France has lost one of its foremost racing personalities with the passing of Jean-Pierre Beltoise. The 77-year-old died in a Dakar hospital on January 5, after suffering a double stroke.
Born in the Parisian suburbs on April 26 1937, Beltoise was part of French racing’s new wave during the 1960s.
A successful motorcycle competitor, who clinched 11 national titles, he made his car debut in the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing the 11th-placed René Bonnet with Claude Bobrowski and winning the Index of Performance.
His career appeared seriously compromised by an accident during the 1964 Reims 12 Hours, when his René Bonnet somersaulted into a field and caught fire. Marshals were initially convinced Beltoise must have perished in the blaze, but he had been thrown clear and his unconscious form was soon found nearby. He suffered serious injuries, and never regained full use of his left arm, but the incident did little to stem his career momentum. He won the 1965 French F3 title and made his first F1 world championship start at the Nürburgring the following season, winning the F2 class. After a couple more Grand Prix outings with a ballasted F2 chassis in 1967, he became a full-time member of Matra’s F1 team in 1968. While Jackie Stewart had the benefit of a Cosworth V8 in his Tyrrell-entered MS10, however, Beltoise spent most of his time racing the factory’s less effective V12-powered MS11. He finished second to Stewart at a wet Zandvoort, though, and also won that season’s European F2 title.
He remained allied to Matra’s F1 effort until the end of the 1971 season, although he carried on driving its sports-prototypes with distinction.
He continued his Grand Prix career with BRM and scored a memorable victory – his only such success – in the teeming rain at Monaco in 1972.
By the end of 1974 he had started 84 world championship GPs, with one win, seven other podium finishes and a best championship position of fifth (as part of the Tyrrell Matra team in 1969). He later did some development work for the incoming Ligier team, and was touted as its possible driver, but Jacques Laffite landed the seat and Beltoise focused instead on saloon and endurance racing, winning back-to-back French touring car titles with BMW in 1976 and ’77.
He is survived by wife Jacquéline, François Cevert’s sister, and sons Anthony and Julien, racers both.