French Matra-Simcas took the first two places of the Le Mans 24-Hour motor race on Sunday (11 June), and the winning car was driven by Britain's Graham Hill and Frenchman Henri Pescarolo.
French Matra-Simcas took the first two places of the Le Mans 24-Hour motor race on Sunday (11 June), and the winning car was driven by Britain's Graham Hill and Frenchman Henri Pescarolo. Although the two top Matras crossed the finish nearly side by side, the first car was actually ten laps ahead of the second Matra driven by Frenchman Francois Cevert and New Zealander Howden Ganley. It was the first French victory at Le Mens in more than 20 years.
The Matras had led the race for the last 22 of the 24 hours, and had beaten off a number of challenges. The winning Matra covered the 343 laps of the 8.4-mile (13.6 kms) circuit at an average speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kph).
The day ended tragically for the Lola team when Swedish driver Joachim Bonnier was killed when his car collided with the Ferrari Daytona of Switzerland's Florian Vetsch. The car disintegrated completely. And although it was officially announced that Bonnier died on his way to hospital, doctors said he was killed instantly.
Earlier, the Lolas had been doing well, even racing to the front to where they held the first two places for a while before the Matras asserted their superiority.
Third place was taken by West German drivers Reinhold Jost and Michael Weber in a Porsche 908. But for a long time it had seemed that the position would go to the last surviving Italian Alfa-Romeo of Italians Nino Vaccarella and Andrea de Adamich. But a pit stop for bodywork repaid cost them the chance.
Twenty of the 55 starters had abandoned the race after 12 hours.
For Matra, victory was the result of six years work aimed almost entirely at winning the one race. Their whole season was centred on winning at Le Mans and they did so overcoming an early setback when they lost the car of France's Jean Pierre Beltoise and New Zealander Chris Amon which broke a piston after only two laps.
The French Government has poured millions of Frances into Matra's efforts which also saw them take the world drivers championship in 1969 with their Formula One car driven by Scotsman Jackie Stewart.
The absence of the Italian Ferraris, who have won all the other world championship events this season, bothered Matra a little. But, as a company official said later, "I think we could probably have beaten them too."
SYNOPSIS: The Le Mans 24-Hour motor race continued late Saturday as drivers continued the push their cars and themselves.
Sweden's Joachim Bonnier was driving a Lola-Ford T 280. Shortly after the start, the Lolas had moved up to the first two places, but as the race continued, they'd dropped back.
The contest seemed to be developing into a battle between the French Matra-Simcas and the Italian Alfa-Romeos. Except for the race's first two hours, the Matras were commanding the lead, although the pressure was on from the rival Alfas. Two of the leading Matras were driven by Frenchman Henri Pescarolo teamed with Britain's Graham Hill and France's Francois Cevert sharing the driving with New Zealander Howden Ganley. Matra had suffered earlier when the car of France's Jean Pierre Beltoise and New Zealander Chris Aman broke a piston after two laps.
If Matra were to win, it would be the first French victory at Le Mans for over 20 years. The company has had the support of the French Government which has poured millions of Frances into Matra's efforts.
But joy turned to gloom throughout the race on Sunday when Bonnier was killed. His car collided with the Ferrari Daytona of Switzerland's Florian Vetsch, and it completely disintegrated. Vetsch got way with burns and shock.
Matras were still in the lead as the race neared its end. And Hill and Pescarolo were in the front position. By morning they'd widened their advantage over the nearest Alfa to seven laps. Many cars were no longer racing. After 12 hours, 20 of the 55 starters had abandoned their efforts. And in the end, it was Hill and Pescarolo who first crossed the finish, with an average speed over the 343 laps of 121 miles per hour. They were actually ten laps ahead of their team-mates, Cevert and Ganley.