|Triumph and Tragedy
The season opener in 1955 was held in Argentina. Neubauer feeling that he needed another driver of front-line caliber to partner Fangio consulted his black book of promising drivers and signed Stirling Moss. It was impressed upon Moss that in matters of the Grand Prix he would serve as second to Fangio, but when it came to sports car racing they would be treated as equals. Jean Behra replaced Moss at Maserati while Hawthorn left Ferrari to join the British team Vanwall.
With the temperature reaching 104 degrees in the shade the Grand Prix became a test of man more than machine. Only two drivers would be able to finish the race without relief, one of them Fangio, would win the race. Both Fangio and Moss retired from the Monaco Grand Prix which was won by Trintignant in a Ferrari. Monaco featured an omen of what was to come when Ascari crashed into the harbor. He was rescued only to die four days later while testing a Ferrari sports car. Lancia, without their top driver andfacing severe cash shortages was forced to withdraw from Grand Prix racing.
Moss meanwhile scored a stunning victory at the Mille Miglia becoming the first non-Italian since Caracciola to win the race. Mercedes returned to the winner's circle at Spa with a 1-2 finish. As was the custom of those days most of the top drivers also raced sports cars and there was no bigger sports cars race than the 24 hours of Le Mans. The race looked all set for a long awaited duel between the British Jaguar, Italian Ferrari and German Mercedes teams. All three of the teams sports car programs were at their peak each grimly determined to triumph over the other.
At 4:00 p.m.on the 11th of June 1955 the race that would witness the worst disaster in motor racing began. Castellotti in a Ferrari jumped into the lead followed by Hawthorn's Jaguar. Fangio who had made a poor start was tearing through the field from fourteenth place. Working the air brake on his Mercedes Fangio's race car was likened to a "pre-historic monster about to devour its prey." Soon he had caught up to Hawthorn and had actually passed the Jaguar only to be re-passed on the following lap. Hawthorn and Fangio passed Castellotti and replayed their epic struggle of Rheims in 1953. At 6:30 p.m. it was time for the first pit stops. After passing White House and entering the straight before the pits Hawthorn dove for the pits. This maneuver caught Macklin in his slower Austin-Healy by surprise and he swerved to the left. This left the on rushing Mercedes of Pierre Levegh with no escape. The Mercedes hit the Austin-Healey at over 130 m.p.h. and launched into the air and onto the earthen barrier that divided the spectators from the pit straight.The car burst into flames and the shock of the crash tore the engine and front suspension which were hurtled into the trapped crowd killing 83 people and injuring over 100.
Ivor Bueb took over for a shaken Hawthorn, while Moss took over for Fangio and the race continued. After ten hours word came from the directors of Daimler-Benz to withdraw the remaining Mercedes which were running first and third. Finally at 4 p.m. the next day the nightmare was over with Hawthorn's Jaguar taking the checkered flag. The personal tragedy that resulted from the crash from which he was an innocent contributor would haunt the talented Englishman the rest of his life.
Despite public outcry, the Dutch Grand Prix was held the next week. Fangio and Moss had another Mercedes 1-2 in the bag. The next race was the British Grand Prix which was held at Aintree that year. The Mercedes team completely dominated the race and scored a 1-2-3-4 victory. The race was marked by the first win for Stirling Moss. A number of other races were canceled in the aftermath of Le Mans. The Grand Prix of Italy would be the last championship race for the year. The Mercedes team finished 1-2 with Fangio leading Taruffi but would withdraw from racing after winning the Targa Florio. Having conquered all within their path there would be no more Silver Arrows for the foreseeable future. Fangio with almost double the points of his nearest rival claimed his third World Championship.
The season ended with a stunning victory when Tony Brooks piloted his Connaught to victory at Syracuse. The race weekend had begun quite inconspicuously. The first practice session on Friday was well under way, yet the transporter carrying the Connaught teams cars was nowhere to be seen. This forced the British teammates, Brooks and Les Leston to reconnoiter the circuit on borrowed Vespa motor scooters which was not exactly conducive to finding the correct racing line or late breaking points! A more inauspicious beginning to a remarkable weekend could not have been written. Tony Brooks a full-time dental student and part-time driver had only been racing for less than three years. Arrayed against them were nine Maseratis and various Ferraris and Gordinis. The Maserati was led by a pair of Italian aces Musso and Villoresi who were turning in lap times of nearly 100 mph. On Saturday the Connaught teams cars finally arrived from England. The Italians were secure in their belief that their Friday times were sufficient to award them the leading positions on the grid and were only running sporadically. Brooks after some familiarization laps soon got down to business. Suddenly the loudspeakers announced the unbelievable news that the young dental student had recorded the fastest time of the session. Upon hearing this the Maserati engines burst to life, the whole team rose to the challenge of this brash young driver. The final grid showed Musso on the pole followed by Villoresi and Brooks. Since this was a non-championship event, missing were such top drivers as Moss and Fangio. This did not in any way diminish the accomplishment of the small British team.
At the drop of the flag the Maseratis surged into the lead, rather than become discouraged Brooks pressed on and soon passed Villoresi into second place. When he passed the leading Maserati of Musso the Italian tried every trick that he knew to regain the lead. Finally getting by he lost the lead again on the next lap. Both cars were turning laps faster than those run during qualifying. The Maserati could out break the Connaught at the hairpin but in doing so was dangerously abusing its breaks. Musso could not have been pleased when the Connaught was able to match his 150 mph on the straighter pieces. Eventually, the British car was able to draw away. Now the question was could the Connaught maintain this torrid pace. When the checkered flag finally flew the Connaught pit crew erupted in jubilation. Musso was one of the first to congratulate the quite unassuming young dental student.