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#68 1958 Indy 500

2021-04-20 00:00

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#68 1958 Indy 500

On the difficult, insidious Nurburgring circuit, traced by a capricious hand through the wooded hills of the Eifel, the 1958 1000 Kilometre race for c

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On the difficult, insidious Nurburgring circuit, traced by a capricious hand through the wooded hills of the Eifel, the 1958 1000 Kilometre race for cars in the sports category will be run on Sunday 31 May. This is the fourth round of the season for the World Championship for Brands, the ranking of which sees Ferrari in the lead with 24 points, followed by Porsche with 14. But practically the question of the top title is now settled in favour of Ferrari, which only needs either a victory or even just a good placing to put itself safe from surprises in the remaining two rounds (24 Hours of Le Mans and Tourist Trophy). It is therefore not this aspect of the Adenau race that is of the greatest interest. It is rather the new episode in the struggle between Italians and English, or rather between Italian and English technique, that gives the 1000 Kilometres a high competitive level. For a couple of years now, the specialised constructors from across the Channel have been methodically attacking the supremacy of Italian cars, and with alarming results. The only Italian marque that is still coping with the heaviest situation - Ferrari - has to defend itself on two fronts: in Formula 1 it has lost some ground - although it is by no means the case to speak of surrender; the situation is better in the sporting category races, where the three previous rounds valid for the world title have been as many triumphs for the Modenese cars. At the Nurburgring, against the four official Ferraris of the Musso-Munaron, Collins-Hawthorn, Gendebien-Hill and Trips-Seidel pairs, the British marques Jaguar and Aston Martin sent out cars and drivers in full force. Particularly fearsome appears to be the Aston Martin, which this year seriously committed the Italian cars at Sebring, and in the recent Targa Florio broke the new lap record, while proving to be as fast and manoeuvrable as they are rather fragile.

 

It should also be noted that Aston Martin won last year right here at the Nurburgring on an average record with the Brooks-Cunningham crew. Less dangerous seem to be the Jaguars, whose superior speed in an absolute sense is only relatively important on a track as winding as this one. Nor should there be any surprises from the Porsches and Borgwards, German cars of excellent ability but disadvantaged by the too onerous handicap of displacement (1500 cc against the 3000 cc limit of the Italian and British cars). The confrontation - and this is also shown by the official practice times - will therefore be a duel between Ferrari and Aston Martin. The later will line up three cars, driven respectively by Moss-Brabham, Brooks-Lewis-Evans and Salvadori paired with a driver who hasn't yet been designated by the British team's sporting director and former racer Reginald Parne. The gruelling distance over which the race will be contested (forty-four laps of the 22,810-metre circuit, equal to 1003.640 kilometres), in the experts' predictions accords a certain favour to the Italian cars, whose robustness is proverbial, and which boast tried and tested qualities of power and agility. The forecasts could only suffer a rude blow if the Aston Martins proved to have overcome their congenital lack of grip, something that is far from being ruled out. In practice on Saturday 30 May 1958, Collins was the fastest (9'45"3), but only three tenths of a second faster than Moss (9'45"6): the balance between the two cars was therefore very evident. Next, Musso-Munaron (Ferrari) set a time of 9'45"8, Trips-Seidel (Ferrari) a time of 9'50"5, Brooks-Levis-Evans (Aston Martin) a time of 9'52"2, and Behra-Schell (Porsche) a time of 10'03"0.

On Sunday, 31 May 1958, taking advantage of the fine weather, from the early hours of the morning tens of thousands of people began to invade the Eifel area, through which the famous Nurburgring circuit winds its way, passing numerous ups and downs. At 9:00 a.m., the starter gives the go-ahead to the cars, which are divided, according to their engine capacity, into the various categories. Stirling Moss at the end of the first lap is about ten seconds ahead of Hawthorn (Ferrari), Brooks (Aston Martin), Trips (Ferrari), Salvadori (Aston Martin), Behra (Porsche) and Luigi Musso. In the following laps Moss further increased his pace and on lap three set a new lap record for sports cars in 9'43"0 flat. After a hundred kilometres, the race was livened up again when Moss stopped at the refuelling pit stops to temporarily hand over the wheel to his Brabham team-mate, as the regulations stipulated. Hawthorn took advantage of this stop to take the lead for a few laps of the race. However, when Hawthorn also stopped to be replaced by Collins, everything returned to order. On lap 19, the Behra-Barth crew (whose small 1.500 cc Porsche managed to squeeze in between the big cars and maintain fourth position), had to retire due to mechanical failure. At mid-race, that is after twenty-two laps, the positions, by now clearly delineated, saw the Moss-Brabham pair in the lead, followed by Hawthom-Collins and Trips-Gendebien. In the second part of the race Hawthorn suddenly launched a violent offensive, recovering about a minute against the leader of the dizzying carousel. But then, following a skid on a curve, he lost almost two minutes, compromising any chance of success for Ferrari. Two laps from the end of the race the Aston Martin lost the car of Brooks-Evans, stopped along the circuit due to lack of petrol, while Gregory went off the track near the grandstands due to a broken leaf spring.

 

Fortunately, the American driver escapes with minor injuries. The 1000 Kilometres of Nurburgring ended with the win of the British Moss-Brabham crew in an Aston Martin; the places of honour were taken by the Ferraris of Hawthorn-Collins and Trips-Gendebien. Munaron from Turin, protagonist of a very regular race, placed fifth together with the German Seidel. Stirling Moss, in splendid form, accomplished an admirable feat by completing about three quarters of the race alone. Starting from a flying start, the British driver distanced his most dangerous rivals by more than half a minute before the end of the third lap. But Stirling's most astonishing feat came between laps 15 and 20, when he had to make up the time lost by his team-mate Brabham who had climbed into the Aston Martin after a hundred kilometres of racing. Stirling Moss was the man of the day in motor racing circles: the English driver collected one laurel after another. On 26 April 1958 he triumphed in the Dutch Grand Prix and at the 1000 kilometres of the Nurburgring he won, together with the young Brabham, in one of the most difficult races on the continent. Indeed, the Adenau track, with its many turns, demanded almost superhuman efforts from the drivers. Despite the massive offensive of the Ferraris, who finished from second to fifth place, the English ace pulled through. And it must be added that his task was made extremely difficult by the fact that his team-mate Brabham didn't appear too up to the situation; therefore, in order not to jeopardise his success, Stirling Moss remained at the wheel of the green Aston Martin for the most part. Moss also had the merit of setting the fastest lap of the day. After crossing the finish line at the Nurburgring, Moss managed to escape the assault of his admirers and with his young wife - the daughter of a Canadian industrialist - returned to the hotel in Adenau where he gave an interview on Monday morning:
 
"It was one of the most challenging races of my motor racing career. The Ferraris were very well prepared. Especially the Hawthorn-Collins crew, who finished second, gave me a lot of trouble. I would also like to pay special praise to Munaron, who with his courageous handling of the race became a true champion".

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The one who can't rest is Mike Hawthorn:

"Without that damned spin on lap 33, which lost me over two minutes, I might have caught up with Moss in the last lap. I was engaged in a furious chase and from the refuelling stalls I was signalling that I was gaining six or seven seconds on the Aston Martin every lap".

Although Ferrari managed to place its four cars in the places of honour, the outcome of this 1000 Kilometre race was anything but satisfactory for the Italian colours: after losing supremacy in the field of Formula 1 cars, as the results of the Argentine, Monaco and Dutch Grands Prix demonstrate, it now seems that the Modenese manufacturer must also lose it among sports cars. Aston Martin clearly proved to be superior in terms of speed. The Ferraris, for their part, showed excellent endurance qualities: four cars started, four finished. Of the three Aston Martins, however, two were eliminated due to mechanical failures. It is to be feared, however, that Ferrari's position will become even more precarious as soon as Aston Martin has been able to eliminate the mishaps complained of in Germany. After the success of Moss's Aston Martin, followed by four Ferraris, the ranking for the world sports car championship by makes still sees Ferrari in the lead with 30 points, while Aston Martin is third, behind Porsche. The Italian company only needs to gain two more points to take the title. However, the race is - unfortunately - marred by a dramatic accident when it has practically come to an end. As the last cars are arriving at the finish line, the Ferrari driven by German driver Erwin Bauer is signalled to stop, but he doesn't realise the signal. Convinced that he could recover some positions, he accelerates and goes off the road at the Brunnchen turn, ending his race against a tree. Bauer, who was quickly rescued, was taken to hospital, where the doctors found a cranium fracture. His condition is desperate. While the Nurburgring 1000-kilometre race is being held in Germany, the Indianapolis 500, the fourth race of the 1958 Formula One World Championship season, is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the United States on 30 May 1958.

 

For the second year in a row, the starting grid was assembled single-file in the pit lane. The cars were instructed to pull away and assemble into the official eleven rows of three after they entered the racing surface. Confusion occurred on the pace lap, however, as the three drivers of the front row (Dick Rathmann, Ed Elisian, and Jimmy Reece) pulled away, and inadvertently escaped the pace car. The three cars were alone, and rather than wait for the grid to catch up, they rushed around to catch up to the back of the field. Sam Hanks pulled the pace car off the track and into the pits, but chief starter Bill Vanderwater displayed the yellow flag to wave off the start. An extra pace lap was allowed, and the front row re-took their position at the front of the pack. By the time Hanks was ready to pull the pace car back out on the track, the field had re-formed, and Vanderwater gave them the green flag. At the start, Dick Rathmann took the lead in turn 1, Ed Elisian was second, and Jimmy Reece third. As the cars went down the backstretch, they battled into turn three. Elisian spun and took Rathmann to the outside wall, triggering a huge 15-car pileup. Reece braked and was hit from behind by Pat O'Connor. O'Connor's car sailed fifty feet in the air, landed upside down and burst into flames. Several other cars spun to the wall and into the infield. Jerry Unser touched wheels with Paul Goldsmith, and flipped over the outside wall. Unser suffered a dislocated shoulder. Although O'Connor was incinerated in the accident, medical officials said that he was probably killed instantly from a fractured skull. Widely blamed for the accident, Elisian was suspended by USAC for the accident (reinstated a few days later), and was shunned by many in the racing community. Following the accident, race officials announced that they would change the starting procedure, abandoning the single-file trip down pit lane that was used in 1957 and 1958. Also, for the 1959 Indy 500, metal roll bars welded to the frame behind the driver's head were mandated, and helmets were required to pass safety certification by Speedway medical officials. Jimmy Bryan escaped the opening lap crash, and came around to lead the first lap.

 

Eddie Sachs and Tony Bettenhausen also got by unscathed, to run second and third. Due to the crash, the yellow light stayed on for the first 25 minutes (18 laps). Four of the top five starting positions were out of the race from the crash, including polesitter Dick Rathmann, who placed 27th. When the green flag conditions came out, Bryan, Sachs, Bettenhausen, and rookie George Amick all traded time in the lead. There were 14 lead changes in the first half. The second yellow came out on lap 38 when Chuck Weyant crashed in turn 4. Eddie Sachs, a contender in the first quarter of the race, dropped out on lap 68 with transmission trouble. The second half of the race settled down to a battle between Jimmy Bryan and Johnny Boyd, with George Amick also in contention. However, Boyd lost the lead during a pit stop on lap 126. Bryan's team had fast pit stops (three stops for 1 minute and 31 seconds), which allowed him to hold the lead. Rookie A. J. Foyt spun out on lap 149. Bryan led the final 75 laps (139 total) en route to victory. Bryan was victorious in the same car in which Sam Hanks won the 500 a year earlier. Amick, a rookie, stayed within striking distance of Bryan for the last part of the race, but Amick's crew chief decided to accept a safe second-place rather than risk pushing his rookie driver into a mistake.  During the race as the news of Pat O'Connor's death spread around the track, the mood among the spectators became somber and glum. Reportedly, some in attendance left the grounds upon hearing the news of the fatality, some never to return. As was the case in previous editions, no European teams came to the United States to attend the Indianapolis 500, so the Formula One World Championship will continue on 15 June 1958, on which occasion the European Grand Prix will be held in Belgium at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

 

Simone Pietro Zazza

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