Autocourse Grand Prix Archive

DRIVER

Gendebien, Olivier

A Belgian aristocrat, and former World War II paratrooper, Gendebien spent some four years in forestry in the Congo, where he met rally driver Charles Fraikin, who was lamenting the lack of a co-driver with whom to compete back in Europe.

Gendebien then returned and raced a Veritas in the GP des Fronti�res at Chimay, finishing sixth, before joining Fraikin, initially to rally a Jaguar, the pair staying together until 1955. By the time they split they had become known as 'the eternal bridesmaids' due to the number of times they had to be content with second place. Twice they just missed winning the Li�ge-Rome-Li�ge Rally but in 1955 it was third time lucky with a Mercedes 300SL. Without his partner, Olivier had great success, winning his class with a Plymouth in the Round Italy Rally, the Tulip Rally and the Northern Roads Rally in a Porsche, all in 1954.

Such was the impression made that he was offered a contract to drive a works Ferrari in sports car events and selected Grands Prix. His first race for the team nearly ended in disaster, when in late 1955 he crashed heavily in practice for the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, suffering concussion. He was fit for the start of 1956 and, with virtually no single-seater experience behind him, finished fifth on his Grand Prix debut at the Argentine GP, followed by sixth in the Mendoza GP. The season also saw a splendid run of finishes in sports car races, including second places at Buenos Aires and in the Supercortemaggiore at Monza and thirds in the N�rburgring 1000 Km, Targa Florio and Le Mans.

That was to be the first of seven wonderful seasons that Gendebien spent in Ferrari's sports car team. He subsequently won the Reims 12 Hours in 1957 and '58, the Targa Florio in 1958, '61 and '62, Sebring in 1959, '60 and '61 and the N�rburgring 1000 Km in 1962, not forgetting his splendid achievement of four wins at Le Mans in 1958, '60, '61 and '62, after the last of which he retired.

He was no slouch in a Grand Prix car either. His outings were generally infrequent, but whenever he raced a competitive machine he invariably brought it into the points, as a check on the statistics overleaf will show. But it is inevitably as one of the greatest sports car drivers of any era that he will be best remembered.

Personal Statistics

Born 12/01/1924
Place of Birth Brussels
Died 02/10/1998
Place of Death Tarascon, France
Nationality BE

Career Statistics

Years in Competition 5
Championships Won 0
Race Presences 15
Race Starts  (93.3%)  14
Did Not Start 0
Did Not Qualify  (6.7%)  1
Retired  (20%)  3
Race Wins 0
Podium Finishes  (13.3%)  2
Fastest Laps 0
Pole Positions 0
Front Row Starts 0
Total Driver Points 18
Last Race US GP (08/10/1961)

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