Morning Qualifying – 3 is a Magic Number edition

The start of the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans

1961 was shaping up to be an especially fine vintage for Scuderia Ferrari.   In Formula 1, the 156 Dino swept away all before it in the hands of Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips.   In the World Sportscar Championship, Ferraris, in either their 250 TR/61 or 246 Dino SP, had dominated the podiums to this point, with overall victories at the Sebring 12 Hours and the Targa Florio with Hill and von Trips alternately paired with Belgian ace, Olivier Gendebien. In addition to the dominance in the prototype class, privately entered 250 GT SWBs had owned the 3 liter sports car class.
Nino Vaccarella at the wheel of his Scuderia Serenissima-entered Maserati Tipo 63 during the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans.

At Le Mans, the Marinello steamroller would be challenged by a pair of Border Reivers entered Aston Martin DBR1s, driven by Jim Clark, Ron Flockhart, Roy Salvadori and Tony Maggs.  Four privately entered Maserati Tipo 63 “birdcages”, entered by Briggs Cunningham and Count Volpi’s Scuderia Serenissima, were also out to crash Ferrari’s party.  In the 3 liter sports class, a trio of Aston Martin DB4 GTZs, entered by Essex Racing and Jean Kerguen, would once again try to break the Ferrari stranglehold on the class.

Jim Clark get the jump on the field at the start of the race.

Jim Clark’s Aston Martin was first away from the start, but was quickly hauled in and overtaken by Ginther’s 246SP and Gendebien in the 250 TR61.  Meanwhile, Mike Parkes stalled his TR and was one of the last to get under way; Yet, by the end of lap 1, Parkes had made it into the top 10, having overtaken at least 40 cars!  After the 3rd lap, the works Ferraris at the front of the field were split by N.A.R.T. 250 TRI driven by 21 year old Ricardo Rodriguez (with his 19 year old brother, Pedro, as co-driver!) who’d leapt from 13th place to 2nd.  In short order, the 3 Ferraris at the head of the pack had already gone up a lap on the rest of the field.
Stirling Moss's 250 GT SWB leads Jim Clark's Aston Martin DBR1

Behind the leaders, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill in Rob Walker’s 250 GT Ferrari split the sports racing Aston Martins.  Late on Saturday afternoon, as rain began to fall at La Sarthe, the quickest of the Cunningham Maseratis, driven by Walt Hansgen and Bruce McLaren, crashed at the start of Les Hunaudieres.  An hour later, the Serenissima-entered Tipo 63, driven by Scarfiotti and Vaccarella, blew its head gasket.
21 year old Ricardo Rodriguez in the NART Ferrari 250 TRI

All the while, the works Ferrari of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien found themselves closely shadowed by the Rodriguez brothers.  Pedro and Ricardo’s relentless pursuit of the leaders was the highlight of the race.   The Ginther-von Trips Dino 246 SP Ferrari, the first mid-engine Ferrari prototype, ran out of fuel during the night after briefly taking the lead late Saturday night.  The Stirling Moss-Graham Hill Ferrari 250 SWB also retired during the night, when its fan blade sliced the radiator hose.  Jim Clark and Tony Maggs’ Aston Martin dropped out 9 laps later when the clutch failed.
As dawn arrived on Sunday morning with only half the original field of 55,  the Rodriguez brothers were only two and a half seconds behind the Gendebien – Hill car.  Just then, the N. A. R. T Ferrari pitted with a misfire, ultimately losing half an hour due to a faulty condenser.  Once again, Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez thrilled the crowd, fighting their way back to second place, before their engine failed in the 22nd hour…..much to the relief of the Scuderia personnel whose tempers were beginning to fray.  This left the remaining works TR61s, with Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien leading Mike Parkes and Willy Mairesse, to cruise to victory with Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet’s 250 GT SWBs outpacing the sole surviving V12 Maserati, driven by Augie Pabst and Dr. Dick Thompson for an all-Ferrari podium.  For Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien, the victory would mark their 2rd overall win as a team, and Gendebien’s 3rd overall win in 4 years. They would re-team the following year for yet another outright win for Ferrari.
Phil Hill takes the checquered flag to win the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Today’s film clip is a 16 minute documentary on the 1961 Le Mans race, produced by The Rootes Group, entitled “Performance Plus”, narrated by the unofficial voice of Morning Qualifying, Raymond Baxter.  Enjoy, and enjoy the action from the Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend!




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  1. joshuman Avatar

    Did those Maserati birdcages ever win much? I seem to remember them as being more important from an engineering aspect then for winning anything substantial.
    As an aside, I signed up to beta some time ago but have not looked at it in a while. Today they sent me an email saying they have all the Le Mans races from 1970 forward. There is a lot of pay content but there is a lot of free stuff too. Check it out if you want to relive some of your favorite past races of all different kinds of motorsports. It is kind of like Speedvision used to be before the Fox takeover.

    1. Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr. Avatar
      Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr.

      If you want to know how well a particular car or driver finished, try this.

    2. spiritof67 Avatar

      Uh, Josh, they were the best front engined Maserati sports cars ever…won the 1000KM Nurburgring TWICE…SCCA Championship….Riverside GP….Cuban Sports Car GP… chassis 2469 had 9 Cal Club regional wins…so it depends how you add up “substantial”. I’d say two Nurburgring wins pretty much fulfill that, wouldn’t you? That and being pretty much the only front line competition for the Ferrari factory (when Maserati had no “factory team”). Yeah, I’d say “substantial”.

  2. Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr. Avatar
    Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr.

    If you'd like to buy the Sunbeam Harrington coupe, driven by Peter Harper and Peter Proctor, featured in the video clips, it's for sale. Here's the post from our friends at

  3. Armand4 Avatar

    As always, monsieur Scroggs, Morning Qualifying brings joy to the heart of this Sunbeam nerd. Thanks!