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Olivier Gendebien (12 January 1924 – 2 October 1998) was a Belgian racing driver who was called "one of the greatest sportscar racers of all time".[1]

Olivier Gendebien
Born(1924-01-12)12 January 1924
Brussels, Belgium
Died2 October 1998(1998-10-02) (aged 74)
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
Formula One World Championship career
NationalityBelgium Belgian
Active years19551956, 19581961
TeamsFerrari,
non-works Cooper, Emeryson and Lotus
Entries15 (14 starts)
Championships0
Wins0
Podiums2
Career points18
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
First entry1956 Argentine Grand Prix
Last entry1961 United States Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Years19551962
TeamsEquipe Nationale Belge
Scuderia Ferrari
Best finish1st (1958, 1960, 1961, 1962)
Class wins4 (1958, 1960, 1961, 1962)

Contents

Rally racerEdit

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 Stasse, Gendebien won the sixth running of the Tulip Rally in Zandvoort in April 1954. Their car was an Alfa Romeo 1900 TI.[3][4] 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, the Coppa d'Oro delle Dolomiti and Rally Stella Alpina in 1955, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SL.

Formula One driverEdit

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 as 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.[5]

Sports car competitionEdit

However, it was in sports car racing, particularly the long distance and endurance events, where Gendebien excelled. Piloting a 2.5-litre 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.[6] The 1958 Grand Prix of Buenos Aires was a 1,000 kilometre 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.[7]

The same year he partnered Hill and won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. Their victory came in a 3-litre 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.[8] 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.[9] 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."[10] In honour of Gendebien's three wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the turn onto the Ullman straight is named after him. He also won the Dolomites Cup, a one-lap sportscar race that took place on a 188-mile circuit in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy.

Major race victoriesEdit

Post race lifeEdit

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.[11]

Racing recordEdit

Complete Formula One World Championship resultsEdit

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 WDC Pts.
1955 Equipe Nationale Belge Ferrari 625 Ferrari Straight-4 ARG MON 500 BEL
DNA
NED GBR ITA NC 0
1956 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555 Ferrari L4 ARG
5
MON 500 BEL 23rd 2
Lancia-Ferrari D50 Lancia V8 FRA
Ret
GBR
DNA
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 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari Dino 246 Ferrari V6 ARG
DNA
MON 500 NED 6th 10
Yeoman Credit Racing Team Cooper T51 Climax L4 BEL
3
FRA
2
GBR
9
POR
7
ITA USA
12
1961 Equipe Nationale Belge Emeryson Mk2 Maserati L4 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 L4 USA
11

Non-Championship resultsEdit

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
1956 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 555 Ferrari BUE
6
GLV SYR AIN INT NAP 100 VNW CAE SUS BRH
1957 Scuderia Ferrari Lancia D50 Lancia V8 BUE SYR PAU GLV NAP RMS
Ret
CAE INT MOD MOR
1961 Equipe Nationale Belge Emeryson Mk2 Maserati L4 LOM GLV PAU
Ret
BRX
Ret
VIE AIN SYR NAP LON SIL SOL
DNA
KAN DAN MOD FLG OUL LEW VAL RAN NAT RSA

24 Hours of Le Mans resultsEdit

Year Team Co-Driver Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1955   Ecurie Belge   Wolfgang Seidel Porsche 550 RS Spyder S
1.5
276 5th 2nd
1956   Scuderia Ferrari   Maurice Trintignant Ferrari 625 LM S
3.0
374 3rd 2nd
1957   Scuderia Ferrari   Maurice Trintignant Ferrari 250 TR S
5.0
109 DNF DNF
1958   Scuderia Ferrari   Phil Hill Ferrari 250 TR/58 S
3.0
305 1st 1st
1959   Scuderia Ferrari   Phil Hill Ferrari 250 TR/59 S
3.0
263 DNF DNF
1960   Scuderia Ferrari   Paul Frère Ferrari 250 TR/59/60 S
3.0
314 1st 1st
1961   SEFAC Ferrari   Phil Hill Ferrari 250 TRI/61 S
3.0
333 1st 1st
1962   SEFAC Ferrari   Phil Hill Ferrari 330 TRI/LM E
+3.0
331 1st 1st

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c Cooper, A. 1998. Obituary: Olivier Gendebien. Motor Sport, LXXIV/11 (November 1998), 4
  2. ^ a b "Driver: Gendebien, Olivier". Autocourse Grand Prix Archive. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-18.
  3. ^ "Belgians Win Auto Race". The New York Times. 1 May 1954. p. 20.
  4. ^ "Olivier Gendebien". motorsportmemorial.org. Retrieved 24 October 2009.
  5. ^ "Belgian Racing Ace Crashes". Los Angeles Times. 7 October 1961. p. A1.
  6. ^ "Flockhart and Sanderson Take Le Mans Auto Endurance Race". The New York Times. 30 July 1956. p. 26.
  7. ^ "Auto Race Driver Dies of Injuries". The New York Times. 27 January 1958. p. 31.
  8. ^ "Hill of California and Gendebien Triumph With Ferrari in Le Mans". The New York Times. 23 June 1958. p. 30.
  9. ^ "First Three At Le Mans All Ferraris". The Times. 12 June 1961. p. 4.
  10. ^ "Life in a Sports Car". Los Angeles Times. 2 October 1961. p. C1.
  11. ^ "Olivier Gendebien". 5 October 1998.

External linksEdit