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Rear View Mirror
Backward glances at racing history
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

The Fourth and last installment of Our Scribe's look at the 10th season of the World Championship, 1959.

1959: Part 4, Monza and Sebring

When the Circus reassembled at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, several weeks after the Portuguese race, expectations were high for a Ferrari win. When the Great Man himself visited the Ferrari pits on Friday, the points were already being pocketed. The Scuderia had spent considerable time and effort on pit stops that would see the heavier and thirstier Dinos to victory. When the Rob Walker Cooper which Stirling Moss was to drive appeared with knock-off hubs at the rear and the works cars with the usual bolt-on hubs, the Scuderia was now certain that they were going to win. Based on the results from Reims and the AVUS, the red cars certainly seemed a good bet for the win.

John Cooper, as pragmatic as ever, realized that the only means his cars had to stay with, much less beat, the Ferraris was to run the race non-stop. The Dunlop R5 racing tires used for the Grand Prix cars used a 4-mm thread. Cooper managed to lay his hands on the R5's used in sports car racing because they were produced with an extra 2-mm of thread, which just might do the trick. The drifting technique used by the cars was especially hard on the front tires and the original idea was to run them only at the front, but it was eventually decided to fit the 6-mm R5's all the way around just to be on the safe side.

Needless to say, the ploy by Cooper did not go unnoticed and Alf Francis, the chief mechanic for Rob Walker, also obtained the 6-mm R5's and had an extra set for the rears as well. With the center lock hubs, it was clear that the Walker team intended to make a pit stop. It was shaping up to be an exciting race.

Ferrari went to the full court press and added Cliff Allison and Olivier Gendebien to the now usual trio of Tony Brooks, Phil Hill and Dan Gurney. Ferrari intended to crush the Coopers. When the dust and the parts settled, the pole was taken by Moss by 0.1 second from Brooks with Jack Brabham in a Cooper filling out the front row. The tifosi were not happy campers, although with Gurney and Phil Hill on the second row and the Harry Schell BRM sandwiched between the Dinos of Gendebien and Allison, there was good reason to be optimistic. All the red cars were in the front of the grid and that was, after all, Monza. Their only question was who would be second to Brooks, Gurney or Hill?

At the drop of the flag, the race quickly turned into a battle between Moss, Phil Hill and Gurney with Allison lurking just back from the battle and protecting the rear. Brabham was content to run fifth and watch the fireworks up front. And Brooks? Barely meters off the starting grid, his V-6 started to smoke and then blew up in a very comprehensive manner. The Scuderia later announced that the failure was related to an imported part - from England.

Meanwhile, it was a great race with Hill and Moss really going at it with Gurney adding pressure as well running just behind the two leaders. Then it more or less fell apart for the Scuderia. Starting on lap 33, the Ferrari drivers all pitted on consecutive laps leaving no one to pressure Moss into a fastest pace and therefore increase his tire wear.

Moss took the lead from lap 33 and held it until the end of the 72 laps. Phil Hill did manage to get back on the track before Brabham could catch him, but was now long gone. The only compensation was that Hill did set the fastest lap. The finishing order was Moss, Hill, Brabham, Gurney, and Allison.

Suddenly the battle for the Championship was at a boil, a true three-way battle. Brabham now had 31 points, but would have to drop points if third or higher in the next round. Moss passed Brooks for second with 25.5 points to 23 points. Phil Hill now had 20 points to remain fourth.

As Moss crossed the finish line and took the win, John Cooper treated everyone to a victory somersault. The Moss victory clinched the Constructors Championship for Cooper-Climax. And to do it at Monza made it very sweet to the Cooper family. Even though the Coopers had been competitive all season and their rear-engine design created a revolution in how racing cars were to be designed, the contemporary press seemed almost oblivious to this fundamental change in racing. It often appears that they seemed to expect Ferrari to pull a Cooper-beater out of his hat which would crush the little green cars and things would be just as they were, red cars winning races.

From the Italian Grand Prix on September 13th, to the the final round in the Championship at Sebring on December 12th, was a very, very long time to wait for the season finale. In fact, perhaps the only reason that the United States Grand Prix wasn't cancelled was that the Championship hung in the balance.

There were, however, still races to keep the teams occupied while they waited. At the end of September, the Gold Cup was held at Oulton Park, as usual. Moss led Brabham over the line with Chris Bristow third in the British Racing Partnership's Cooper 51-Climax. The Silver City Trophy at Snetterton saw a few Formula One cars show up with a larger number of Formula Two cars filling the grid. BRM teammates Ron Flockhart and Bruce Halfors finished first and third with Brabham second. In fourth was David Piper in a Lotus 16. The Team Lotus cars performed as they had all year - miserably.

When everyone finally assembled in mid-December in the wilds of central Florida, it seemed that the team personnel just might outnumber the spectators. And it was obvious to even the untrained eye that organizers of what was being hailed as the "II United States Grand Prix," were organizationally-impaired if you will. And the grid was, well, different and unique.

Redger Ward, Sebring 1959Wearing number "1" and qualifying for the race with a time of 3:43.8, compared to Moss' pole position time of 3:00.0, was Rodger Ward, the winner of that year's Indianapolis 500. He was at the wheel of an 11-year old Kurtis Kraft midget powered by a 1.7-litre Offy converted to run Avgas rather than methanol. It had a two speed gearbox and a two speed rear end. And in keeping with the usual midget practice, the braking was done using a brake lever rather than a pedal. It ran on Firestone slicks mounted on 12-inch wheels. And hangs a tale as they say. Most folks never ask the obvious question: whatever possessed someone to run a midget in a Grand Prix race? The answer is found in four words: "Lime Rock" and "Watkins Glen."

The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was founded and run as an amateur organization. Races were run for tin cups and the fun of racing. However, this is America we're talking about and some of the owners looked at their Terribly Expensive Race Cars, the Tin Cups, then back at their Terribly Expensive Race Cars, and then at their wallets. They began to think that perhaps there was a greater appeal to the concept of professional racing than they realized.

The United States Auto Club (USAC), which was formed in 1956 after the American Automobile Association Contest Board ceased operations as the sanctioning body for US international races, stepped up to the plate and began offering racing for cash to the road racers. The "I United States Grand Prix" was a USAC-sanctioned sports car race at the Riverside circuit that saw Chuck Triumph driving a Scarab, and get paid for the win. The battle between the Pros and the Amateurs was to mar US road racing until 1963 when the SCCA finally caved in and established a Pro Racing division.

In the Fall of 1959, Lime Rock held a USAC-sanctioned Formula Libre race. It was "run what ya brung." And one of those appearing for the race was Indy winner Rodger Ward in his Kurtis-Offy midget, alcohol fuel and all. Only politeness kept the Sports Car set from howling with laughter and falling on the ground in hysterics. Tony Bettenhausen, Russ Klar, Brett Brooks, and Duane Carter also had midgets on hand for the race. With some adjustments to the torsion bar suspension to allow turns to the left and right, different cams in the engines, and the alterations to the gearboxes and rear end gears, they were pretty much as raced on the midget circuits.

The entries that were expected to do well were Chuck Daigh in a Maserati 250F just acquired from Joakim Bonnier by Camoradi USA, Lance Reventlow (of Scarab fame) in a F2 Cooper, George Constantine in a Aston Martin 4.2 DBR2, as well as John Fitch's literally just off the boat Cooper Monaco, and teenager Pedro Rodriguez in a 3-litre Maserati, as well as Denise McCluggage in Porsche RSK. It was an excellent entry for such a relatively minor race, but the lure of dollars brought out the entries.

The race was run in a format of two 20-lap heats and a 60-lap final. Jaws literally dropped as Ward grabbed the pole from Constantine by nearly a second. And in sixth place on the grid was Klar. In the first heat, as the flag dropped on the rolling start, Ward got caught lagging the revs and Constantine went past into the lead. Once Ward had the engine really revving, he took off after Constantine. Passing Daigh's Maserati, he was at the bumper of the Aston very quickly. Although the Aston finished ahead of the midget, Ward trailed by only two seconds. And Klar managed to bring his midget home in seventh.

Ken Breen, Ward's entrant, managed to perform a gear change in the 20 minutes between the heats to the astonishment of the Sports Car crowd. Tony Bettenhausen replaced Klar in the Caruso midget. At the start of the second heat, Ward made sure that he didn't get caught again and was first into the first corner. Constantine passed Ward several laps later and started to pull out a slight lead, but at the Esses Ward had an off course excursion and since he never lifted was once again right on the rear bumper of the Aston. Constantine was surprised to see Ward there since he assumed that Ward would have flown off into the countryside. At the halfway point, Ward passed the Aston and pulled away to win the heat.

In the final, Constantine and Daigh made sure that they elbowed Ward out of the way at the start as they shot off ahead of the field. The traded the lead until the Aston pitted with a rear axle stub bearing failure. Ward closed on Daigh and passed him with ten laps to go and drew away for a very convincing win. Needless to say, it was a shock to the Sporty Car crowd.

In mid-October, USAC sanctioned another Formula Libre event, this time at Watkins Glen. Although it was a crushing victory for Stirling Moss - five laps ahead of second place - what was significant was that the second place car was driven by Eddie Johnson at the wheel of his Jerry Zello midget. The midget was clear of all the sports cars and, except for Moss, the fastest car on the circuit - and this despite rain, sleet and snow that fell during the race.

At Sebring, practice was even more of a shambles than usual. Sebring was an active airport, only the 12-hour race in mid-March used the circuit, and facilities were minimal. The circuit was a collection of runways, taxiways, access and service roads, and even a stretch that went through the former garrison area of the air base. Flat and featureless were among the nicer things said about the place. The 8.369 km circuit did not win any rave reviews from the teams or the press.

When the dust literally settled, Moss was on the pole as mentioned and Ward at the rear. On the front row with Moss were Brabham, three seconds adrift, and - not Brooks, but Harry Schell in his Ecurie Bleue Cooper. Schell's fastest lap had been overlooked, he claimed when he saw the timing sheets. It was his lap of 3:05.2 that mattered, not his lap of 3:11.2. The organizers were convinced that Schell was correct and placed his Cooper on the front row. And the Ferrari team came unglued!

After a World Class bout of arm waving, shouting, profanity in several languages, and finger pointing, Schell was still on the front row. That Harry had timed his lap carefully was obvious - he simply waited and took a short cut on the backside of the circuit and cut six seconds off his lap time. And he also noted that not all the marshal posts were manned during practice, so he did what he did as a grand and great joke. Only the Scuderia seemed to fail to appreciate his humor.

When Moss rocketed into the lead, Brabham tucked in behind him with the game plan of staying as close as possible and waiting for Moss to break. It wasn't a long wait. After five laps, Moss suddenly found he didn't have any gears and that was that. Brabham and teammate Bruce McLaren droned around the track. At about 10 laps left in the race, Trintignant began to turn up the wick on his Rob Walker Cooper. He had been moving up on the leaders, but now he really started to attack the McLaren Cooper. When the gap got to less than five seconds, McLaren managed to draw away and keep the gap at between five and seven seconds.

On the final lap, while going down The Straight, with only the Back Straight, and the pit turn and straight between himself and victory, Brabham's Cooper started to sputter and stammer. Then it started running very rough and just after turning onto the Back Straight, the engine died. Brabham had somehow run out of fuel. McLaren slowed to see what the problem was then realized that Trintignant was almost on top of him and rocketed off to finish the race. McLaren took the checkered flag from Trintignant by less than second. Bruce McLaren is still the youngest driver to win a World Championship event. Tony Brooks crossed the line in third.

Realizing that he was less than 500 meters from the finish line, Brabham started pushing the Cooper towards the pits to be classified as a finisher. Almost five minutes after McLaren inherited the victory, Brabham nosed the Cooper across the finish line for fourth place and was now officially the World Champion for 1959. This rated a double Cooper victory roll - one for the race win and another for the Championship. The final tally had Brabham with 31 points, Brooks with 27 points, and Moss with 25.5 points.

It was satisfying to see the Cooper team's hard work rewarded with the Drivers and Constructors Championships, albeit the latter with help from the Rob Walker equipe. It was now clear, at long last, that the engine in a Grand Prix car perhaps belonged in the rear after all. Their persistence with the layout had finally paid off for Cooper.

It was a letdown for Ferrari to salvage only second in both Championships. Brooks had been plagued with problems all year and only managed to gain points in four events. Things were not going well for the Scuderia, especially in a year expected to be theirs.

It was a year that saw Brabham emerge as a leading driver and a man to be reckoned with in the future. Bruce McLaren had won a Driver to Europe scheme from his native New Zealand in 1958. A part of the scheme was an F2 Cooper. When he asked John Cooper where his car was, Cooper pointed to a pole of tubes and other assorted pieces and told him that if he wanted a car to drive, well, there it was. McLaren built up the car himself and used it to finish fifth, and win the F2 class, in the German Grand Prix that year.

Dan Gurney had less than 20 races in all classes when he finished second at the AVUS. He went from SCCA regionals to Ferrari team driver in two years. Phil Hill was the foundation of the Ferrari team in a troubled year. In spite of no end of problems and turmoil, Hill consistently performed well. He was a far better Formula One driver than he is credited with being. The death of Jean Behra took away a true character from the sport. He was a difficult man and could be exasperating to deal with, but he was a Racer.

The tenth season of the Championship was a year that saw the revolution - that few perceived even happening - break forth over Grand Prix racing. After this year, there was a certain difference that was hard to define initially, but later became clear: a shift of power had taken place in Grand Prix racing, from Italy to Britain. From here out, it was to be primarily green with splotches of red or blue from time to time.

Don Capps© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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