TeamsEcurie Eperon d'Or: 1958 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In 1958, Christian Goethals would try his hand at single-seater Formula One racing. That one attempt would come on a day of tragedy and would lead the Belgian driver to feel much safer giving the spurs to sportscars from then on.
Christian Goethals would be born in August of 1928 in Heule, Belgium. A suburb of the city of Kortrijk, Heule would be more famous for producing professional cyclists around the turn of the 20th century. Drawing its name from the meaning for 'ditch', there would be little reason to expect much of anything good coming from Heule in the province of West-Flanders.
However, following the Second World War, Goethals would look to experience life and he would do that by turning to motor racing. Starting out in the mid-1950s in sportscar racing, Christian would cut his teeth in motor racing driving an Austin-Healey 100. And, though he would not be one of those grand champions, the man would earn some success, including a 4th in class in the Grand Prix of Spa, his very first 'bigger' race.
In 1956, Goethals would improve upon his results in Spa. Taking to the wheel of a Porsche 550, the Belgian would come through to finish 7th place overall. This would be followed up with a class victory in the Grand Prix des Frontieres in Chimay, Belgium one week later.
The class victories would continue to come, including one in the Paris 1000 Kilometers in June of 1956. Christian's good results kept coming, and, at the end of June in 1956 he would come away with a 2nd place overall result in the 12 Hours of Reims.
Goethals' first overall victory would come in May of 1957 in the 1 hour and 30 minute Forez race. A couple more class victories and podium finishes encouraged Goethals he should test himself against the very best in the very best cars. And so, heading into 1958, Christian would look to rent a single-seater and take part in his first Formula One World Championship race.
The timing would be pretty good for Christian. Heading into the 1958 season, the mid-engined Coopers were really beginning to come into their own and were showing they had what it took to mix it up with the larger, more-powerful, front-engine machines from manufacturers like Ferrari and Vandervell. The Coopers really were the way of the future and, what's more, they were customer cars.
Goethals had really gotten experience in sportscars driving a British Austin-Healey. He would turn to the British Cooper Car Company to help him break into Formula 2 and Formula One. Goethals would gain the use of a Climax-powered Cooper T43 for the 1958 season. Chassis F2-15-57 would actually be used by Lance Reventlow in 1957 and would make its way to the United States by the middle of '57. However, the car would return to Europe so that Goethals could get that Formula One experience he sought.
It was clear his inexperience in a single-seater was only going to be a handicap when he determined to take part in a World Championship event. Therefore, it would be only right the Belgian would look to take part in some Formula 2 races beforehand, especially since the T43 he gained the use of still qualified for Formula 2 events.
The first event Christian would have an entry for would be an early race, the Grand Prix Automobile de Pau. Taking place around the short, slow and twisty Pau circuit in southern France, the race, set to take place on the 7th of April would have been a good starting point for Christian. However, he would not arrive at the race and would have to look forward to another opportunity to gain some experience behind the wheel of the Cooper.
The next opportunity would actually take place on the same day. Not only would Goethals have an entry for the race at Pau, but he would also put in an entry for the Lavant Cup race held at Goodwood as part of the Easter Monday races.
Measuring 2.38 miles in length, Goodwood would be much different in nature from Pau as it would be fast, and with very few slow corners to speak of. It would matter little as Christian would fail to arrive for this event as well.
Goethals would need time to get the car and become acquainted with it before he even looked to take part in any kind of competition, hence the failures to arrive. Christian would have another issue as well. Britain had been lagging behind in the manufacturing of racing cars in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War. However, by the mid-1950s the island nation would already start to take over as the home for single-seaters, especially Formula 2. England would host a number of Formula 2 events while there would be but a few throughout the European mainland. This presented a challenge to the Belgian. Yes, he only lived across the English Channel from Britain, but it was still quite an effort to make the crossing. Therefore, he would be limited somewhat having to look for races on the mainland.
One of those Formula 2 races on the mainland would come in the middle of June, one week before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 24 Hours of Le Mans would be gearing up for its event held on the 21st and 22nd of June. However, just a couple of hours away, one week before, the Montlhery circuit to the south of Paris would be the sight for the 3rd Prix de Paris.
The Prix de Paris would take place on the 15th of June around the 3.88 mile circuit arrangement at Montlhery. Goethals would be there for this race and he would find such drivers as Ivor Bueb, Tony Marsh and a young Bruce McLaren amongst those in the field.
Ivor Bueb, a Le Mans winner, would start the 16 lap race from pole while Goethals would be merely trying to get a handle on his Cooper. Over the course of the race, Bueb would falter in his Lotus and McLaren would find himself unable to challenge Andre Guelfi and Henry Taylor. Christian, likewise, would find his outing rather tough. Though he would last longer than Bueb, Goethals would be out of the race before the end.
Christian would not experience the same kind of debut as that which he had in sportscars, but at least he was getting some time behind the wheel. The experience would be important, but confidence would also be important if he wasn't just to be a participant.
Goethals would get his Cooper repaired and would look to his next opportunity to test himself behind the wheel. He wouldn't have to wait all that long, for, on the 6th of July, the ultra-fast Reims circuit would host the 2nd Coupe Internationale de Vitesse.
Christian would have an opportunity to take part in his first Formula One World Championship event over the course of the same weekend as the Coupe Internationale de Vitesse. The French Grand Prix would be the same weekend and would also take place at Reims in 1958. However, against the field of Formula One cars, without there being a Formula 2 race running concurrently, there was very little point as his lightweight Cooper would struggle mightily to keep up with the Vanwalls and Dino 246s along the long straights. Therefore, Christian would turn his focus to the Formula 2 race on the 6th.
The Formula 2 race would be a contest in its own right lasting 30 laps of the 5.15 mile circuit. Furthermore, there was very little need to test himself against the more powerful cars in a race he would have no chance, especially when the best drivers would actually come to him. Drivers like Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Jack Brabham and Roy Salvadori would all have entries in the Formula 2 event, as well as, in the Formula One race. This meant Goethals would get a fantastic opportunity to test himself against other top drivers.
He would find out quickly just what he was up against when, in practice, Behra would be turning laps around 2:34 range. This would earn the Frenchman the pole. He would have Moss right there along with Peter Collins in the Ferrari Dino 156.
Christian needed to be smart heading into the race. He knew he likely didn't have the sheer pace to compete, so he needed to look to the end game and allow the race to come to him. At the start, Moss was going to the race, taking the fastest lap of the race. He would unfortunately pay for the effort as he would retire after 11 laps with oil pressure problems. Moss would be one of a few big names that would be out early. Jack Brabham would fail to make it a single lap, while Salvadori would barely make it two. The attrition would be heavy, but mostly through the first-third of the race.
Goethals would make it through the first-third of the race and would be running well late into the race. Late retirements for Graham Hill and Tony Marsh would further promote him, though it would do little to help him challenge for a sport in the top five, or even top ten.
Jean Behra would be unbeatable over the course of the race and would take the victory by 20 seconds over Collins in the Ferrari. George Wicken would complete the podium finishing in 3rd place more than a minute behind Behra.
Entered under the name Ecurie Eperon d'Or, Goethals would barely put the spurs to the Cooper over the course of the 30 lap race. He would finish more than 2 laps behind, but at least he would finish. Following along behind Dick Gibson, Christian would finish 11th in the race, not a terrible race considering it was really just his second single-seater event.
Perhaps more importantly, the result would help to build Goethals' confidence before he attempted a debut in a Formula One World Championship event. He would have another opportunity to build his confidence before that day would arrive.
Leaving Reims, Christian would be able to return home for a couple of weeks before he needed to set off some 400 miles south into the heart of France to the city of Clermont-Ferrand. There, at the Circuit d'Auvergne on the 27th of July would be held the 1st Trophee d'Auvergne, another Formula 2 event.
The circuit would be an important stop for Goethals as it would have a lot in common with his future stop. Measuring 5.0 miles, the circuit is filled with nothing but elevation changes, fast curves and twisty hairpins. The circuit was certainly challenging, and dangerous. Therefore, in many respects, it would be much like the circuit coming up next on the World Championship calendar.
Many of the same faces would be on the grid for the 20 lap race on the 27th. It would present an opportunity for Goethals to challenge, though he needed to keep his mind firmly focused on finishing the race as well.
Attrition over the course of the race would be relatively light. This meant Christian needed to fight for every position he got. Unfortunately, he would not be quick enough to make much headway.
Maurice Trintignant, the winner of the Monaco Grand Prix just a couple of months before, would take the victory in the Rob Walker Cooper. He would be followed some 20 seconds later by Ivor Bueb. Stuart Lewis-Evans would complete the podium in a Cooper T45.
Goethals wouldn't be fast, but he would be steady. This would result in the Belgian finishing the race in 10th place a lap behind Trintignant. He was still not in the top five, but he had improved, and he finished. That made two races in a row, just in time for the next race.
The time would come for Goethals to take part in his first Formula One World Championship event. July would turn into August and that meant it was time for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
The German Grand Prix would be held on the 3rd of August and, like the year before, would be open to both Formula One and Formula 2 entries. In fact, the Formula 2 races would be run at the same time as the Formula One event and this would give a number of privateers, like Goethals, an opportunity to take part in a World Championship race.
Clermont-Ferrand would offer Christian a glimpse of what it would be like to race in a Cooper at the Nurburgring, but there just would be no way of adequately simulating the 14 mile long dragon that wrapped itself around the Castle Nurburg. As tough as nails and every bit as dangerous, the Nurburgring took advantage of any weakness and made both car and driver pay the price. This was not exactly the most desirable place in which a driver would make their Formula One World Championship debut, but it would be the path in which Goethals would choose.
Goethals was not entirely ignorant of the Nurburgring. Back in 1956, Goethals was to drive a Porsche 550 in the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers. Unfortunately, he would not be able to start the race, and therefore, would have limited experience around the circuit.
The division between the Formula One and Formula 2 cars would be worth more than half a minute around the long circuit. While Mike Hawthorn would go on to take the pole for the race with a lap in his Ferrari of 9:14.0, the fastest of the Formula 2 cars would be barely reaching below the 10 minute mark. The fastest amongst the Formula 2 cars would end up being Phil Hill in a Ferrari 156 Dino. His best effort around the circuit would translate into a lap time of 9:48.9. Amazingly, this would put the Ferrari on the third row of the grid.
While the fastest of the Formula 2 entries would be able to reach below the 10 minute mark, Goethals would be fighting hard just to make it under 11 minutes. This would prove too difficult to achieve. His best lap in practice would end up being an 11:22.9. This would result in Goethals starting the 15 lap race from the 23rd starting position on the seventh, and final, row of the grid.
The start of the race would take place under beautiful sunny skies with tens of thousands looking on. At the drop of the flag it would be the Vanwalls of Moss and Brooks that would get the jump on the Ferraris. And, while the front of the field would get away without too much trouble, the back of the pack would be rather exciting heading into the first couple of turns as there would be some good bumping and pushing going on.
Right ahead of Goethals, Jo Bonnier and Jack Brabham would get into a brief tussle that would result in Bonnier retiring from the crash and Brabham retiring not long after as a result of the damage sustained. Goethals would manage to make it through this craziness and would carry on. Brian Naylor would help Christian's cause as he would end up retiring his Formula 2 Cooper as a result of fuel pump failure. So, before the race got going there were already a handful of cars out of the running.
The good news kept coming with nearly every single lap. Goethals would finish the first lap around 22nd place. However, by the 4th lap he would be inside the top twenty as a result of a couple more Formula 2 cars falling out. And then there would be Stirling Moss' retirement from the lead in the Vanwall. An engine misfire would bring about an end to his day and would severely hinder his championship hopes as Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn took over the fight at the head of the field.
Christian was making slow, but sure, progress up through the field as a result of help received from attrition. He was looking and thinking of the end game. Sadly, his fuel pump would not. Passing the line at the completion of the 4th lap, Goethals would soon find his Cooper struggling to keep fuel feeding to the engine. It was just a matter of time, and, sure enough, the Belgian would not be able to complete the lap before his race would come to an end as a result of fuel pump failure.
Most unfortunate would be the fact Goethals would be out of the car and would have the opportunity to hear the tragic news that would develop within a few laps. This would shape his views of single-seater racing for the rest of his life and would lead him to making a very important decision. Though Goethals would be unaware at the specific moment, there would be a tragedy playing out on the 11th lap of the race.
Tony Brooks had suddenly found some speed and came charging by both Hawthorn and Collins to take over the lead of the race. This would be important for Vandervell and Moss for if he could prevent the Ferrari drivers, particularly Hawthorn, from taking victory then the battle for the championship would remain close.
Brooks would fly by into the lead of the race, something Collins had held onto for more than a half a dozen of laps. This would be upsetting to Collins and the Ferrari driver would set off in pursuit of his fellow countryman. Tragically, heading through the Pflanzgarten section of the circuit, Collins would lose control of his Ferrari. He would fight and would nearly regain control when his wheel hooked a ditch throwing the car into the air. Collins would be thrown out of the car right into some neighboring, and unforgiving, trees. He would be killed almost instantly. So too, emotionally, would be his good friend following along close behind.
There would be some bad feelings in the pits when Collins' car didn't appear after Brooks. Then came Hawthorn in the other Ferrari. The Brit would get out of the car and his face would say it all, even Collins' wife knew without Mike ever saying a word. It would be a terrible moment. Ferrari would claim Hawthorn retired due to clutch troubles but everyone knew the reality. The reality would also come to strike Goethals. He had been in Reims the same weekend Musso had lost his life in a similar accident. Now there was Collins gone from the scene. Goethals figured it was time for him to disappear from the scene.
The race would result in Brooks taking the victory by more than three minutes over Roy Salvadori. More than five minutes would be the gap back to Maurice Trintignant finishing in 3rd. Bruce McLaren would take the class victory in Formula 2 finishing 5th place overall and only about six and a half minutes behind Brooks in the Vanwall. Ian Burgess and Tony Marsh would complete the podium in Formula 2, but all of that would be lost to Goethals after facing the truth of yet another driver being killed.
The terrible '58 season, in which no less than three drivers would be killed before the end of the season, would be more than Goethals could handle. He would determine that it was better, at the very least, to have a roof overtop of his head when he went racing. Therefore, the one appearance in the German Grand Prix would be the Belgian's one and only opportunity taking part in the Formula One World Championship. Following the race, Goethals would withdraw from racing and would get rid of the Cooper.
Christian would no longer entertain notions of Formula One glory. Instead, he would return to sportscars, specifically a Porsche 718 RSK and 550RS. Returning to sportscars, Christian would return to success earning a number of podium results and even a victory or two. He would keep racing right up through the latter-part of 1960. Then, in the Angola Grand Prix, Goethals would suffer a terrible accident himself. Back in 1958, after all of the deaths of grand prix drivers, Goethals would determine that racing with a top was much safer. It seemed entirely likely he would have another announcement to make if he ever suffered a terrible accident himself. And, following his accident in Angola, Goethals would realize it was time to call it quits realizing that it was safer to call it quits than to keep taking chances.
Leaving motor racing altogether, the Stable Golden Spur would be nothing more than a very distant memory as Goethals would live a rather quiet life in Cortrijk, Belgium for the remainder of his days. Christian Goethals would end up passing away on the 26th of February in 2003 at the age of 74. Ecurie Eperon d'Or