Aston Martin at Le Mans

​Unable to find the right machine, but wishing to go motor racing? 

There is only one option: start your own motorcar company and race your own cars.

This is what Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford did in 1912; before long, they were producing motorcars faster and far more powerful than the competition’s, so customer orders were taken to supply more cars and the growth of the original Aston Martin began.

Soon after, Martin and Banford cars were entering all events, adding to their winning streak; the business was doing well, and started producing fast road cars.

Success brought Aston Martin to a point where it became a well-known name in the racing circles. Yet, unmonitored overspend and tough times caused the receivers to come in and close the business. However, in 1926, the vision of building and racing motorcars was shared by Renwick and Bertelli, who took over the business.

By 1927, the business of building motorcars and racing them had taken off again, so much so that expansion plans forced the owners to move to Feltham in Middlesex.

The Aston Martin motorcar production was well and truly on the map, up there with the best of the competition and, in some cases, beating it soundly.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the whole sports car scene changed: more power, shorter chassis and sports bodies were in every sales brochure. Aston Martins were famous everywhere for pleasing racing results and designs, though the company’s balance sheets showed a different story.

At Le Mans, Spa and Mille Miglia, Aston Martins were commonly seen winning their class, but never as an outright winner.

Aston Martin Le Mans

In 1946, Aston Martin was put up for sale and the following advert was placed in The Times newspaper:

HIGH CLASS MOTOR BUSINESS, established 25 years; £30,000; net profits last year £4,000. – Write Box V.1362, The Times, EC4.

David Brown’s first offer was £14,000; after some negotiation, a price was agreed at £20,000.

Aston Martin needed an owner who was into racing; the one-off win at Spa in 1949 whetted Sir David’s appetite, and helped clinch the deal.

For the following ten years, Sir David Brown enrolled a number of key people to assist in his quest to produce a great road car and a winning race car. Following the design of a 2.6-litre twin overhead cam engine, the DB2 was put into production. More space was required, and Newport Pagnell was

purchased. By then, the DB3S was on the drawing board. Aston Martin Race Team was put into place and the DB4 launched in 1956.

The DBR4 Formula 1 car was on the drawing board, together with a number of other racing projects; Sir David wanted to make an impression on the racing world with three cars being entered into the 1959 Le Mans.

Aston Martin Le Mans

The main aim was to beat the Ferraris and Jaguars and win Le Mans outright. No expense was spared, the right drivers were employed, the right support and team tactics put in place. With the best-known race team at hand, well-prepared cars and star drivers, this was surely going to be the year Aston Martin won a major title.

With 94 registered cars for the 1959 Le Mans, only 54 were allowed to do practice and start the race. Fresh from winning the 1000km Nurburgring with DBR1/300, Sir David brought along three team cars with Stirling Moss and Jack Fairman driving the first car, Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby driving the second car and Maurice Trintignant and Paul Frère in the third car.

Two other privately-owned Aston Martins were entered, but failed to finish.

The challenge was from six Ferrari 250 TRs, entered by North American Racing Team with 1958 winners Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien; there was also Scuderia Ferrari amongst others, the likes of Graham Hill in the Team Lotus, and Ecurie Ecosse with Innes Ireland in the Jaguar D-Type.

The flag was dropped at 16:00; the strategy was to send Moss and Fairman out as hares to induce the Ferraris to follow and that’s exactly what they did. The pace was set with Moss and Fairman pulling away from the rest of the field: this started to take its toll on the Ferraris and the Jaguar D-Type.

After 70 laps, the Aston Martin expired with a major engine failure, along with the Ferraris and D-Type: the plan had worked.

It was a very strong field with a major task to achieve: by lap 100, 23 cars had retired from the race.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the two surviving Astons were in fifth and sixth place and started to move up the field slowly. By midday they were in 1st and 2nd place. Lap after lap, they held the pace and top spot, securing the victory in a major competition with their winning formula.

Salvadori brought home the winning car and Trintignant got second place, just one lap down (such was the pace set by the winning Aston). In third place, the Ferrari 250 GT LWB of Beurly and Elde was 26 laps behind the winning car. Out of the 54 starters ONLY 13 cars finished the race and ONLY 12 could be classified as having covered the official distance.

The winning partnership had averaged a speed of 112.56 mph, covering 323 laps. The fastest lap of the race was set by Jean Behra in the Ferrari 250 TR, at 4:00.9, with an average speed of 124.99mph (201kph).

In comparison, the 2016 Le Mans was won by a Porsche 919 Hybrid which covered 384 laps; fastest lap was by a Toyota TS050 Hybrid at 3:21:756; average speed, 150.9mph (243.2kph).

This was just the start for Sir David Brown’s Aston Martin race team; although it went on to win a number of other races, nothing could compare with the unforgettable 20 June 1959.

Aston Martin Racing is still competing at Le Mans and this year finished 23, 24 and 36 overall, fifth in the LMGTE Class.

The race continues!

For more details about Aston Martin cars at Le Mans contact:

+44(0)1908 270672

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