While gas ran into the tank and the two mechanics fussed around the car, Pierre remained in the cockpit, saying very little. Marchand waited. Helmeted, goggles in place, pulling on his gloves. But when the gas tank was capped, Pierre waved him aside and said, "I'm going on!" Marchand opened his mouth to argue, but Pierre had already thundered away into the night.
The engine in the Talbot-Lago sounded terrible, yet Pierre was reasonably confident that he could nurse it along. He'd have to. Letting Marchand change places with him would first mean wasting precious time explaining. Then, inevitably, the Mercedes team would hear that he was in trouble. If the Germans even suspected anything was wrong, they'd up their speed. And make him tear his engine apart. The only thing for Pierre to do was to keep on. Alone.
Hours passed. The smaller cars were dropping away now. The Gordini's brakes gave out and it retired, putting Pierre in the lead. This was the position he went on holding. Cautiously.
In the early hours of the morning he stopped again for gas. And again waved Marchand aside. French fans half-asleep in the grandstand jerked awake. So did the reporters high in the press box. What kind of crazy game was Pierre Levegh playing? Perhaps that crazy, rich American, Cunningham, was driving his car all the way alone. The people to emulate were the Germans. All along the course, the fans tried to will Pierre not to blow the race.
At 4 in the morning, halfway, Pierre had done 142 laps, four more than the fastest Mercedes-Benz. Mist always hangs over the Le Mans circuit before dawn, but that morning it was pea-soup fog, and Pierre thanked God. The fog forced all the drivers to cut their speed.
Dawn, and the fog lifted. People around the track rolled up their sleeping bags and watched bleary-eyed for the big blue roadster with No. 8 on it. Pierre Levegh's big car being driven solo toward victory. Incredible. Wonderful. For all its efficiency, Germany's greatest factory team couldn't keep up with an individual Frenchman at the wheel of his own car.
Eight in the morning. Time for a pit stop. During the pause, Pierre's mechanics noticed the dead tachometer and began to ask about it, but he gestured to them to shut up. Again Marchand waited to take over, but Pierre stubbornly clenched the steering wheel and ordered Marchand back onto the apron. The co-driver shrugged and obeyed. After all, the car was Pierre's. The fans, of course, couldn't understand. As the Talbot roared back onto the track they wondered why Pierre Levegh, driving now for France, refused poor Marchand even a sliver of glory. No one at Le Mans had ever before driven 24 hours singlehanded.
Pierre was really tired now. Anyone could see that. At the corners his wheels spun in the sand at the edge of the macadam. But he kept on the road. And in the lead. By noon he'd done 235 laps. One German car was four laps behind him, the other, 10.
Passing the pits, Pierre saw a new signal. The Germans, the numerals told him, were putting on speed. He'd have to spurt ahead, too. The engine's vibration rose, and the knowledge of what he was doing made him ache with anguish. On the next lap his pit signaled that the Germans had reduced throttle, and so he lifted his foot. The vibration eased.
The fastest German car was now in trouble and fell back, yielding to the one that had been in third place. It was going to be Levegh first, followed by the two Mercedes-Benzes far behind. In the press box they were already phoning the story of the first singlehanded victory in Le Mans history. Only 75 minutes to go.