurance classic.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments