SI Vault
Alfred Wright
December 21, 1959
At the Sebring Grand Prix, Jack Brabham finally clinched his world championship of race driving—even shoving his car the final 400 yards in a gesture of gallantry
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December 21, 1959

Long Push For A Champion

At the Sebring Grand Prix, Jack Brabham finally clinched his world championship of race driving—even shoving his car the final 400 yards in a gesture of gallantry

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The new automobile driving champion of the world is a 33-year-old Australian named Jack Brabham. He battened down this title at the Grand Prix of the United States, a unique race that was run at Sebring, Fla. last Saturday afternoon and was utterly dominated by Brabham and Bruce McLaren, the genial young winner of the race, who comes from New Zealand.

Three of the 18 drivers entered had a chance to carry off the world championship through the complicated system of point distribution that governs the championship races sanctioned by the F�d�ration Internationale de l'Automobile. Of these three, Brabham was well in the lead with 31 points. Stirling Moss, the brilliant English driver who had been four times runner-up for the title, stood second with 25� points. Third with 23 was Tony Brooks, another talented English driver and the author who described all the possible permutations in this contest for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED readers last week.

As the field lined up to take the starter's flag at 1:30 on this blowy, ominous-looking, subtropical afternoon, these drivers occupied three of the first four positions on the starting grid. Moss, who had qualified with an astounding speed of 104 mph on the winding 5.2-mile course, had the pole. Next to him was Brabham and in the second row, behind Moss, was Brooks.

On the first lap Brooks's Ferrari was rammed from behind by another car from the Ferrari team, driven by young Count Wolfgang von Trips, of Germany. The collision and a consequent pit stop cost Brooks two minutes, and he was unable to make up more than 30 seconds of this in the two hours of racing that followed.

In the meantime, Moss was taking an imposing lead. Going into the sixth lap, he was 10 seconds ahead of Brabham, who was holding the second position. But Moss never finished that lap. While barreling along at about 100 mph, he heard what he described as "a loud rumble" inside the works of his little black No. 7 Cooper Climax. That was all the racing there was for Moss on this particular day. As best he could tell until the machine was torn apart, there was a failure in the gearbox.

Once Moss had left the action, the race settled down to a steady, apparently inexorable ride to victory for Jack Brabham. Mounted in a green, factory-owned Cooper hardly distinguishable except by color from Moss's black car (one of two entered by British sportsman Rob Walker of the Scotch whisky clan), the Australian just went round and round, holding a comfortable lead of some 30 seconds over the third-place Ferrari. In second place was the other entry of the Cooper factory team, and Bruce McLaren, its 22-year-old driver, had no intention of trying to pass Brabham. He was just holding on in case anything should go wrong with his senior partner.


During the routine middle stages of the race, only half of the original 18 cars were still running, all the others having retired with some form of mechanical trouble. Brabham and McLaren were first and second. The third car, one of the four factory Ferraris present, was driven by Cliff Allison, a highly regarded young English driver. Fourth was Von Trips' factory Ferrari, its red nose bashed in from the earlier collision with Brooks. Behind Von Trips was Maurice Trintignant, the little mustachioed French precisionist, driving Rob Walker's other Cooper. Then came Brooks, too far behind to matter, and after him three also-rans.

With something like 70 miles to go and Brabham and McLaren still having things all their own way, it became apparent that Trintignant's Cooper was making a serious move at the leaders. The Frenchman had put the bigger, heavier, more powerful Ferraris well behind him and was steadily cutting the interval between him-self and the leaders—now 25 seconds, now 22, now 18 and so on. it hardly seemed possible he could make it, but with just three laps to go, Trintignant had the leaders in sight—only five seconds away. As he crouched over the wheel of his humpbacked little Cooper he resembled a kid in the Soapbox Derby at Akron, for the Cooper cockpit is way up front, and the car lacks the lovely long-hooded lines of the classic racing cars.

Gaining, slowly gaining, Trintignant went into the 42nd and last lap only four seconds behind the Brabham-McLaren team, which was still running in tandem as if the two cars were tied by a tow rope. Rob Walker, the anxious owner of Trintignant's car, said as it flew by for the last time, "Anything can happen on the last lap." But he didn't really believe it.

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