Ecurie Ecosse

IT’S HARD TO believe that 60 years have gone by since Ecurie Ecosse won the Le Mans 24-Hours for the first time: Sunday, July 29, 1956. It was a win which elevated the team to true greatness, but it was purely by chance that Ecurie Ecosse even received an entry for the 1956 race.
Towards the end of 1955, David Murray was in a quandary about how to progress in the 1956 season. He already had two D-Type Jaguars but had provisionally ordered a third one. However, he was concerned that his existing D-Types did not have the latest Jaguar modifications and felt that race organisers may devalue his team as being uncompetitive.
So he wrote to Jaguar team manager, Lofty England, asking for help. It resulted in the team taking delivery of a brand new short-nosed D-Type (XKD 561), so the season started with three D-Type Jaguars with the latest modifications.
Murray was no fool and broached the subject of possibly applying to run a car at Le Mans. Lofty England thought this might be a good idea, sent Murray an entry form, and wrote to Le Mans organiser Raymond Acat suggesting that Ecurie Ecosse might be considered as an entry for Le Mans because: “I can tell you that they’d do things in a very serious way, their cars are well prepared and well driven, and they will undoubtedly put up a good performance”.
England was also under the impression that the Belgian Team, Ecurie Francorchamps, would not be entering their D-Type Jaguar for the race and obviously wanted to have as many Jaguars running as possible.
What he did not realise, however, was that Francorchamps had again changed their team name to Ecurie Nationale Belge and actually were running their D-Type. (It was to finish 4th in the race).
When Ecurie Ecosse was first formed, Murray had invited Scotsman Ron Flockhart to join the team, but Ron refused to sell his ERA and buy a Jaguar XK120 in order to run with them and so was left out. Now, four years later, Murray was able to persuade Ron to drive for the team and when the Le Mans organisers accepted the Ecurie Ecosse entry, Ron was marked down as the lead driver due to his grand prix experience with BRM. He partnered him with Ninian Sanderson.

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Ron and Ninian were total opposites, with Edinburgh-born Flockhart the charming, polite “posh” chap from the East and gritty Ninian more down to earth and pithy.
During an interview in the US consulate in Edinburgh when trying to get visas to race at Sebring, Ninian created an international “incident”. When he was asked by the Consul if he had ever been a member of the communist party, Ninian said no “… but Flockhart has!”
Ninian’s idea of a joke backfired, and Murray had to step in and explain to the perplexed Consul that this was Sanderson’s sense of humour.
The Ecurie Ecosse team for Le Mans was a motley crew of Ecosse mechanics and pals, including two of Sanderson’s best friends Willie Lawrence and “Livvy” Neil who greatly entertained the crew throughout the Le Mans week with their antics. They were neatly banished to Mulsanne corner as the signalling crew to keep them out of harm’s way in the pits!
The race was wet and after three hours Sanderson remarked “…it was very slippy and dodgy out there and after three hours I felt we had a good chance.”
Indeed Sanderson didn’t choose to sleep throughout the whole 24 hours.
Ecurie Ecosse surprisingly were up at the front during the whole of the race and led for many of the laps thanks to a higher speed on the Mulsanne Straight against the Aston Martins.
Finally, after 24 tough hours, Ron Flockhart crossed the line with MWS301, one of the earlier 1955 D-Types (Chassis XKD501). Murray was not only excited but totally shocked that his team had won the greatest sportscar race in the world on its first attempt.
Lofty England of Jaguar wrote: “…..It was indeed most gratifying to us that you should have won Le Mans and, as you no doubt realise, we consider a win by a private owner in a major event of more value than winning ourselves”.
This win truly changed the fortunes of Ecurie Ecosse. Up to then they had been another private sportscar team competing occasionally in International events. Now, as Le Mans winners, they would be invited to International events all over the World and for David Murray that meant more starting money – as they say in France, toujours le commerce.
So this year we celebrate an event that took place 60 years ago; a result that was to project the team — which now competes as Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse in the British GT Championship with a McLaren 650S GT3 and 570S GT4 —  to even greater things, as we were to see a year later.
Graham Gauld

Picture captions:
Above: Ninian Sanderson driving the winning car through the notorious White House corner at Le Mans in 1956

Below: The front cover of Autosport in 1956 with Ron Flockhart, Ninian Sanderson and David Murray. The Autosport covers were normally in Red but with the Ecosse win at Le Mans, editor Gregor Grant – a Scot – chose a blue cover for the one and only time in the history of the magazine.

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