Walt Hansgen

Full Name:
Walter Edwin Hansgen
Born:
28th October 1919
Westfield, New Jersey
Died:
7th April 1966 (Aged 46)
La Chapelle-St-Mesmin, Centre (F), following a testing accident at Le Mans on 2nd April 1966
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Fred Hansgen ran a car repair shop in Westfield, New Jersey so his sons (Fred Jr and Walter) grew up around cars. The younger sibling served his country during World War II before working as a welder in the family business.

SCCA champion and Le Mans debut

Already grey-haired and in his thirties, Walt Hansgen began racing in 1951 with a Jaguar XK120 that he had restored. He quickly developed into a star of North American sports cars and won the SCCA C-Modified Championship each year from 1956 to 1959 when driving for Briggs Cunningham. Hansgen also made his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1959 when his Lister-Jaguar engine failed in the fifth hour. He started the race on five occasions but never finished.

Hansgen won both the Formula Junior and saloon car races that supported the 1959 United States Grand Prix. He drove a Momo Corporation Cooper T53-Climax in the 1961 United States GP and qualified 14th despite a troubled practice. The American crashed out of the race after 14 laps when trying to avoid Olivier Gendebien’s Lotus-Climax.

Formula 1 points' scorer

Cunningham dissolved his famous sports car team at the end of 1963 so Hansgen drove for both Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team and Texan oil heir John Mecom Jr. His NART Ferrari 250GTO was third in the opening round of the 1964 International Championship for Makes at Daytona. He repeated that result in the NASCAR road races at Bridgehampton and Watkins Glen that year when driving a privately entered Ford and Chevrolet respectively. Just weeks before his 45th birthday, Hansgen then steered a works Lotus 33-Climax to fifth in the 1964 United States GP.

He raced a MG Liquid Suspension Huffaker-Offenhauser in the 1964 and 1965 Indianapolis 500 when classified 13th and 14th respectively but Hansgen was better suited to sports cars by now. That was evident when he won the 1964 USRRC race at Elkhart Lake driving Mecom’s Ferrari 250LM.

He joined the works backed Holman-Moody team for 1966 when sharing a Ford GT40 Mk2 with his protégé Mark Donohue. They were third in the Daytona 24 Hours and second at Sebring in a promising start to a year. That year’s Le Mans test was held on a wet April Saturday and Hansgen had just set the quickest time of the day when he lost control before the first corner. The GT40 hit a barrier and rolled in an accident of frightening velocity.

Hansgen suffered fractures to chest, pelvis, skull and both arms and legs. Transferred by helicopter to a United States military hospital near Orléans, he died five days later without regaining consciousness.