The story of Jean Rondeau, the last garagista to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, is a tale of grit, determination and against-the-odds endeavour that propelled the Frenchman from near-obscurity to national fame in the space of a few short years. Like Jim Glickenhaus today, he was a driven man with a big ambition — to conquer the world’s greatest endurance race.
But this son of Le Mans, who first visited his home race as a small child, didn’t set out to win the French classic as a constructor, the feat that secured him a place in the record books as the only man to triumph in a car bearing his own name. He was consumed by winning as a driver. Building his own cars was simply a means to an end for Rondeau.
And a necessary one. Rondeau wasn’t going to acquire the kind of drive necessary for him to win Le Mans based on his early exploits at the Circuit de la Sarthe. His debut in 1972 was undistinguished, save for getting hit on the helmet by a bird on the Mulsanne Straight in the open-top Chevron-Cosworth B21 in which he’d rented a seat. On his return to the big race over the following three years, he failed to qualify, finished a distant 19th and retired shortly after the halfway mark.