SI Vault
June 30, 1958
No Panic, Please
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June 30, 1958

Events & Discoveries

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"Then what happens?"

"Nothing," he shrugged. "The ball sticks to the bat."

"Oh," said his sister.

Le Mans in the Rain

Visibility was scarcely 20 feet in the blinding evening downpour that lashed the eight-and-a-half-mile, potato-shaped course at Le Mans. "The most treacherous conditions in anyone's memory," summed up Correspondent David Snell in his file. Yet Le Mans is Le Mans, so the drivers pressed hard on the gas pedals. On the straightaways, visibility or no visibility, they bored on at 150 mph.

The race began even faster. The Aston Martin team, long proved in the 3-liter class and favored this year because of the new 3000-cc. limitation which cut bigger cars down to their size, set the pace. At the takeoff Stirling Moss surged ahead in his dark green No. 2 as though he would run away from the field. The highly admired Jaguars, perennial Le Mans winners, tried to keep up, but the Jag pistons, redesigned with shortened strokes to conform to the new cc. limitation, were put to too severe a strain. The first went out (broken piston) in 15 minutes, the second 17 minutes later. Just before the rain, Moss and his Aston Martin sputtered out too, though not before setting the 1958 lap record: 120.7 mph.

The pace was hard on the cars. Almost half of the starting field of 55 had dropped out after the first seven hours of the 24. But it was the rain and mist that reached out for Jean Mary (real name Jean Brousselet) as he streaked into the corner known as Tertre Rouge in his No. 11 Jaguar. He miscalculated and drove into the embankment. As No. 11 slammed back to the roadway and overturned it fell in the path of the No. 18 Ferrari, driven by Bruce Kessler of Los Angeles, approaching at close to 100 mph. Kessler flung himself from the seat an instant before the impact and, incredibly, suffered only multiple bruises. Mary died instantly.

The race continued into the night. Phil Hill of Santa Monica, Calif. and his partner, Olivier Gendebien of Belgium, had by now taken the lead in Ferrari No. 14 and were pushing hard to remain ahead of the last hope of the Jaguars, the No. 8 piloted by Duncan Hamilton and Ivor Bueb.

By the calendar it was the shortest night of the year, though to Hill and Gendebien, whose eyes were burning from the impossible effort of trying to pierce the curtain of rain, it must have seemed the longest, blackest ever. Even the dawn brought scant relief, for while the sky cleared deadly patches of mist rose from the track.

At midmorning, the clouds closed in again. Hill, by this time two laps ahead of the surviving Jaguar, pulled in behind the British entry to ride its slipstream for several laps. Then the rain came for the fifth time, turning puddles to pools and obscuring vision in a giant splash. On the fast corner of Arnage, the leader tried too late to dodge an abandoned car and spun from the road. Hill saw the blurred shape in time and, somehow, managed to snake past. From then on it was home free for Ferrari No. 14.

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