MMR Blog

The Le Mans Start by Denise McCluggage

Posted on June 29, 2012 Comments (1)

The LeMans start made great sense when it began. Engines that wouldn’t fire, or worse, started and died shortly after underway leaving the cars perched for collection by dozens of machines bearing down on them at full song. A poor beginning for any event.

Le Mans Start

But angle the cars in readiness just off the course, have the drivers run across the track, leap in, fire up and take off. Each step spread the cars like spilled jelly beans.

Le Mans Start

Any stalled car sat safely out of the way. It worked. Particularly since early on in racing it was the rare driver who had belts in his car. Even much later only seat belts were common, simple enough to fasten a few laps later while steering with the knees down the Mulsanne straight. The belting/harnessing system grew more complicated (not to mention effective) and by 1972 the LeMans start made its last appearance.

I chose to shoot the opening of the race from across the course up in the spectators’ stand to take in the pits and the crowded stands above them.

Le Mans Start

I had been at LeMans in 1958 for Phil Hill's first LeMans victory. June again in 1959 he and co-driver Olivier Gendebien were back (#14 Ferrari) eager to chalk up another. They were on their way to doing just that—if leading by two laps in the 19th hour of 24 counts. But their TestaRossa, perhaps over-taxed by copying the early fast running of the Aston Martin team, simply gave out. (But then so did 41 other cars out of the cast of 54.) Aston DBR1s, led by the American-Brit team of Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori (#5), took the first two places.

Roy was driving the closing minutes with a lap in hand when I spotted Carroll entering the back door of the Aston pits. He had gone to change out of his blue driver's suit for his signature striped bib overalls. I chided him: "A change of costume for the curtain calls?" He grinned his wide-as-Texas grin. The good ole boy image was a great success in Europe as well as at home.

Carroll Shelby, aged 89 and the recipient of a heart and a kidney transplant, died May 10. Then 23 days later the man with whom he shared the1959 LeMans victory, Roy Salvadori, died at age 90.