||Walt Hansgen got down to business as soon as he joined Team Cunningham, taking a class win at the Texas National Championship Sports Car races at Eagle Mountain, but the following weekend at Elkhart Lake was an expensive one indeed; Hansgen rolled one of the D-Types in practice, then another during Sunday’s main
event, and Sherwood Johnston wrecked the remaining Jag in
the same fashion. Giving chase to Carroll Shelby’s Ferrari, both drivers had been lapping ten seconds faster than the rest of the field, which proved to be altogether too
fast. Neither driver was seriously hurt, but the damage left most observers thinking the cars were write-offs. Momo, who knew better, had all three D-Types ready to race soon afterward.
After Le Mans, the events at Elkhart Lake had been too much for Sherwood Johnston to ignore, and he retired soon afterward, leaving Hansgen to inherit the top driving position. Walt proved himself by winning the year’s SCCA C/Sports Racing title, the first of four in a row.
It was not easy; by 1957, sports car racing was burgeoning across the country, attracting talent like never before. Jim Kimberley, Carroll Shelby, Jack McAfee and Bill Lloyd were all driving well-financed rides at least partially backed by European factories, while the new small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine was becoming a ubiquitous component in an emerging proliferation of frighteningly fast homebuilt specials. At the same time, Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team was enjoying Enzo Ferrari’s full support.
It all meant that Team Cunningham was never lacking for a challenge on home turf, yet still they kept accumulating the trophies and, more importantly, the points, at Road America, Marlboro, Watkins Glen, Virginia and Bridgehampton. New talent Ed Crawford helped the team by finishing second behind Hansgen at the Miami Orange Bowl. Momo’s careful preparation of the Cunningham stable of race cars was certainly responsible for enabling them to prevail against faster competitors, and by season’s end, Walt Hansgen was again the SCCA C/Sports Racing Champion.
Alfred Momo took Walt to England in 1958 to visit Sir William Lyon, tour the Jaguar factory and try his hand at racing against the locals. Hansgen won all three of his races, driving a
3.4 Jag sedan at Goodwood, and a week later winning sports car and Formula Libre races at Snetterton.
Back in the U.S., the D-Types were beginning to show their age, and were replaced early in the year with a pair of new Lister-Jaguars.
While not quite as representative of the factory as Coventry would have liked, the lighter, faster Listers still used Jaguar power and, once sorted by Momo, were immediate winners.
One of the more memorable races of the season came at the Cumberland,
Maryland event. Sixty-five thousand fans watched Hansgen speed away from the field, only to get the black flag after spinning off the course. Rejoining the race, he flogged the Lister without mercy in order to stay ahead of teammate Ed Crawford. On the last lap, the rear end failed in Hansgen’s car, giving Crawford an easy opportunity to take first place. In a gesture that spoke to the sporting ethos of the team, Crawford refused Hansgen’s offer to let him by, allowing Walt to take the checkered flag for the win.
1958 was a very successful year for Team Cunningham, but it also marked a turning point as Briggs was giving more time and attention to his Jaguar business. That the factory was in the throes of labor trouble was reflected in the diminishing quality of the cars being delivered to his store, and Briggs
worked hard to maintain customer satisfaction. But he was also preparing for another great venture involving another one of his favorite sports- sailing. “Mr. C” had decided it was time to defend the America’s Cup.