1958 12 Hours of Sebring: Collins and Hill Escort a Red-Head Home to Victory

By: Jeremy McMullen
1958 12 Hours of Sebring: Collins and Hill Escort a Red-Head Home to Victory  In a matter of months Peter Collins would lay dying of wounds received in a violent crash at the Nurburgring during the German Grand Prix. While many would be holding their breaths and facing the cold-hard truth of another motor racing death, there would be others remembering Collins' talent harkening back to an evening in late March when he and Phil Hill would march triumphantly to victory, sharing the moment with a red-headed beauty.

New regulations were on everyone's minds heading into 1958. For those, like Hill and Collins driving for Ferrari, this was an absolute blessing. The most influential of these regulations changes would be the 3.0-liter engine size limit. While for some this would be a bit of a curse, drivers, like Phil Hill, would see it as a blessing as it meant Ferrari would finally do away with the four-cylinder engines and would return to the V12.

The V12 made life a little easier in the cockpit for the drivers. The reason for this had to do with the flow of the shifting points. In the four-cylinder, the shift point would seem to come at a very unnatural point because the smaller engine would just run out of legs and the power would drop off dramatically. The V12 wouldn't necessarily have that problem. The bigger engine would just keep winding up leading to what felt like a much more natural timing for a shift.

But just because the engine was more widely favored with the drivers didn't mean the new 250 Testa Rossas were any easier to drive. The car would still use solid rear axles and this made each of the cars behave in different manners, especially when at a higher speed. Then, of course, there were the overused and outdated drum brakes that Ferrari would just not let go of. This would anger the drivers terribly as they were aware of the strengths of the disc brakes, especially Mike Hawthorn having driven the disc-brake-laden Jaguar D-Type.

Heading into the 1958 season, Ferrari had a particularly strong lineup of drivers in its sportscar program. Of course, the two with the most experience and the most success would be the Brits Hawthorn and Collins. These two would be considered the Fangio and Moss pairing Mercedes had back in 1955. But then there were other talented drivers in the Ferrari ranks, including Phil Hill, Luigi Musso, Olivier Gendebien and Wolfgang von Trips. Each one was a talented racer in their own right. Ferrari's hopes would be that they could come up with some sort of combination that would make them unbeatable. Because of things, like the continual use of the drum brakes, Ferrari needed to have a superior driver lineup just to be able to contend with the superior technology employed by the other teams.

The first race of the 1958 World Sportscar Championship would take place in Buenos Aires in late January. The 1000 kilometer race would see Peter Collins and Phil Hill partnered together in one of the new 250 Testa Rossas. The new Ferrari was certainly powerful, but it was also quite heavy and required a lot of heavy brake pressure with the drum brakes. However, the two would overcome this to take the victory holding off the sister 250 Testa Rossa that would be driven by von Trips, Gendebien, Musso and Hawthorn over the course of the race.

The pairing of Collins and Hill had proven successful in South America, so it seemed logical the pairing could also be successful in North America as the next race on the calendar would be the 12 Hours of Sebring held on the 22nd of March.

Hill had found characters, like Collins and Hawthorn difficult at first. The egos of these two Brits made them appear larger-than-life outside of the cockpit. The clowning around they would do would often get under the skin of many people and would often be in an effort to undermine a competitor, even though they may have been a teammate. But that was in single-seater grand prix cars.

When behind the wheel, Collins, and Hawthorn, were entirely different. They were both very serious and committed individuals and would actually work hard with their co-drivers to get the best out of a car. It would be this level of focus and determination that would help Collins and Hill come through to victory in Argentina. And, as the cars were being unloaded in south Florida for the upcoming 12 hour race, the same determined look could be seen in Collins' eyes as he took to the wheel of the car for practice.

The Ferrari stable would have its work cut out for itself with the presence of the Aston Martins and drivers Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori would share another Aston Martin. There were also D-Type Jags entered by Ecurie Ecosse. The Listers looked quick. However, reliability concerns muted thoughts of any of them being around by the end of the race.

Day of the race would be sunny and warm and the sight of the numerous cars and classes lined up along the pitwall was certainly breathtaking in the Florida sunshine. But while the lineup of the cars looked neat and tidy, the Le Mans-style start would leave something to be desired. Many of the top drivers would be very serious about the start and would be in position within plenty of time. However, there would be a good number of others that would slowly meaner across to their spot across from their car. The result of the relaxed nature of a number of drivers would be a false start. The start signal would be given and a number of drivers would sprint across the track at the same time a number of others were still making their way to their standing spot. Therefore, the first start would be abandoned. The drivers would have to come back across the track and assume their standing positions.

Finally, all of the drivers would be assembled in their positions. The signal would be given and the sprint would be on. Known for his usually good standing starts, Moss would be amongst the first underway in the Aston Martin. He would end up leading the way at the conclusion of the first lap.

The 250 TR of Collins and Hill would pull away from the start right beside the two Listers and with the number 15 250 TR of Hawthorn and von Trips right alongside. Hawthorn would end up getting the position and would power his way up to 2nd place by the end of the first lap. Behind Hawthorn would be Salvadori in a second Aston. The Collins/Hill car would be amongst the Listers and the Ecosse Jaguars throughout the first few laps of the race.

Moss would be flying early on as usual. Salvadori would also be impressive picking up his pace rather quickly and eventually supplanting Hawthorn for 2nd place after just a few laps. It was early, but the Aston Martins were running first and second.

Collins and Hill would have their work cut out for them, not just with those ahead of them on the track, but with the car itself. The pair would be driving a four-cam model 250 TR and it would deliver so much power, and the car would be so heavy, that both men would have to use great strength just to get the car under control under braking with the inferior drum brakes. This gave the Astons a great advantage in that drivers, like Moss, could take the car deeper into corners knowing the braking power was there to adequately slow the car. This enabled higher average speeds and an advantage at a circuit like Sebring where long straights would be followed by hard braking zones. Furthermore, the disc brakes didn't require as much effort from the driver as what Collins and Hill were putting forth just to slow the 250 TR.

It wouldn't just be the Ferraris that had their shortcomings. The Lister was going strongly in the early going. Its reliability was suspect, and, by the 6th lap of the race, both would be out of the race. Of course one of them would receive a little help in retirement as Olivier Gendebien would take his 250 TR and would climb right up the back of Archie Scott-Brown's Lister. The Ferrari would remain parked on top of the Lister for a while until the two could get the Italian machine off. The Ferrari would continue into the pits for repairs. The Lister was done.

Hill had started the race and was very careful at the start. The two men agreed that it would be important to look after the gearbox and the brakes during the early stages of the race. Then, as the race came to them, their car would be in a much stronger position to attack. Therefore, by the end of the first hour, Hill sat comfortably in 4th place while Moss was intent on wringing the neck out of the Aston pulling off some nifty passing maneuvers, often going multiple cars wide down the straights.

Collins and Hill were working in harmony throughout the first half of the race. Even though they were running 4th, and at times, 5th, they were still well within striking distance if something happened to the front runners. And, just prior to the halfway point, trouble would arrive and it would do its work quickly.

Besides the Listers and the Jaguars, the first of the front-runners to run into trouble would be Shelby and Salvadori in their Aston. Transmission problems would cause their race to an early end. Around 30 laps later, the Aston of Moss and Brooks would be out of the race, also with gearbox problems. Meanwhile, the Ferrari driven by Hawthorn and von Trips would be running well and would remain up near the front.

Collins and Hill would prove their strategy the best as they would begin attacking around the halfway point in the race. With the help of attrition the number 14 Ferrari would be up to 2nd place. A short time later, the car was in the lead, and with still half of the race left to go.

The threats from challengers were becoming to fall apart. By the 160th lap of the race Hawthorn and von Trips were also out of the race with gearbox issues. This was not at all surprising given Hawthorn's reputation for being terrible with a clutch. On the flipside, Hill and Collins would be very careful with their clutch and their brakes. In spite of the great effort it took to arrest the car, and the fact the race was heading into the last moments, the number 14 Ferrari still appeared in good order with no problems of any kind to suggest something detrimental would happen in the final moments.

Collins was known for his infantile sense of humor off the track and his utter seriousness about his profession when he was at the track. Sebring in 1958 would prove this point almost to infinitum. Both drivers had taken care of the car in the early going but had found that very narrow margin between being fast and careful. Over the course of 12 hours both drivers needed to be nearly perfect. And they would be exactly that.

Covering a total of 200 laps and more than a thousand miles, the pairing of Collins and Hill would enjoy a commanding victory having a lap in hand over the sister Ferrari driven by Gendebien and Musso. It had been a demonstrative and a very clinical performance by the two Ferrari drivers as they took the short-comings of their car and they determined the best course of action to minimize those limitations from hurting their performance. It would be one of those few remaining highlights left in Collins' career that would cause people to realize what death had taken at the 'Ring' some five months later. But on that night in late March, Collins would share a euphoric moment with Hill as both had danced a very delicate dance with a redhead and had been greatly rewarded by the experience.posted on conceptcarz.com


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