Henry de Courcelles was a World War I fighter pilot who raced a Lorraine Dietrich B3-6 in the first four editions of the Le Mans 24 Hours. He enjoyed an impressive run of success and each start was marked with some degree of achievement including victory at the third attempt.
Early Le Mans winner
He had raced a Bignan in the 1920 Coupe des Voiturettes at Le Mans but it was in the 24-hour race that he thrived. With regular co-driver André Rossignol sharing the duties, de Courcelles finished eighth in the inaugural event to win the 5000cc class. Third in 1924, de Courcelles and Rossignol won the 1925 Le Mans 24 Hours and finished second in Spa’s equivalent event shortly afterwards.
De Courcelles had a new partner at Le Mans in 1926 – his great friend Marcel Mongin. Once more his Lorraine Dietrich was in the hunt for victory but they eventually finished second behind team-mates Rossignol and Robert Bloch.
The Formule Libre race that supported the 1927 French Grand Prix was run at a wet Montlhéry on the day before the main event. De Courcelles drove a Guyot Spéciale – actually the Schmidt chassis that Albert Guyot had driven in the 1926 Indianapolis 500.
Disaster struck as he entered Montlhéry’s road section for the fourth time. He lost control, probably due to steering failure, and crashed into a tree at unabated speed. The car disintegrated on impact and its unfortunate driver died shortly afterwards. Jules Goux, who had served in the French artillery and witnessed the accident, said "it was not a collision, it was more like the explosion of a 12inch shell."
De Courcelles had run a car accessory shop in Paris that was a regular meeting place for like-minded souls such as André Dubonnet, "Georges Philippe" and Mademoiselle "Hellé-Nice."