The Man in the Checkered Helmet: Jean Behra
A very pleased Jean Behra, France's top driver in the 1950s, stands in the seat of his Ferrari 256F1 after winning the Aintree 200 on April 18, 1959, surrounded by his mechanics, photographers and the press. The Aintree race was an early season non-championship event and had an excellent entry with both full factory-entered and privateer F1 cars and F2 cars running together.
The Aintree circuit, near Liverpool, ran around the famed Grand National steeplechase course and also crossed a public road, blocked off by large gates, that ran through the area of the circuit. It was three miles long with a number of tight corners and one long straight in addition to a shorter straight section in front of the somewhat ornate grandstands which are visible in the above photograph.
In practice Masten Gregory, driving a 2.5 liter works Cooper set a surprising best time to capture the pole but sharing the front row with Behra's Ferrari and Harry Schell's works BRM 25. Gregory led from the start until his clutch packed up after 19 laps, turning the lead over to Stirling Moss in Rob Walker's F2 Cooper fitted with an F1 BRM motor and special Colotti transaxle by the wizard Modena-based mechanic Alf Francis. Behra, whose Ferrari had appeared outclassed by the Coopers, had by now sped up to take second, having passed Schell's BRM in the process. Moss' Cooper did not last much longer when its gearbox failed, although Moss had set a new lap record. This left the two Ferraris in the first two positions, both showing reliability if not outright speed, but with Behra well ahead of his teammate Tony Brooks, a gap that came down to 10.4 seconds at the finish.
The joys of this Ferrari win were not long for Jeannot as Behra was called. His Ferrari drive ended explosively following the French Grand Prix at Reims in July when he slugged Ferrari's Team Manager Romolo Tavoni following a heated argument about who was the number one Ferrari driver. A month later Behra would suffer a fatal crash in a Porsche RSK sports car during a rain-drenched support race for the German Grand Prix at Avus in Berlin.
Photo by Edward Eves ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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