Scotland’s Ecurie Ecosse sports car team of Ninian Sanderson and Ron Flockhart won the Le Mans 24-hours classic on the 29th of July, 1956.
Ecurie Ecosse was a motor racing team from Scotland, which was founded, in 1952, by Edinburgh businessman and racing driver, David Murray, together with mechanic, Wilkie Wilkinson. The team’s most notable achievement was winning the 1956 24-hours Le Mans classic and following that up with another win the following year of 1957. Ecurie Ecosse was based at Merchiston Mews in Edinburgh and its cars were always easy to spot in their distinctive, metallic blue paint and white nose-band livery.
The 1956 24-hours Le Mans was the 24th Grand Prix of Endurance and took place over the 28th and 29th of June. Following the tragic events in the previous year’s race, described as the worst accident in motor racing history, the front stretch and pit lane were redesigned in order to enhance driver and spectator safety. In the 1955 race, a collision between Pierre Levegh's Mercedes and Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healy sent the bonnet and the engine block of the Mercedes flying into the crowd. At that time, there were no barriers and spectators were able to get right at the trackside. Eighty-three spectators were killed by the flying debris or the resultant fire and Levegh also died, when he was thrown clear of his airborne car. Those safety changes involved an alteration to the layout of the Dunlop curve, resulting in a shortening of the overall length of the track by thirty-one meters. Despite those changes, the French driver, Louis Héry, was killed when he was involved in an accident early in the race.
Sanderson and Flockhart took part in the 1956 24-hours Le Mans in an S5.0 class, ex-works, 3.4L, D-Type Jaguar sporting race number four and finished first after three hundred grueling laps of Le Mans. In the process, the two Scots beat the Aston Martin of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins. Ninian Sanderson was a straight-talking, Glaswegian car dealer and reputedly not the easiest of men to get along with. He wouldn’t suffer any sort of second-rate work, either to do with his car or in his business. However, he was well known in racing circles for his black humour. The contrast in personalities with Ron Flockhart, his refined, Edinburgh-born, Ecurie Ecosse team mate, was stark. The two men were ‘like chalk and cheese’, which is perhaps what it takes to win at Le Mans.
In common with many drivers of his era, Sanderson cut his ‘racing teeth’ in the highly competitive 500cc Formula 3 class in the early 1950s. He was a regular and fast Formula 3 driver both on circuits and hills. Initially, he drove a Cooper, taking second places at Crimond and Bo’ness in 1951, before back-to-back wins at Turnberry and Bo’ness towards the end of the summer. In 1952, he drove a Mk VI Cooper, winning the final of the Royal Scottish Trophy at Kirkcaldy and following with several other notable wins. He achieved success in the Cooper once again the next season, beating Ken Tyrrell to the Kirkcaldy Trophy, before switching to a Staride for the rest of the year.
At the British Grand Prix meeting in July, 1953, and against the very best opposition, Sanderson took seventh place, followed by third in the final at the inaugural Oulton Park event. At Charterhall in August, he could only manage fifth to Stirling Moss, but returned to glory a month later against local opposition. To close the season in October, he won at Brough, beat Ken Tyrrell again, at Oulton, and finished with a win at Charterhall. In season 1954, he took fifth at Kirkistown, in Ireland, and second in both Kirkcaldy Trophies. At the Daily Express meeting in May, Sanderson made a rare appearance in a Mk II Joseph Potts, sadly failing to finish. He ended his 500 career back in the Staride with wins at Charterhall and Bo’ness in September, 1954.
Flockhart was a Scottish racing driver who began competing in 1951, in a Joseph Potts Formula 3 car. In 1952, he purchased the famous English Racing Automobiles R4D from Raymond Mays and in 1953, had a very successful season, beating one of the works BRMs at Goodwood. With podium finishes at Goodwood, Charterhall, Snetterton and Crystal Palace, as well as several hill climb successes, his rise to prominence had begun.
In 1953, Flockhart had a phenomenally successful season, winning the Bo'ness hill climb in a record time of 33.82 seconds. The car was featured on the cover of ‘Autosport’ magazine that year.
Flockhart participated in fourteen World Championship Formula One Grands Prix. His debut was in a Connaught on the 14th of July, 1956, at the Italian Grand Prix, a race in which he came third, shortly before his Le Mans success with Sanderson. His Grand Prix podium brought him to the attention of BRM, for whom he drove for three intermittent and largely unproductive seasons until the end of 1959. He drove a works Lotus 18 to sixth place in the 1960 French Grand Prix and had his last Formula 1 outing in a works Cooper in the US Grand Prix at Riverside later that same year. Flockhart also participated in numerous non-Championship Formula One races.
The year after the pair’s notable victory at Le Mans, Ninian Sanderson again competed for Ecurie Ecosse, finishing second with co-driver John ‘Jock’ Lawrence in 1957. That time, he was only beaten by the other Ecurie Ecosse D-Type; the one driven by Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb, which set at distance record of 2,732.8 miles (4,397.108 km).
Ron Flockhart died on the 12th of April, 1962, in his converted Mustang fighter, VH-UWB, whilst on a test flight in preparation for a second attempt at breaking the record for flying from Australia to England. He crashed into the Dandenong Hills near Kallista, Victoria.
Ninian Sanderson died of cancer on the 1st of October, 1985.