The 24 Heures du Mans was the 26th 24 Hours of Le Mans, Grand Prix of Endurance, and took place on 21/22 June 1958, on Circuit de la Sarthe. It was also the fifth round of the F.I.A. World Sports Car Championship, which was running to new regulations introduced at the beginning of the season. Some 150,000 spectators had gathered for Europe’s classic sports car race, around an 8.38-mile course. The prospect of an exciting duel between Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Porsche was enough to draw large crowds to the 24 Hours race.
Fifteen hours of rain, three of which were torrential, a bad summer solstice. Thirteen accidents, one fatal. First ever success in the event by an American and a Belgian driver. A third win for Scuderia Ferrari whose 250 TR took over the lead in the third hour, while the British challenge ran out of stream. After their 1957 rout, the Italians took their revenge as Osca also won the Index of Performance.
A grand total 70 racing cars were registered for this event, of which only 59 when allowed to practice, trying to qualify for the 55 places for the race. The number of starters was fixed at 55 following some regulations changes prior to the previous year’s event.
The battle of the previous years between Jaguar and Italian concerns of Ferrari was joined by the English marque, Aston Martin, fresh from their triumph on the 1000km of Nürburgring with their Aston Martin DBR1. For this race, they brought along a two-year old Aston Martin DB3S for the Whitehead brothers. They supported the trio of DBR1s, of Stirling Moss/Jack Brabham, Tony Brooks/Maurice Trintignant and Roy Salvadori/Carroll Shelby. Although there was no official works Jaguar entry, the Coventry marque was still very much present in the form of the twice-winning Ecurie Ecosse. They had two D-Types for Jack Fairman/Masten Gregory and Ninian Sanderson/Jock Lawrence. There was a factory-supported car for Duncan Hamilton, driving with Ivor Bueb.
Just prior to the meeting, Enzo Ferrari wisely decided not to enter his latest two prototypes, judging that his well proven 3-litre 12-cylinder Testa Rossa was just the car for Circuit de la Sarthe. The crews were Mike Hawthorn/Peter Collins, Phil Hill/Olivier Gendebien and Wolfgang von Trips/Wolfgang Seidel. A fourth car was planned but Gino Munaron had an accident and Luigi Musso had not recovered from his Grote Prijs van Belgie incident. The factory was backed up by no less other six other privately entered Testa Rossas.
Judged to be too young, 16-year-old Ricardo Rodríguez was not allowed to start by the organisers, Automobile Club de l'Ouest, so was replaced by the older brother, Pedro Rodríguez.
Qualifying was held over three sessions for a total of 660 minutes over the 18 and 19 June, a few days prior to the race. Most of the qualifying runs took place on a dry track and the best time was achieved by Moss, who pushed his Aston Martin around in time of 4 minutes and 7 seconds, averaging 121.7 mph. Next quickest with his team-mate, Brooks, with the majority of the Aston drivers quicker than the rest of the field. The honour of the fastest Jaguar went to Fairman, who did 4 min 13 sec, a time matched by Hawthorn in his Ferrari. The others Ferraris were around the 4 min 20 sec mark.
When the French tricolour fell at 16:00, the first car sparkling into life was the No.2 of Moss. Almost simultaneously the Aston was shooting toward the Dunlop bridge, so spectacularly fast that by the time it passed under it, the other cars had barely moved. Moss already that a 20-yard lead on Brooks, who was pressed by a horde of Jaguars and Ferraris. After just 4½ minutes after his standing but flying start, Moss past the pits with a lead of a quarter of a mile on Hawthorn, Brooks, von Trips and Gendebien. Heading the rest of the pack was the Aston of Salvadori.
After just 5 laps, Moss was 13 seconds ahead of Hawthorn and was stretching the lead on every lap despite of the fact Hawthorn was pushing harder all the time. It the Ferrari driver who set the fastest lap with a remarkable time if 4 mins 8 sec (124.4mh). By 17:00, Moss was leading Hawthorn by 26 sec. Then came von Trips, Brooks, Gendebien and the first of Jaguars, Hamilton. Such was Moss’s pace, all the competitors with exception of the first three leaders, had been lapped at least once. The following hour saw Moss extend his lead over Hawthorn to 95 sec., lapping regularly close to the fastest lap of the day. Hawthorn tried to keep up, but his car seemed to be suffering from a slipping clutch, with vin Trips and Brooks rapidly closing it on him. Shortly after 18:00 (two hours) Moss was suddenly missing, with a broken crankshaft. Around this time, an enormous storm fell on the circuit, flooding the track and reducing the visibility to nil.
With night falling and the rain pouring even harder, the track became awash and a terrible series of accidents began, a series which only ended with the checkered flag. Between 18:30 and 22:00, no less than 12 cars were involved in bad crashes. Several people were injured and unfortunately, one lost their life. Jean-Marie Brousselet, who raced under the pseudonym “Mary”, was fatally injured when his Jaguar went out of control just beyond the Dunlop bridge. Also involved in this terrible accident was Bruce Kessler. The American ran into the remains of the Jaguar at high speed, just a few seconds after Brousselet had crashed. Luckily for Kessler, he was thrown out of his Ferrari, receiving only serious bruises and broken ribs. As for his Ferrari, had was completely demolished and burned. Another American, Jay Chamberlain crashed his Lotus and was lucky to be picked off the track, before François Picard’s Ferrari crashed into it, totally destroying the little Lotus. Fortunate both Chamberlain and Picard only received minor injuries. Among the casual during this period were Stuart Lewis-Evans (who had replaced Shelby as Salvadori’s team-mate) in his Aston Martin; Jean Hébert whose Alfa Romeo burned to nothing and Maurice Charles was another Jaguar driver to crash at high speed and needed hospital treatment.
After six hours of racing, the high-speed driving coupled with the unthinkable weather conditions, 21 cars were already eliminated. Meanwhile, Hill/Gendebien were leading the race for Ferrari, by over a minute from their team-mates, the all-German pairing von Trips/Seidel. Closing up rapidly was the Jaguar of Hamilton/Bueb, who had passed the last Aston Martin of Brooks/Trintignant. As for the all-English Ferrari of Hawthorn/Collins, that had fallen back to 11th place. During the next hour, Bueb was driving magnificently, quite at ease in the wet, making a remarkable progression. He passed the leading Ferrari shortly after 23:00. The two cars were now circulating together, and were soon joined by von Trips. Just before midnight, Hill took over from Gendebien. Minutes later, Hamilton did the same in the Jaguar and Seidel in the second Ferrari. In the early hours of Sunday morning, Hill demonstrated his talents as one of the world’s finest sports car drivers on adverse weather conditions. In the next two and half hours, not only did Hill regain the lead, he lapped Hamilton.
At the halfway point, there was just 26 cars left running. The weather was not improving. Hill/Gendebien were still leading with Hamilton/Bueb a lap adrift. As for the von Trip’s Ferrari, that was crashed quite badly by Seidel and was out. Now in third, some five laps behind the leader was the Aston of Brooks/Trintignant, still going strong.
The morning hours saw more storms and more casualties. Hawthorn/Collins retired their Ferrari. Gearbox troubles accounted for Brooks/Trintignant and we had not a single car in the 1100cc class. One of the Lister-Jaguar had had difficulties and required a 135-minute visit to pit lane to change a broken camshaft before rejoining the race. With only a few remaining, it seemed that nothing could alter the result. At one point, the Jaguar did gain on the Ferrari only for the Italian motor to extend its lead to just under two laps. Just before midday, just as a fresh storm fell heavily on the circuit, Hamilton left the road, resulting in a trip to the hospital with only slight injuries. With him disappeared the last Jaguar, making it a tough day for the Coventry marque.
It was under a menacing black sky, that a triumphant Hill crossed the finishing line at 16:00, ending one of the wettest and most difficult 24 Heures du Mans in history. Second step on the podium went to the valiant Aston Martin of Graham Whitehead and Peter Whitehead, while third was the Jean Behra/Hans Herrmann in their 1600cc Porsche 718 RSK. The winning partnership, averaged a speed of 106.201 mph, was only 7.4 mph slower than 1957’s victory by the bigger Jaguar, running in ideal weather conditions. The little 750cc Osca, driven by Alejandro de Tomaso and Carlo Davis won the Index of Performance in spite of the late attacks by others, ensuring two victories for Italy, made the Italians forget their defeat of the previous year. Ferrari had also secured the World Championship for Constructors, with one round still to go. The race was run in such terrible conditions that only 20 cars out of the 55 starters were able to complete the race, and actually just 17 could be classified as having covered the official distance.
For the fourth consecutive race, Hawthorn was the quickest driver over a single lap, but his best lap of 4’ 08 was well down on his 3’ 58.7secs of 1957. This was the same for the overall race distances as Gendebien/Hill covered around the same the fifth place crew of the previous year. Again, the wet conditions were mainly responsible for this discrepancy.
Class Winners are in Bold text.
Failed to cover 70% of winner's distance (213 laps)
Standings after the race
Championship points were awarded for the first six places in each race in the order of 8-6-4-3-2-1, excepting the RAC Tourist Trophy, for which points were awarded on a 4-3-2-1 for the first four places. 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. Points earned but not counted towards the championship totals are listed within brackets in the above table.