At a private party at the famous Hotel De France on the Friday before the Le Mans 24 Hours, Sir Stirling Moss finally rang down the curtain on one of the longest and most successful racing careers of the 20th century. Classic Driver was there.
Moss had just gone out in practice for the Le Mans Legend in his Porsche RS 61, the car which was taken out in a frightening incident at the Laguna Seca Historic Races in Monterey, California, last year, and which had been repaired.
Moss was characteristically direct, ending an incredible racing career that has spanned more than 60 years, and included winning the British Grand Prix twice, the Monaco Grand Prix three times, the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio and the Tourist Trophy. He said, “This afternoon I scared myself and I have always said that if I felt I was not up to it, or that I was getting in the way of fellow competitors, then I would retire.”
He had come to Le Mans to race his own 1961 Porsche RS 61 in the Le Mans Legend, which this year invited Le Mans-type cars from 1949-65 to take part in a 45-minute race on the Saturday morning before the 24 Hours. Qualifying for the 61 spectacular historic cars was on Thursday – and it was the scene of his last competitive laps.
Duncan Wiltshire of Motor Racing Legends, organiser of the Le Mans Legend, applauded his decision with sadness. “It can be no easy thing to make such a decision, leaving the race itself to co-driver Ian Nuthall, thus ending – on his own terms – an incredibly long and illustrious career. In the years to come, we look forward to seeing plenty more of Stirling, who is as much a part of the motorsport world when he’s off the track as he is when behind the wheel of a car in flat-out racing action.”
In the Le Mans Legend race itself, Ian Nuthall took Stirling’s RS 61 to an impressive 23rd place in a race that demonstrated historic motorsport at its most exciting – with five cars vying for the lead throughout, and top-class drivers including multiple-Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro.
Carlos Monterverdi won the event in his yellow Ferrari 250LM from the Lister “knobblies” of Alex Buncombe and Jon Minshaw, after Oliver Bryant’s Cobra ran out of fuel on the Mulsanne Straight two laps from the end. Monteverde recorded the fastest lap at an average speed of 108.7 mph, finishing just 2.4 seconds ahead of Buncombe and Minshaw.
Sir Stirling was generous-spirited enough to present the trophies at the prize-giving, despite the sadness he must have felt, knowing he would not race again. “I love racing,” he commented, “but now it is time to stop.” It takes a brave man to know when that time has come – but he has never lacked courage.