1954 24 Hours of Le Mans
|1954 24 Hours of Le Mans|
|Previous: 1953||Next: 1955|
|Index: Races | Winners|
The 22émes Grand Prix d’Endurance les 24 Heures du Mans 1954 was a race for Sports Cars, staged on 12 and 13 June 1954, at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France. It was the 22nd 24 Hours of Le Mans and was also the fourth race of the 1954 World Sportscar Championship. The race was won by José Froilán González and Maurice Trintignant driving a Ferrari 375 Plus.
A battle between brute force and science. That was how the most people viewed the line-up ahead of the race. In the high technology corner, clothed in its beautiful, wind-tunnel tested, aerodynamic bodywork was the Jaguar D-Type with its 3.4-litre, six-cylinder engine. In the brute force corner, Ferrari’s formidable 4.9-litre V12-engined 375 Plus. Ranged somewhere in between was everyone else. It was billed as one of the most tantalizing line-ups ever seen at the French circuit.
Following their 1953 success at la Sarthe, Jaguar arrived with three brand new works Jaguar D-Types. These were so new that they hadn’t even been painted when they got to Le Mans. However, in their limited testing, the Coventry marque beat the lap records by five seconds. These cars were purpose-built for the billiard-smooth tarmac of the Sarthe. The team, which won in 1951 with Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead, and in 1953 with Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton; entered three works D-Types – to be driven by Walker and Stirling Moss, Whitehead and Ken Wharton, and Rolt and Hamilton.
A grand total 85 racing cars were registered for this event, of which only 58 arrived for practice. In spite of the anticipated battle between Coventry and Maranello concerns, the entry list did not have quite the appeal that the star-studded quality as in 1953. The major Italian teams, Scuderia Ferrari, Officine Alfieri Maserati and Automobili Osca had built new cars for this race. Ferrari’s reply to the D-type came in the form of three Tipo 375 Pluses, a Ferrari 375 MM, which bored out engine, now with a cubic capacity of 4,954cc and double-ignition, putting out some 345 bhp. Ferrari’s hope were in the hands of Umberto Maglioli and Paolo Marzotto, José Froilán González and Maurice Trintignant, and Robert Manzon and Louis Rosier. They were backed up by a Ferrari 375 MM from the American, Briggs Cunningham team. Cunningham also brought over to Europe, a pair of Cunningham C4-Rs.
In terms of handling and agility, the Jaguars were at the top of the class, but the Ferraris were quicker by far on acceleration. It came as no surprise when the 375’s of González/Trintignant, Manzon/Rosier and Maglioli/Marzotto stormed away in 1-2-3 formation at the start. Moss, sharing with Walker, kept the D-Type in touch the Maranello threesome during the early stages, while Rolt was never too far behind, quick to move into this select pack as a rain shower doused the track within the first couple of hours. The chase was on and these five men would start the race as if it were some kind of sprint race. The early pace played into the hands of González and the other Ferraris. The order remain virtually intact until, by the end of the first hour, it would still be González in the lead, but Moss had managed to make his way up to 3rd.
Although the Jaguars seemed to be pacing themselves extremely well, problems with blocked fuel link delayed them in third hour. By this time these issued were resolved; the trio of works Ferraris tightens their grip of the race. As the race moved from evening to night, so González and Trintignant pounded ever onwards, but the 375 Plus of Maglioli and Manzon were out with rear axle failure.
A number of cars had fallen out of the race after just an hour or so. Then, seven hours into the race, the number of retirements would rapidly increase as the conditions began to change. The Aston Martin of Carroll Shelby and Paul Frère would be out, the Gordini of Jean Behra and André Simon would be gone.
The D-types were now steadily hailing themselves back into contention. By midnight Whitehead and Wharton were up to second, only two laps adrift of the leading Ferrari. Manzon/Rosier was third, ahead of Rolt and Hamilton, with the Aston Martins of Parnell/Salvadori and Collins/Bira completing the top six. The Lagonda had been eliminated after Eric Thompson dented its rear so badly when he spun into the bank at the Esses that the rear lights were destroyed, so it had to be withdrawn. Another casualty of the long night was Ian Stewart, who rolled his Aston Martin DBR3S on the fast stretch between Arnage and White House corners. The car was completely written off. As for Stewart, he sustained serious arm injuries.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Walker/Whitehead and Rosier/Manzon retired, both Jaguar and Ferrari succumbing to gearbox breakages. With the Moss/Walker car packed up with breaking problems late on Saturday evening, dawn arrived with the battle reduced to just one car for each team at the front of the field. What’s more, as the clouds built up and rain became an ever-present threat, the prospects for the aerodynamic D-types were starting to look petty promising. By breakfast time, the rain started to come down very heavy and the stage was set for a truly heroic chase. González and Trintignant could afford to take things cautiously, but any unnecessary delays would enable the pursuing Jaguar to open up a chink the Ferrari’s armour, and as the rain intensified, the sole remaining D-type piled on the pressure.
Rolt and Hamilton had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They threw caution to wind and raced their D-type as hard as they dared in defence of title. Rolt glanced the bank coming out of Arnage on one lap, stopping for a bout impromptu panel beating. He had been forced off the road by a slower car, but there were no recriminations from the former British Army Major, and the ferocious chase continued.
The rain eased during the morning, allowing the Ferrari to use of its power to better effect, but still the D-type would not give up. Then, around noon, the rain intensified again and the Jaguar drivers steadied the gap. With just two hours left to run, González and Trintignant were still almost two laps ahead of the English car. Despite those gallant efforts on the part of Rolt and Hamilton, the battle seemed hopeless. But with only ninety minutes to run Trintignant brought the 375 in for a routine stop. González took over, but the V12 refused to start. After a few seconds the Argentine jumped out of the car as the mechanics fumbled with the plugs. Rolt was now in sight, the Englishman intent on stopping for new goggles, but his pit crew waved him on. Now the Jaguar was on the same lap as the leader! 
Still the Italian mechanics fiddled beneath the bonnet. The crew knew the car’s engine was well as it had come into pit lane under its own power and sounding strong enough to complete the rest of the race. Therefore, the problem had to be something else leading to the engine. The number 4 Ferrari would sit idle for seven agonizing minutes. Then suddenly, the Ferrari’s engine burst back into life, González jumped back into the car and accelerated back on to the track. But he was barely ninety seconds ahead of the chasing Rolt, and his V12 sounded none to healthy. With thunder and lightning now lashed the soaking the circuit, and with an hour to go, Rolt handed over to Hamilton for the final assault. In a desperate sprint to the finish, Hamilton had carved the lead down to 1:26 mins, but as the track began to dried for the last few laps, González eased away to win by just under three minutes.
González and Trintignant drove their Ferrari 375 Plus, to victory covering a distance of 2,523.486 miles (4,061.15 km), over 302 laps, averaging a speed of 105.145 mph (169.215kph). Rolt and Hamilton were classified as one lap adrift at the finish, in second place was their D-Type. The podium was completed by the American pair, William Spear and Sherwood Johnson, in their Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R, who were 19 laps (over 157 miles) behind the winners.
The winner, the Argentinian, have a very special place in motorsport history, in relation to the Grand Prix d’Endurance les 24 Heures du Mans and Formula One. Three years before his victory, José Froilan González scored the first Ferrari’s F1 victory. Now, in was to be his last appearance at La Sarthe, this victory gave González a new status: the first driver to win in a Ferrari in Formula 1 and Le Mans.
Overall, the Jaguars were faster (Moss was timed at 154.44 mph/278kph), but the Ferrari had superior acceleration and better breaking. Although finishing third and fifth, the Cunninghams were unable to match the pace of the leaders, with no Astons at the finish. The 1500cc class saw a lucky for Porsche KG, and their drivers Johnny Claes and Pierre Stasse, as the two leading Oscas, leading by 15 laps, both retired in the last hour.
Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton had gone down fighting, but Le Mans had not heard the end of the Jaguar D-type...
Failed to cover 70% of winner's distance (211 laps)
|59||23x15px Automobiles Panhard et Levassor|| 23x15px René Cotton
23x15px André Beaulieux
|Panhard X88||Panhard 0.6L Flat-2||195|
|54||23x15px P. Garzynski|| 23x15px René Breuil
23x15px Jean Py
|BG Le Mans||Renault 0.7L I4||194|
- #11 was disqualified for failing to complete their final lap of the race in under 30 minutes.
- #43 was disqualified for receiving outside assistance while still on the course.
|11||23x15px Georges Grignard|| 23x15px Jean Blanc
23x15px Serge Nersessian
|Talbot T26 Gran Sport||Talbot 4.6L I6||206|
|43||23x15px Automobili O.S.C.A.|| 23x15px Lance Macklin
23x15px Pierre Leygonie
23x15px James Simpson
|O.S.C.A. MT-4 1500||O.S.C.A. 1.5L I4||247|
Did Not Finish
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included in this set of standings.
Championship points were awarded for the first six places in each race in the order of 8-6-4-3-2-1. Manufacturers were only awarded points for their highest finishing car with no points awarded for positions filled by additional cars. Only the best 4 results out of the 6 races could be retained by each manufacturer.
- Alan Henry, “Fifty famous motor races" (Peter Stephens Limited, ISBN 0-85059-937-7, 1988)
|World Sportscar Championship|
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RAC Tourist Trophy