24 Hours Centenary – The Le Mans Drivers' Hall of Fame

24 Hours Centenary – The Le Mans Drivers' Hall of Fame

24 HOURS CENTENARY – PEOPLE AND MACHINES ⎮ Sébastien Buemi recently joined nine other former winners of the 24 Hours in the Le Mans Drivers’ Hall of Fame, established in 2013 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the famous race.

A Hall of Fame is an institution that honours major successes of individuals in a particular field, primarily in the world of sport and entertainment.

The Le Mans Drivers' Hall of Fame has inducted not only former winners, but also the most senior 24 Hours drivers in their respective countries: Belgian Freddy Rousselle (1927–2013, three starts), American Dick Thompson (1920–2014, six starts), Englishman Eric Thompson (1919–2015, seven starts), French-Brazilian Hermano da Silva Ramos (born in 1925, four starts) and Japanese Kunimitsu Takahashi (1940–2022, eight starts).

The ten former winners that currently reside in the Hall of Fame have notched an impressive total of 49 victories. All tend to be associated with a specific make of car – Audi for Tom Kristensen, Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Allan McNish (Bentley too for Kristensen), Porsche for Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell, Ferrari for Olivier Gendebien, Matra for Henri Pescarolo, Toyota for Sébastien Buemi – with one exception: Yannick Dalmas, as we shall see elsewhere – even if his first Le Mans success was also a first for Peugeot.

Tom Kristensen or Jacky Ickx – who is “Mr Le Mans”?

Is "Mr Le Mans" necessarily the driver with most wins? As soon as he took the chequered flag on 19 June 2005 to pass Ickx’s mark, Kristensen was quick to insist that the Belgian ace should retain his moniker. With 15 victories between them, Ickx and Kristensen represent two generations and almost half a century of the 24 Hours of Le Mans legend from the former’s first appearance in 1966 to the latter’s bow in 2014. Whichever of the two is the true Mr Le Mans, it is unlikely that the title will be seized by anyone else any time soon.

Tom Kristensen (born on 7 July 1967) – 18 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1997 to 2014, nine wins (1997, 2000–05, 2008, 2013), five other podium places.

Jacky Ickx (born on 1 January 1945) – 15 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1966 to 1985, six wins (1969, 1975–77, 1981–82), three other podium places.

Derek Bell, the best of British

The most successful British driver ever at Le Mans, Bell exemplifies a certain idea of loyalty. First of all, he and Ickx formed one of the most outstanding pairs of drivers ever seen in the classic French marathon, winning three of the four races they participated in as a team. Bell then went on to win twice more, each time with American Al Holbert and Hans Joachim Stuck of Germany.

Derek Bell (born on 31 October 1941) – 26 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1970 to 1996, five wins (1975, 1981–82, 1986–87), four other podium places.

Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, partners in performance

The German and the Italian both have five Le Mans wins to their name, all achieved together! Like Kristensen, Biela and Pirro were among the pioneers of Audi’s winning streak, after participating in the marque’s maiden appearance in 1999. They scored their first three victories with the Danish record holder, before chalking up two more with German Marko Werner. These two wins with Werner were also the first for a Diesel-powered car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Emanuele Pirro (born on 12 January 1962) – 13 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1981 to 2010, five wins (2000–02, 2006–07), four other podium places.

Frank Biela (born on 2 August 1964) – 10 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1999 to 2008, five wins (2000–02, 2006–07), four other podium places.

Olivier Gendebien, the 24 Hours’ other King of Belgium

Thanks to Gendebien (from 1962 to 1980), and then Ickx (from 1981 to 2004), Belgian drivers held the record for most 24 Hours of Le Mans wins for over four decades. The first four-time winner in the history of the race, Gendebien was also one half of the first pairing (with American Phil Hill) to win the legendary French endurance race three times. After taking the wheel of a Porsche on his maiden appearance, Gendebien became the most successful Ferrari driver ever at the 24 Hours – a record that still stands today.

Olivier Gendebien (12 January 1924 to 2 October 1998) – eight starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1955 to 1962, four wins (1958, 1960–62), one other podium place.

Henri Pescarolo, the French legend

Pescarolo became part of 24 Hours legend before he ever won the race. In 1968, he put in an unforgettable night-time performance in the driving rain despite windscreen wiper failure. His four successes captured the hearts of the French public whose affection runs deeper than his place in the record books for most appearances in the race and his status as the only French driver to win three years in a row.

Henri Pescarolo (born on 25 September 1942) – 33 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1966 to 1999, four wins (1972–74, 1984).

Yannick Dalmas, Mr Versatility

Dalmas was indisputably one of the kingpins of sports car racing in the 1990s. He occupies a unique place in the Hall of Fame with four wins achieved in four different cars. This versatility, however, is as much a matter of circumstances as the reward for a talent that truly flourished on the Le Mans racetrack, and one that team leaders and manufacturers quickly snapped up. Today, Dalmas offers his experience to the FIA as Driver Advisor for the World Endurance Championship.

Yannick Dalmas (born on 28 July 1961) – 12 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1991 to 2002, four wins (1992, 1994–95, 1999), four other podium places.

Sébastien Buemi, the Swiss watch

From 1923 to 2010, no Swiss citizen had ever won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, in the twelve races from 2011 to 2022, a Swiss driver appeared on the highest step of the podium no fewer than eight time. In chronological order, they were Marcel Fässler (three wins), Neel Jani (one) and Sébastien Buemi, the latest inductee into the Hall of Fame on the back of his fourth triumph in 2022. At the age of 35, Buemi still has time on his side to go even further, given that Kristensen, Bell, Pirro, Biela and Pescarolo were all well over 40 years of age when they clinched their final win.

Sébastien Buemi (born on 31 October 1988) – 11 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2012, four wins (2018–2020, 2022), three other podium places.

Allan McNish, Scottish spirit

After an initial win in a Porsche 911 GT1 in 1998, the man from Dumfries joined Audi where he compiled one of the finest track records in endurance history, with two successive Le Mans wins. He also became one of the most popular drivers in the discipline with his blend of humour, charisma and skilful driving, with a few frights thrown into the mix, such as the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Allan McNish (born on 29 December 1969) – 14 starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1997 to 2013, three wins (1998, 2008, 2013), five other podium places.

PHOTOS (© ACO ARCHIVES) – FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: ACO President Pierre Fillon (left) and six former winners on the creation of the Hall of Fame in 2013, with (from left to right) Tom Kristensen, Derek Bell, Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela, Yannick Dalmas and Henri Pescarolo; Jacky Ickx also holds the record for the number of pole positions at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (five, including three  in a row); Olivier Gendebien (right) in 1959, when he was forced to retire from the 24 Hours of Le Mans; Sébastien Buemi at his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2022; Allan McNish (left) hung up his helmet in 2013 after his third Le Mans win.

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