14 October 2010

Racing Le Mans, 1950's style

YouTube is a great place to find obscure videos. I'm consistently amazed by whats being posted.  An example is this video taken during practice for the 1956 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans.

Where do I start? First off, isn't it amazing that they were able to put an onboard camera in 1956? The sound is really good. You can hear a slight ignition interference in the audio, but I'd expect that with the spark leads and plugs Jaguar likely ran. During the run you can see several regular cars on the course. LeMans  is run on public roads that are blocked off for the race. They couldn't block the roads for a whole week, so they allowed drivers to run the course while "civilians" where riding bikes on the course. I can't even imagine anything like this happening today. The driver was Mike Hawthorn, who won the 1955 LeMans and also was the first British Formula One champ driving a Ferrari in 1958. Being onboard with him is a real treat. I've read a few books on him and always wondered what he sounded like. This video has him speaking in his very proper British accent.

One amazing fact, the car was a Jaguar "D" Type with a 285hp straight 6 engine. The fastest "D" Jag was clocked at 192mph on the Mulsanne straight in 1956! Thats insanity on those non speed rated, rock hard tires. If you'll notice, there are no soft barricades around the course, just trees. A blowout on Mulsanne would have almost certainly meant death. Those pilots back then had nerves of steel.

Mike Hawthorn retired after winning the 1958 F1 championship. He only lived a few months afterwards. He was killed in a car accident after he lost control of his road Jaguar in the rain. He was 29. Too bad for such an incredible driver who made it through several years of dangerous competition to be taken in a simple road accident.

If you are interested in Mike Hawthorn, there is a very detailed and informative website dedicated to him here: http://www.mike-hawthorn.org.uk/home.php

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