Beyond Le Mans: The career highlights

Henri Pescarolo’s four wins and 30 starts at Le Mans have given him a unique place in motor racing history. Along the way he’s driven for Matra (1966, ’67, ’68, ’70, ’72, ’73, ’74), Ferrari (’71), Ligier (’75), Rondeau (’76, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83), Porsche (’77, ’78, ’84, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’93), Lancia (’85), Sauber-Mercedes (’86, ’87), Jaguar (’88) and Courage (’92, ’94, ’95, ’96). However, the 54-year-old Parisian has also made 57 GP starts in a distinguished career away from the track which made his name. Pescarolo started racing with a Lotus Seven in 1964, and soon moved up to F3 with Matra, winning the prestigious Monaco support race in 1967. A year later he was runner-up in the European F2 series, although he scored only one outright win. He graduated to F1 with Matra at the end of that year, making his debut in the Canadian GP at Ste Jovite.

A testing accident on the Mulsanne Straight ruined his 1969 season, but in 1970 he landed a full-time place at Matra, alongside Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Third at Monaco, behind Rindt and Brabham, was the highlight of the year. When Matra replaced him with Chris Amon, Pescarolo found a berth with Frank Williams, but two unhappy seasons with a March chassis and Williams’ own Politoys brought little reward. He earned a place in the record books, however, when he set fastest lap with a March 711 in the famous Italian GP of 1971. It still stands as the fastest average speed recorded in a GP; by co-incidence Pescarolo also set the fastest lap of any road circuit, at the wheel of a Matra sportscar at Spa in 1973.

That season Pescarolo’s F1 career seemed to be finished as he competed in just one race in a works March, and two in the Iso-Williams, but he bounced back in 1974 when Motul backing saw him join Beltoise and Francois Migault at BRM. Stuck with an outdated P1 60E for most of the year, it was a disappointing season of retirements. After concentrating on sportscars with Alfa in 1975, Pescarolo returned for one more tilt at F1 in 1976 with a private Surtees TS19, but again no results were forthcoming. His last outing was at Watkins Glen that October.

Since ’77 Pescarolo’s fluorescent green helmet has been seen exclusively in sportscar racing. Outside Le Mans, highlights have included victory in the 1986 Nurburgring 1000km with Mike Thackwell and the fledgling Sauber-Mercedes team, which marked his 21st and most recent World Championship success. In ’91 he added a fifth 24-hour success after a strong drive at Daytona in a Joest Porsche, and a few weeks later he stepped out of a massive shunt in the same car at Sebring. Pescarolo has also been a regular Paris-Dakar entrant, and is a distinguished competitor in air races.