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1962 Le Mans 24 Hours

Extract from Ultimate Ferrari 250 GTO - The Definitive History by James Page.

In 1962, Le Mans was still a Ferrari stronghold. It had won outright in three of the previous four years — the only exception being 1959, when Aston Martin was victorious — and had claimed the GT class in 1959, 1960 and 1961. With no fewer than 15 Ferraris entered for the latest running of the 24 Hours, it seemed unlikely that Maranello’s run of success would be coming to an end any time soon.

Among those 15 were six GTOs. NART entered 3387 GT for Bob Grossman and
Glenn ‘Fireball’ Roberts, who was somewhat condescendingly described in Motoring News as Le Mans 24 Hours ‘the American saloon car driver’. Jean Guichet and Pierre Noblet were entered under the latter’s name in 3705 GT, while Léon Dernier and Jean Blaton were in the Ecurie Francorchamps 3757 GT. The UDT-Laystall team ran 3505 GT for Innes Ireland and Masten Gregory, while Fernand Tavano entered 3769 GT for himself and André Simon. Finally, there was 3445 GT, which was initially placed on the reserve list by Scuderia SSS Repubblica di Venezia but took the start in the hands of Nino Vaccarella and Giorgio Scarlatti.

Taking full advantage of the Experimental Prototype class, the factory entered a 4-litre 330 TRI/LM for Olivier Gendebien and Phil Hill, a 4-litre 330 GTO (3765 LM) for Michael Parkes and Lorenzo Bandini, plus two rear-engined cars. Giancarlo Baghetti and Ludovico Scarfiotti had a 268 SP, while the Rodríguez brothers made do with the smaller 246 SP. Pedro was reportedly concerned about being assigned the 2.4-litre car, but Ricardo assured him that they would be able to compete with the bigger Ferraris. As was their wont, the Mexicans decided that they would have to drive flat-out all the way.

Le Mans race 1962

Above: (left) An atmospheric shot of Frenchman Fernand Tavano resting on his newly acquired GTO (3769 GT), which he would share at Le Mans with André Simon. Brian Kent Joscelyne Collection

(top right)Yet to acquire its race number of 19 and its bonnet-mounted bug deflector, 3705 GT is pushed through the paddock ahead of its maiden outing. Brian Kent Joscelyne Collection

(bottom right) The UDT-Laystall team prepares 3505 GT for the scrutineering process. It would be driven in the race by Innes Ireland and Masten Gregory. Brian Kent Joscelyne Collection

In terms of overall victory, the main opposition seemed to come from Maserati’s fearsome Tipo 151 and Aston Martin’s new Project 212, both models also being entered in the Experimental Prototype category. Three of the Italian coupés were at La Sarthe. Briggs Cunningham entered two — one for Bruce McLaren/Walt Hansgen, the other for Bill Kimberly/Dick Thompson. The original intention had been for Roy Salvadori to share one of them, but the tall Brit found the car too cramped and instead he was switched to Cunningham’s Jaguar E-type. The third Tipo 151 was a Maserati France entry for Lucien Bianchi and Maurice Trintignant.

Featuring a 4-litre V8 in a spaceframe chassis, the low-slung Maserati certainly didn’t lack straight-line speed. McLaren’s car would be timed at almost 180mph during the race, but its handling left a little to be desired. Nonetheless, during practice Thompson lapped in 3 minutes 59.1 seconds, which was only 0.5 second slower than Parkes in the 4-litre GTO and four seconds behind the pace-setting Ferrari of Hill and Gendebien.

Another to break the four-minute barrier in practice was Graham Hill in the Project 212 Aston. With a lap of 3 minutes 59.8 seconds, and a recorded speed on the Mulsanne of a whisker under 169mph, the Formula One ace did much to boost British hopes ahead of the race. He would share the works-entered car with Richie Ginther. In the GT class, it looked as if only a trio of E-types would be able to provide any real competition for the GTOs. The Cunningham entry was to be driven by Briggs himself and Salvadori, while British privateers Peter Lumsden and Peter Sargent would be in their roadster, which had been heavily modified and fitted with a coupé-style roof. The third Jaguar was that of Maurice Charles and John Coundley. When their E-type was credited with a practice time of 3 minutes 56.2 seconds — second fastest overall! — the reliability of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s timing was called into question. Even when their time was later ‘corrected’ to 4 minutes 2.5 seconds, almost everyone was certain that their E-type must have been confused with another car, most likely the Thompson/Kimberly Maserati.

Le Mans 24 Hour

Above: (top left) This is the Scuderia SSS Repubblica di Venezia trio of 3445 GT, 250 TRI/61 and the famous 250 GT SWB ‘Breadvan’. The GTO lasted longest, but all three failed to finish. Klemantaski Collection/JJF Archive

(bottom left) The Ecurie Francorchamps 3757 GT awaits the start of practice. Note the splash guard over the left-hand exhaust pipes and the revised air outlets behind the rear wheels.. Brian Kent Joscelyne Collection

(bottom right) Anticipation builds ahead of the start. Visible, from left, are GTOs 3705 GT, 3505 GT and 3757 GT; number 21 is the 250 GT Sperimentale (2643 GT). Getty Images/Jean-Claude Mallinjod/INA

The weather was superb throughout the weekend, fierce sunshine beating down as the drivers lined up opposite their cars, ready to dash across the track when the flag dropped at 4pm. Even Denis Jenkinson seemed fairly positive, writing in Motor Sport: ‘The same GT and Prototype muddle existed at Le Mans as at the other long-distance races this season, but by ignoring the complicated rules and regulations with which GT racing is becoming bogged down it was possible to enjoy Le Mans for once because the sun was shining.’ As the field streamed away from the pits and round to the Mulsanne straight for the first time, Graham Hill led from the Ferraris of Gendebien and Parkes, who promptly dropped the 4-litre GTO into the sandbank at Mulsanne corner. By the time he dug it out and limped back to the pits, he was eight laps down. Thereafter the car suffered from persistent overheating and was finally retired after a long period spent lapping well off the pace.

That left Graham Hill and Gendebien out front and they howled past the pits at the end of the first lap 14 seconds clear of the chasing pack, which was led by Guichet’s GTO and Pedro Rodríguez in the 246 SP. It was a stirring effort by the big Aston, and although the Ferrari got past on the second lap, the British car gamely hung on to its coat tails. At the end of the first hour, it was still running second, ahead of the three Maseratis and the Rodríguez Ferrari. The GTOs were more or less line astern, but at this stage all of them trailed Count Volpi’s 250 GT Short Wheelbase ‘Breadvan’. It didn’t last — the car retired early with propshaft failure, Volpi apparently being convinced that the offending component had been tampered with…

When Gendebien stopped at 5:20pm to hand over to Phil Hill, the Aston regained the lead — but only temporarily. Shortly afterward, Graham Hill came in so that Ginther could have his first stint, the pit stop allowing the Ferrari to retake the lead. At 7:30pm, the Aston’s gallant challenge started to fall apart, Ginther having to stop with dynamo problems. The armature was changed and Graham Hill rejoined the fray, but two hours later the British car was sidelined for good with a blown head gasket and a broken oil pipe.

Retirements started to mount as the evening progressed. The 250 GT Short Wheelbase of Georges Berger and Robert Darville (2445 GT) crashed heavily at Maison Blanche, destroying the front-left corner of the Ferrari, and the Charles/ Coundley E-type had dropped out with engine trouble. As for the Maseratis, the McLaren/ Hansgen car had lost 20 minutes due to a blown tyre, while Thompson suffered a race-ending accident at the Esses shortly after taking over from Kimberly.

By 10pm, quarter distance, Ferrari had gained an iron grip on the race. Hill and Gendebien still led, but now from the Rodríguez brothers, who had enjoyed a real dice with Thompson’s Maserati before its accident. Baghetti and Scarfiotti were third in the 268 SP, while Noblet and Guichet, having been 10th at the end of the first hour, had steadily worked their way up to fourth in their GTO. Tavano and Simon were fifth in another GTO, the Trintignant/Bianchi Maserati was sixth, and behind them came a quartet of GTOs. The all-American team of Grossmann and Roberts led the Ireland/Gregory car, which in turn was just ahead of the Vaccarella/Scarlatti car, with Léon Dernier and Jean Blaton 10th. All of this meant that Ferraris occupied all but one of the top 10 positions. Next up were Peters Lumsden and Sargent in their E-type, followed by the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato of Mike Salmon and Ian Baillie.

As the night wore on, the two leading Ferraris continued to trade blows, regularly swapping positions as the pit stops continued to play out. There was talk of team manager Eugenio Dragoni instructing both crews to call off the fight, but it fell on deaf ears where the Mexican brothers were concerned, and Hill and Gendebien were similarly disinclined to pay too much attention. These two cars had distanced themselves from the rest in an absorbing battle. The Trintignant Maserati retired with transmission failure, Mike Salmon’s Aston did likewise with a holed piston, and the Ireland/Gregory GTO was suffering with charging problems despite regular repairs being carried out to the dynamo. The Tavano/Simon GTO also came into the pits during the night for similar treatment, losing 18 minutes in the process.

GTO at Le Mans 1962

Above: (top left) Glenn ‘Fireball’ Roberts and Bob Grossman drove NART’s 3387 GT, seen sweeping through the Esses on its way to sixth overall. Klemantaski Collection/JJF Archive

(bottom left) Shadows lengthen a few hours into the race as 3505 GT swings into Tertre Rouge. The yellow disc at the front of the door denotes that the bodywork is aluminium; its purpose was to help marshals tackle fires. Klemantaski Collection/JJF Archive

(right) The late-evening sun catches Jean Guichet pressing on at the wheel of 3705 GT. This GTO was among the frontrunners throughout the 24 hours. Motorsport Images/David Phipps

As a clear dawn started to break, however, Pedro Rodríguez jumped into the 246 SP only to find ominous noises coming from the transmission. He went out for a solitary lap to see if a solution miraculously presented itself, but he was soon back in for good. The crowd had thrown themselves behind the two brothers in their battle with the larger-engined Ferrari, but in the end had to watch as the car was pushed away into retirement. Not long afterwards, the Ireland/Gregory GTO finally cried enough, resolutely refusing to restart after a pit stop.
That left Hill and Gendebien with a healthy lead of four laps over the Baghetti/Scarfiotti 268 SP and the Noblet/Guichet GTO, and when the Hansgen/McLaren Maserati was sidelined with transmission failure, Ferraris filled the top six places. In seventh and eighth were the two surviving E-types, the Lumsden/Sargent car leading the Cunningham/Salvadori example, both running strongly and ready to take advantage should any more of the Ferraris strike trouble.

As the morning wore on and the temperature started to rise, that’s exactly what happened. Not long after Ireland and Gregory had retired, the Vaccarella/Scarlatti GTO stopped out on the circuit with engine problems while running seventh. Then, at 7:30am, the Tavano/Simon GTO retired from fifth place with rear-axle failure. An hour after that, Baghetti and Scarfiotti also dropped out, the 268 SP limping into the pits with an ailing gearbox. It rejoined but only got as far as The Esses.

Although that promoted the E-types to fifth and sixth, Ferraris still filled the first four places. With a lead of seven laps, Hill and Gendebien had dropped their pace and continued on their serene way up front, followed by a trio of GTOs led by Noblet and Guichet, who were benefiting from a trouble-free run. Lumsden and Sargent, however, were now four laps clear of Cunningham and Salvadori. With the bit between their teeth, they were consistently circulating in 4 minutes 15 seconds.

Although it wasn’t on the same lap, the E-type was running in company with the Grossman/Roberts GTO, which had climbed as high as third before being passed by the Dernier/Blaton GTO. When the American car was delayed with starter-motor trouble at a pit stop, the E-type was up into fourth and set off in pursuit of the Belgian entry. At midday, it was three and a half minutes in arrears but lapping 15 seconds faster. A podium finish was within reach, perhaps even class victory if anything happened to Noblet and Guichet, but disaster struck with only an hour to go.

‘I was driving at the time,’ Lumsden later reflected. ‘Coming out of Arnage, suddenly it didn’t go well at all and started to rattle and shake, and smoke came out of the gearbox. Thereafter we could only get top gear. I came into the pits as it was time to hand over to Peter and he managed to get away in top.’

Sargent did try changing gear once but quickly thought better of it and, using both hands, forced the lever back into top. They were limited to 3,000rpm and fell out of contention, leaving the GTOs to have a clear run to the finish, and even having to relinquish fourth place to the Cunningham/Salvadori E-type. It was later discovered that the Jaguar factory had entrusted the pre-race gearbox rebuild to an apprentice, who had fitted a gasket the wrong way round and blocked an oilway.

A pit stop

Above: (left) The heat haze is shimmering across the road as 3705 GT brakes hard at the end of the Mulsanne straight on Sunday morning. Klemantaski Collection/Yves Debraine

(top right) A pit stop for 3387GT. Note the bug deflector ahead of the left-hand bonnet air intake; the intake on the right has been fitted with a Perspex scoop to aid its efficiency. Motorsport Images/LAT

(bottom right) Jean Guichet and Pierre Noblet share a joke on the pit wall as 3705 GT is refuelled. The mechanic in the centre with the funnel is replenishing the oil in the dry-sump system. Getty Images/INA

Mike MacDowel, a fine driver in his own right, was at Le Mans for Jaguar and wrote in his post-event report: ‘The Lumsden/Sargent car had run extremely well and might have finished third… had gear selection trouble not occurred. The performance of the Jaguars was certainly satisfactory bearing in mind their specification. The pattern of the race showed, however, in the writer’s opinion, that they are no direct match in their present form for the Ferrari Berlinetta GTO. They show good reliability but lose out on weight and roadholding.’

It’s worth mentioning that MacDowel then drove the Cunningham E-type back to the Jaguar factory in Coventry. He had also driven it down to Le Mans beforehand and reported that ‘it was as lovely a car going home as it was going out’. It wouldn’t be too many more years before a car capable of finishing as high as fourth would emphatically not be the sort of machine in which you would be happy to undertake a 1,000-mile round trip.

Once again, however, Ferrari had won overall — the third victory for the pairing of Hill and Gendebien — and claimed the GT class courtesy of Noblet and Guichet, whose GTO ran like a train throughout. It wasn’t without controversy, though. Autosport’s editorial noted: ‘In all official lists, this car appeared as an experimental machine, but by the time the race was over it suddenly became a Grand Touring vehicle, and accordingly was awarded first place, as well as taking Championship points in the over 2,000cc category.’

The explanation given in the race report was that Noblet and Guichet had indeed entered 3705 GT in the Experimental Prototype class, apparently ‘not realising that the FIA had homologated the GTO’ for the GT class. Although the Automobile Club de l’Ouest transferred it to the correct class, it failed to inform anyone else — rivals and press alike — that it had done so.

Phil Hill racing

Above: Coated with dirt and dust, 3757 GT exits Mulsanne corner in the closing stages of the race. Léon Dernier and Jean Blaton finished third overall. Klemantaski Collection/JJF Archive

Perhaps some of the indignation shown by elements of the British press was due to the scrutineers’ clumsy exclusion of the Lotus 23s. Both cars — which presented serious opposition to the French Bonnet and Panhard teams for the Index of Performance — failed scrutineering for having four-stud front wheels and six-stud rears. Lotus modified the cars so that they had fourstud hubs all round and brought in the RAC’s Dean Delamont to argue their case, but the scrutineers were unmoved. They refused to inspect the cars again, stating that, if six-stud fixings had been specified for the rear, to use four studs must be unsafe! Despite all of the grumbling and arguments and protests, the Lotuses were out. Some consolation must have come from the fact that the Elite of David Hobbs and Frank Gardner won its class and the Index of Thermal Efficiency.

Come Sunday afternoon, Noblet and Guichet were indeed the winners of the GT class. From the fourth hour onwards they had been running in the top six, and at the end they were 12 laps clear of Dernier and Blaton, while Grossman and Roberts crossed the line sixth in their delayed GTO; unlike 3705 GT, 3387 GT did run in the 3-litre Experimental class, which it won. It was another crushing display of strength by Enzo’s cars, but the heroic effort of Lumsden and Sargent had proved that the E-type was still capable of giving the GTO the occasional scare.

More information on Ultimate Ferrari 250 GTO - The Definitive History

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