Olivier Gendebien

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Olivier Gendebien
Nationality Flag of Belgium Belgian
Formula One World Championship career
Active years1956, 1958 - 1961
TeamsFerrari, Reg Parnell Racing, Emeryson
Races15 (14 starts)
Championships0
Wins0
Podiums2
Career points18
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
First race1956 Argentine Grand Prix
Last race1961 United States Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Participating years1955-1962
TeamsEquipe Nationale Belge
Scuderia Ferrari
Best finish1st (1958, 1960, 1961, 1962)
Class wins4 (1958, 1960, 1961, 1962)

Olivier Gendebien (12 January 1924, Brussels, Belgium2 October 1998, Les Baux de Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, France) was a war hero and race car driver. He has been cited as "one of the greatest sportscar racers of all time".[1]

Background

Born into a wealthy family, an heir to the industrial holdings of the Solvay family, Olivier Gendebien studied engineering at university. When World War II erupted and the Nazis occupied Belgium, he joined the Belgian resistance movement. Fluent in the English language, he served as the liaison with the British agents being parachuted into Belgium. Later in the War he went to England, serving with the British army as part of a Belgian paratrooper unit. When the war ended Gendebien switched to the study of agriculture, spending several years working in forestry in the Belgian Congo where he met a rally driver named Charles Fraikin.

Rally racer

On his return to Belgium, Gendebien entered a Veritas sports car in the 1955 Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay. However, following this race he switched his focus, and teamed up with Fraikin to compete in rally racing using a Jaguar sports car.[2] Together with Pierre Stassen, Gendebien won the sixth running of the Tulip Rally in Zandvoort in April 1954. Their car was an Alfa Romeo.[3] The Gendebien and Fraiken partnership gained the nickname "the eternal bridesmaids", owing to their number of second-place finishes,[2] but after two previous attempts they triumphed in the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally and the Coppa d'Oro delle Dolomiti in 1955, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SL.

Formula One driver

Gendebien's success in rally competitions brought him to the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who offered him a contract to drive a Ferrari in sports car events and selected Grands Prix. Much respected as a true gentleman by everyone who knew him, he remained a member of the Ferrari team until he retired from racing. Enzo Ferrari summed him up as "a gentleman who never forgets that noblesse oblige and, when he is at the wheel, he translates this code of behaviour into an elegant and discerning forcefulness."[1] During his career he competed in only 15 Formula One races — most of the time he was Ferrari's spare driver, filling in only occasionally — he nonetheless scored points in five races, and was only one place away from a points-scoring finish on a further two occasions. He made his début at the 1956 Argentine Grand Prix, with the Ferrari team, but it was during a stint driving for the British Racing Partnership's Yeoman Credit Racing team in 1960 that Gendebien scored his best finishes; he took second in the 1960 French Grand Prix and third in front of a home crowd at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix. The second of these was a somewhat bitter-sweet success, as Gendebien's team-mate at the time, Chris Bristow, was killed in an accident during the race. Gendebien himself walked away with slight injuries in October 1961 after his Lotus-Climax failed to negotiate a turn during practice for the 1961 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, New York. The car flipped over and Gendebien's shoes were torn off by the impact.[4]

Sports car competition

However, it was in sports car racing, particularly the long distance and endurance events, where Gendebien excelled. Piloting a 2.5-liter Ferrari, Gendebien teamed up with Maurice Trintignant to place third in the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans. They were seven laps behind the winners, privateer Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar drivers Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson.[5] The 1958 Grand Prix of Buenos Aires was a 1,000 kilometer event in which Gendebien paired with Wolfgang von Trips. They finished second to a fellow Ferrari pairing Phil Hill and Peter Collins. In the race Argentine Maserati driver, Jorge Magnasco, died after his car skidded and turned over.[6]

The same year he partnered with Hill and won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. Their victory came in a 3-liter Ferrari and secured the World Sportscar Championship for the Ferrari factory. They covered 2,511 miles with an average speed of 107 miles per hour. Hill became the first American to win the event and their Ferrari was the sole factory-sponsored car running at the end.[7] Ferrari drivers took the first three positions at the conclusion of the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans and, as they were to be again the following year, Hill and Gendebien were first, averaging 115.89 miles per hour, and establishing a race record.[8] The duo were a natural fit and together they won the Le Mans race three times in total, with Gendebien winning it a fourth time, partnered by fellow Belgian Paul Frère in 1960. Gendebien's record number of Le Mans victories was not exceeded until 1981, when fellow-Belgian Jacky Ickx won for the fifth time.

Away from Circuit de la Sarthe, Gendebien also triumphed in the Targa Florio (1958, '61, '62), the 12 Hours of Sebring (1959, '60, '61), the 12 Hours of Reims (1957, '58) and the 1000 km Nürburgring (1962).[1] When asked about the key to winning as a race car driver, Gendebien responded: "It is a matter of taking the corners a little faster than one would want."[9] In honour of Gendebien's three wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the turn onto the Ullman straight is named after him.

Major race victories

Post race life

Married with three children, Gendebien’s wife pressured him to get out of the dangerous sport of automobile racing where more than two dozen of his competitors had died at the wheel. At 38 years of age, in 1962 Olivier Gendebien retired following his fourth victory at Le Mans. Independently wealthy, and an avid skier, tennis player, and equestrian rider, he devoted the rest of his life to running a variety of businesses. In 1998 King Albert II awarded him the Belgian Order of the Crown

Olivier Gendebien died in 1998 at his home in Les Baux de Provence in southern France.

Complete F1 World Championship results

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 WDC Pts.
1956 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555 Ferrari I4 ARG
5
MON
500
BEL
23rd 2
Lancia-Ferrari D50 Lancia V8 FRA
ret
GBR
GER
ITA
1958 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246 Ferrari V6 ARG
MON
NED
500
BEL
6
FRA
GBR
GER
POR
ITA
ret
MOR
ret
NC 0
1959 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246 Ferrari V6 MON
500
NED
FRA
4
GBR
GER
POR
ITA
6
USA
15th 3
1960 Yeoman Credit Racing Team Cooper T51 Climax I4 ARG
MON
500
NED
BEL
3
FRA
2
GBR
9
POR
7
ITA
USA
12
6th 10
1961 Equipe Nationale Belge Emeryson Mk2 Maserati I4 MON
DNQ
NED
14th 3
Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 156 Ferrari V6 BEL
4
FRA
GBR
GER
ITA
UDT-Laystall Racing Team Lotus 18/21 Climax I4 USA
11
Preceded by
Ron Flockhart
Ivor Bueb
Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
1958 with:
Phil Hill
Succeeded by
Carroll Shelby
Roy Salvadori
Preceded by
Carroll Shelby
Roy Salvadori
Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
1960 with:
Paul Frère
Succeeded by
Olivier Gendebien
Phil Hill
Preceded by
Olivier Gendebien
Paul Frère
Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
1961-1962 with:
Phil Hill
Succeeded by
Ludovico Scarfiotti
Lorenzo Bandini


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cooper, A. 1998. Obituary: Olivier Gendebien. Motor Sport, LXXIV/11 (November 1998), 4
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Driver: Gendebien, Olivier". Autocourse Grand Prix Archive. http://www.autocoursegpa.com/driver~driver_id~11763.htm. Retrieved on 18 November 2007. 
  3. Belgians Win Auto Race, New York Times, May 1, 1954, Page 20.
  4. Belgian Racing Ace Crashes, Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1961, Page A1.
  5. Flockhart and Sanderson Take Le Mans Auto Endurance Race, New York Times, July 30, 1956, Page 26.
  6. Auto Race Driver Dies of Injuries, New York Times, January 27, 1958, Page 31.
  7. Hill of California and Gendebien Triumph With Ferrari in Le Mans, New York Times, June 23, 1958, Page 30.
  8. First Three At Le Mans All Ferraris, The Times, June 12, 1961, Page 4.
  9. Life in a Sports Car, Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1961. Page C1.

External links