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Henri Pescarolo and Le Mans (4) - 1975-1984, from Rondeau to Porsche

After three straight wins with Matra between 1972 and 1974, and an outing with Ligier in 1975 (did not finish), Henri Pescarolo became one of the mainstays of Jean Rondeau’s great Le Mans campaign, lining up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in one of the local constructor’s prototypes seven times from 1976 to 1983. "Jean was incredibly passionate,” Pescarolo tells us. “His determination to win was just as strong as Jean-Luc Lagardère’s at Matra. But his motivation was different, pretty singular in fact: he had decided to build his own cars because he couldn't find one to suit him. He was extremely likeable and we had a strong, very close friendship."

Jean Rondeau's resolve was finally rewarded in 1980. Partnered by Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, he became the only driver-cum-constructor to win Le Mans. Although Pescarolo only saw the chequered flag twice at the 24 Hours over this period (finishing eighth in 1976 and tenth in 1979), he has some very fond memories of Rondeau, who tragically lost his life in a road accident in 1985: "It was such a fantastic experience working with Jean. We achieved some great results and even came close to snatching the title from Porsche in 1982.”

In 1977 and 1978, Henri Pescarolo switched loyalties, quitting Rondeau to race as a Porsche works driver. Later in 1984, he stepped back up to the top of the podium after clinching victory in one of the German manufacturer’s prototypes. 

That race was also one of the finest chapters in the history of Le Mans as it marked the first win for Reinhold Joest, now partnered with Audi and owner of the most successful Le Mans team ever, with fifteen victories. "I’ve always really liked Reinhold,” says Pescarolo. “He was a driver when I first met him and I kept an eye on him when he became team owner. Moet & Chandon, who partnered me in my flying ventures, granted me the funds and I contacted Joest because he had the chance of a Porsche 956, the car with the greatest chance of winning again at Mans. It meant I became a paying driver that year because we needed a pretty hefty budget. [A “paying driver” has to have the money to race, either raising it from sponsors or by investing their own cash if they are wealthy enough]. I found myself part of a highly competent outfit with Klaus Ludwig as my teammate – he was as fast and as efficient as a plane! We finished first, fighting our way back to the front after fuel pump issues. It was superb, we had driven flat out the whole race to make up for the lost time.”

On Sunday 17 June 1984, Pescarolo became the first French driver to collect a fourth win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Yet the Le Mans saga for our man in the green helmet was far from over... as you will see in the next instalment!


Previous episodes in the saga:

Part 1: 1966-1967, the discovery

Part 2: 1968-1969, the exploit and the accident

Part 3: 1970-1974, en route for victory

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