Sixty years on from Aston Martin’s greatest victory, when Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby took Aston Martin’s only outright win at Le Mans, the crews of the Vantage GTEs once again prepare to fight. In the front-running GTE Pro class, Aston Martin Racing will race against five of the world’s greatest sportscar manufacturers in a 17-car battle for supremacy.
Not long after their victory in 1959, Aston Martin’s DBR1s were retired from active service. The same is true of the Le Mans-winning V8 Vantage GTE this year. Aston Martin’s GTE-Am class teams will field brand new Vantage GTEs for the 2019-2020 WEC season, which concludes at next year’s twice-around-the-clock event. After much success, the V8 Vantage GTE will make its final swansong with two entries in this year’s event.
Ten Facts from Aston Martin’s 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours Victory
1) The winning #5 Aston Martin DBR1 of Roy Salvadori (GB) and Carroll Shelby (USA) covered 2701 miles at an average speed of 112.5mph, shattering all records for a 3.0-litre class car in 1959.
2) Three Aston Martin DBR1s were entered for the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans: #4 Stirling Moss (GB) and Jack Fairman (GB), #5 Roy Salvadori (GB) and Carroll Shelby (USA), #6 Maurice Trintignant (F) and Paul Frére (BEL). The 1959 event was the first time that either Salvadori or Shelby had ever finished the race.
3) Moss and Fairman battled for the lead with the Jean Behra and Dan Gurney Ferrari 250 TR/59 for much of the first half of the race, but both cars would retire with technical issues. Salvadori was later quoted as saying: “Moss was very unlucky. He was very gentle on his car and did not push it unduly. They could easily have won.”
4) Salvadori estimated that Aston Martin team manager Reg Parnell collected a cheque from the organisers for approximately £10,000 in French francs for finishing first and second in the race, as well as third in The Index of Performance (a balancing measure that scored cars from all classes).
5) Parnell encouraged all three crews to run to a pre-set delta lap time, and not to pay attention to the faster opposition. Moss’s car was the fastest and Salvadori believed that the Briton’s pace is what broke the Ferrari challenge: “Moss put on quite a lot more pressure than they were prepared to accept, and he made them go much faster than they would like to have gone.” The Salvadori/Shelby delta was 4m20 per lap with a pit-stop strategy of 34 laps per stint.
6) The #5 Aston Martin DBR1 that completed the 24 hours of Le Mans in 323 laps was in such good condition at the finish that it was reckoned it could have completed another 24 hours. “The oil pressure was 80 pounds at the start and never varied… The car was 100% for the entire race,” said Salvadori.
7) Salvadori and Shelby drove to Le Mans in an Aston Martin DB MK III. Fairman meanwhile took a Lagonda Shooting Brake packed with spares for the race.
8) Such was the heat generated in the DBR1, through its aluminium bodyshell and the position of the clutch pedal above the exhaust pipes, that both Salvadori and Trintignant suffered badly scolded feet. Shelby meanwhile endured a sickness bug that he carried from the sixth hour of the race to the finish.
9) Shelby and Salvadori engaged in a heated contest of ‘Gin Rummy’ card games throughout the Le Mans week. By the end of it Salvadori was £28 up on his team-mate, though it’s not known whether the American ever paid up.
10) In the build-up to the race the weather had been hot and all the team had taken to swimming in the river adjacent to the Hotel de France in the Le Chartre-sur-le-Loir. Moss didn’t partake until the Wednesday morning, when disaster struck and he lost his front teeth diving in. He was forced to get his secretary to fly out his spare pair of false teeth on the first flight out of Paris.
In 2012, Aston Martin produced a video tribute to the Shelby, Salvadori and Cutting using original footage from the 1959 Le Mans race. The silent film, two minutes in duration, depicts the drivers arriving at the track, racing the DRB1 around the Circuit de la Sarthe and, finally, taking the chequered flag to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright.
Aston Martin Remembers 1959 Le Mans Victory – Video