1974, a very full year for Jean-Pierre Beltoise
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1974, a very full year for Jean-Pierre Beltoise

Jean-Pierre Beltoise passed away on 5 January 2015 in Senegal and will be remembered as one of motor sports greatest. In 1974, the Frenchman was both a Formula 1 and a World Sportscar Championship endurance driver. Only the most talented can boast such a feat.

 

Saturday 15 June 1974, just before 4pm. Charles Deutsch, race manager, checks his watch for the third time in as many minutes. The tension mounts. The sunshine over Le Mans provides the perfect backdrop for the 200,000 spectators to enjoy the display of mechanical prowess. With Ferrari and Alfa Romeo absent from the line-up this year, the Matra-Gitanes team feels duty-bound to pull off a convincing third consecutive win in the famous 24-hour race.

Strapped into the cockpit of the only Matra MS680 raced by a French team, poised at pole position, Jean-Pierre Jarier puts his finger on the car’s ignition. The button that releases the growls of the legendary 12 cylinders. His team-mate, in padded jacket and tight trousers watches, relaxed, from the other side of the safety rail that separates the start-finish straight from the pit-lane. Jean-Pierre Beltoise knows that, halfway through one of the best seasons in his career, this is one of his last chances to win the 24 hours.

The season was both full and varied. As he had proved time and time again, the Frenchman was as quick at the wheel of a single-seater as in the cockpit of a prototype. Aged 37 in 1974, Jean-Pierre Beltoise raced in not one, but two international series and his popularity was only equalled by his determination. In Formula 1, he drove for BRM, whose P201 was known neither for its speed nor for its reliability. In a team whose former shine was fading fast, Jean-Pierre Beltoise had a sparkling season, despite countless mechanical problems. His second place in Kyalami, South Africa, proved that neither a mediocre car nor a left arm weakened by a motorbike accident could get the better of his incredible talent. That was to be his last great performance in F1.

A proud representative of the untouchable Matra-Gitanes team, Jean-Pierre Beltoise flew the flag for France and won several World Sportscar Championship races for his team and country. In endurance racing, he formed a highly successful duo with his loyal friend and namesake, Jean-Pierre Jarier. Next to the efficient Pescarolo/Larrousse team, the Beltoise/Jarier pair displayed more impetuous talent. In 1974, they won four world championship races: Nürburgring, Watkins Glen, Le Castellet and Brands Hatch. Henri Pescarolo and Gérard Larrousse could not better that record but they won the sought-after Le Mans 24 Hours title that year. Sadly, Jean-Pierre Beltoise abandoned after 9 hours.

Despite the disappointment, his smile still lit up the Le Mans circuit on that sunny June day, as his thoughts rapidly turned to his family and especially to his second son, Julien, born just three months earlier. All in all, 1974 was definitely a great year for the Frenchman who shall go down in history as one of the legends of French motor sports.

Pierre-Yves Riom / ACO - Translation by Emma Paulay

PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, 15 & 16 JUNE 1974.