July 14, 2024

When Two Inebriated British Men Triumphed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

The 1953 edition of the Le Mans 24 holds great historical significance for various reasons. Firstly, the victorious Jaguars utilized cutting-edge Dunlop-engineered disc brake systems for the first time. This technological advantage allowed the formidable C-Type to push hard right from the start, achieving an average lap speed of over 100 miles per hour for the first time in the race’s history. However, beyond the statistics and engineering marvels, the race is also full of captivating stories. The victorious pair, British drivers Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt, were reportedly intoxicated when they took to the wheel.

The story commences during practice. Renowned Jaguar racer Stirling Moss found the performance of his C-Type lacking on the Mulsanne straight, prompting discussions with the mechanics about adjusting the final drive ratio. A test car was sent out with Moss’s recommended ratios to assess its lap times. Unfortunately, the test car carried the number 18, already assigned to Hamilton and Rolt. According to the rules, teams were not permitted to field multiple cars for the same drivers, resulting in the immediate disqualification of the pair.

Devastated by their disqualification, Hamilton and Rolt drowned their sorrows in various French establishments. Having retired from the previous year’s race and now facing dashed hopes for 1953, they indulged in an entire night of drinking, continuing into the following morning.

Unbeknownst to them, the Jaguar team successfully appealed the ruling, allowing the number 18 car to return to the starting grid. However, both drivers were severely intoxicated and sleep-deprived when they were finally located by the team at 10 o’clock on race day. Hamilton vividly recalls the moment in his autobiography:

“We were sitting there feeling ill, miserable and dejected when a MkVII Jaguar drew up outside and William Lyons got out. He had paid a FF25,000 fine and we were back in the race. In six hours time the flag would fall. Neither of us had had any sleep and 24-hours of racing lay ahead. We ordered more black coffee and enquired if there was a Turkish bath in the town. There was not.”

With only a short time before the race began at 4 p.m., the duo scrambled to prepare. By 2 p.m., still feeling the effects of their excesses, they opted for a double round of brandy as a remedy. Starting from a low position on the grid, Rolt swiftly made up ground, advancing to seventh place after just one lap thanks to the advantage of the disc brake technology. As night fell on the first day, car number 18 surged into the lead.

During pit stops, Hamilton declined offers of coffee from the team, opting instead to continue fortifying himself with brandy. At one point during the race, he even used the spirit as a pain reliever after colliding with a bird at 130 miles per hour, resulting in a shattered windshield, goggles, and nose.

Throughout the night, the C-Type battled fiercely with a quicker Ferrari (equipped with drum brakes), exchanging the lead multiple times. By breakfast time on the following day, the Ferrari had faltered, leaving the C-Type with a clear path to victory. It was then just a matter of nursing the car to the finish line until the afternoon, sealing the win and concluding a remarkable day.

Exhausted from the tumultuous events of the previous 48 hours, Hamilton and Rolt celebrated their triumph in a manner similar to the previous night’s commiserations, marking a historic and memorable victory.

It should be noted that Jaguar team principal Lofty England and driver Tony Rolt have refuted claims of the drivers being intoxicated during the race. However, Hamilton’s recollection paints a different picture.


Q: Were the Jaguar drivers really drunk during the race?

A: Accounts differ, with some denying the claim while others suggest otherwise based on personal testimonies.

Q: How did the intoxicated drivers manage to compete and win?

A: Despite their condition, the drivers showcased remarkable skill and determination, eventually emerging victorious in the face of adversity.


In conclusion, the 1953 Le Mans 24 race stands out not only for the technological advancements and speed achievements but also for the captivating human stories that unfolded. The tale of Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt’s intoxicated victory adds a layer of intrigue and drama to the race’s rich history, highlighting the resilience and spirit of endurance racing. It serves as a reminder that sometimes the most remarkable victories arise from the most unexpected circumstances.

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