Henri Pescarolo

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Henri Pescarolo

Henri Pescarolo

The Best Formula Three Driver in Europe

Henri Pescarolo, the sone of a top French surgeon, was born in Montfermeil on 25 September 1942. The serious-looking, bearded medical student was, however, not destined to follow his father's footsteps. Motor sport appealed to him and, after navigating for his father in a doctors' rally in 1964, the following year found him at a racing drivers' school and competing in a Ford-backed series of races for novices in Lotus 7 sports cars.

Pescarolo dominated the scene and as a result was invited to partner Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in the Formula Three Matra team in 1966. It was not a successful season for Pescarolo: his car was not ready until the tail-end of the season and then it was beset with small, niggling problems. In 1967, however, Pescarolo proved himself. He won the season's most important Formula Three race at Monaco, gained more wins at Barcelona, La Chatre, Bugatti au Mans, Rouen, Magny-Cours, Nogaro, Zandvoort and Albi and became French Formula Three Champion.

Many experts considered he was the best Formula Three driver in Europe. Towards the end of the year, he was twice invited to race a Formula Two Matra and also won a sports-car race at Montlhery with the 4.7-litre Ford-engined Matra 620. In 1968, Pescarolo, then 25, was promoted to the Formula Two team full-time, backing up his team-mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise so well that the pair were first and second in the European Formula Two Trophy.

Pescarolo won the Albi Grand Prix and finished second five times. In the Le Mans 24-hours, he shared a Matra 630 coupe with Johnny Servoz-Gavin and became the idol of the crowd as he brought the car up to second place. Then, within reach of the lead, the car was put out in the closing stages owing to two punctures and an accident. In September, Pescarolo made his Grand Prix debut in the Matra team in the Canadian Grand Prix. Driving one of the raucous V 12 Matra MS11s, he retired after half-distance owing to fading oil pressure. He was unable to take part in the United States Grand Prix owing to the lack of an engine, while in Mexico he ran slowly to finish ninth, racing'without the Matra's rear wing, owing to a practice accident.

In 1969 Matra gave up Formula One racing, but Pescarolo remained in their Formula Two and sports-car teams. The year began badly with a serious accident during the April Le Mans test weekend when his experimental Matra 640 coupe literally took off at approximately 125 mph down the Mulsanne Straight and crashed heavily. He was thrown from the car and suffered leg and back injuries plus burns. By August, he was back in the cockpit, and on form, winning the Formula Two section of the German Grand Prix in a Matra MS7-Ford. At the end of the year, he shared a Matra 650 with fellow Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise to win the Paris 1000 km.

Matra returned to Formula One in 1970, Pescarolo joining Beltoise to drive the new Matra Simca MS 120S. The V 12 engines seemed to lack the power of their rivals, but Pescarolo was an excellent third in the Monaco Grand Prix, fifth in France and sixth in Belgium and Germany. Apart from an early-season victory in the, non championship Buenos Aires 1000 km, the sports-car scene was not so bright, as the Matra Simca 650S were unreliable and underpowered compared with the 5-litre Porsches and Ferraris. At the end of the year, however, Pescarolo drove for Alfa Romeo in the Osterreichring 1000 km and finished second, partnered by Andrea de Adamich.

The Motul Oil Company

In Formula Two, he raced a Brabham BT30-Ford owned by Bob Gerard, finishing second at Barcelona and Pau. After Matra dropped Pescarolo for 1971, the Frenchman signed to race for Frank Williams in both Formula One and Formula Two, finding support from the French Motul oil company, and for Alfa Romeo in sports-car racing. Apart from a second in the non-championship Argentine Grand Prix and a fourth in the British Grand Prix, Pescarolo's season with Williams' Formula One Marches was dismal. In Formula Two, the year began with victory at Mallory Park in March, only to be followed by a string of retirements. In sports-car racing, Pescarolo found the Alfa Romeo T33/3 fast and reliable, winning the BOAC 1000 km at Brands Hatch and finishing third in the Sebring 12-hours, Monza 1000 km and Spa 1000 km races.

So far as Formula One was concerned, 1972 was a complete disaster. Driving a March for Frank Williams, Pescarolo was third in the non-championship Rothmans 50,000 at Brands Hatch, but in other races he was either poorly placed or retired. He crashed the March at Monaco, Clermont Ferrand, Nurburgring, Osterreichring and Monza and wrote-off Williams' new Politoys FX3-Ford at Brands Hatch. However, as compensation, he won the Le Mans 24-hours in a Matra 670 shared with Graham Hill and the Formula Two Mediterranean Grand Prix at Enna in Sicily in a Rondel Racing Brabham BT38-Ford.

Henri Pescarolo in his Matra V12 at Watkins Glen
Henri Pescarolo in his Matra V12 at Watkins Glen.
Sports-car racing took priority in 1973, a year when Matra returned to this class full-time and clinched the World Championship of Makes. Pescarolo won the Vallelunga 6-hours, the Dijon 1000 km, the Le Mans 24-hours, the Osterreichring 1000 km and the Watkins Glen 6-hours, each time partnered by Gerard Larrousse. In Formula Two, driving for the Motul-sponsored Rondel team, he won at Thruxton, while from his three Formula One appearances, the best he could muster was eighth with the ill-handling works March 721G/731-Ford in the Spanish Grand Prix. With Motul sponsoring the works BRM team, it was back to Formula One full-time in 1974. However, it was yet another unsuccessful Grand Prix year for Pescarolo, the V 12-engined British cars not proving competitive. His best placing was a fourth in the non-championship Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone and by the end of the year Pescarolo had quit the team.

In sports-car racing there was another clean sweep for Pescarolo and Larrousse: the pair won the Imola 1000 km, the Le Mans 24-hours, the Osterreichring 1000 km and the Kyalami six-hours. It marked Pescarolo's third successive victory at Le Mans, a feat only achieved twice before by Woolf Barnato (1928 - 1929 - 1930) and Olivier Gendebien (1960 - 1961 - 1962). He continued his sports car form in 1975, partnering Derek Bell to wins at Spa, Osterreichring and Watkins Glen, now driving the Alfa Romeo 33TTI2. In 1976 he ran a privately entered Surtees in Grands Prix with little success. It was back to sports cars in 1977 but Henri's Le Mans luck was out and he blew up the engine of the Porsche which he was sharing with Jackie Ickx while well placed. Ickx took over the team's second car and went on to score his fourth Le Mans win.

After Pescarolo's retirement from Formula 1, he went on to start his own team which now competes in the Le Mans Endurance Series, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he won as a driver in 1972 in a Matra, co-driven by Graham Hill. His team, Pescarolo Sport, is notably sponsored by Sony's PlayStation 2 and by Gran Turismo 4. During the five years that Pescarolo has campaigned Courage C60 prototypes, so many modifications have been made to the model that Courage allowed the team to name the car after themselves, such was the differences between their model and the standard C60. In 2005, it was developed further still to meet the "hybrid" regulations, before the change to LMP1/2 format. It is unknown whether Pescarolo will use the newer Courage C70 in the future.

Pescarolo holds the record for Le Mans starts with 33 and has won the race on four occasions as a driver. He has yet to win the race as a team owner, coming very close in 2005 with the Pescarolo C60H. His team did manage to win the LMES championship in the same year. His team was also second at Le Mans in 2006, followed by a third in 2007 behind a pair of diesel-powered prototypes. Henri Pescarolo is also a keen helicopter pilot. To this day drives in the yearly Dakar Rally.

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