In 1974, Jean Rondeau passed under the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a Porsche for the first time - finishing 19th in the 908 he shared with Christian Poirot -before going on to build his own cars as of 1976. After Renault's withdrawal in the wake of its win in 1978, two years later Rondeau became Porsche's main rival. In 1980, the prototype bearing his name and which he shared with Jean-Pierre Jaussaud traded the lead in the race repeatedly with the 908 of Jacky Ickx-Reinhold Joest (future win record-holders at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for drivers and outfit owners, respectively). On Sunday, the outcome of the battle was up in the air all the way to the end after gearbox problems in the morning for the Porsche and Jaussaud's spin in the rain less than an hour from the finish for the Rondeau.
In 1980, after having become the only driver at the 24 Hours to win in his own car, Rondeau was unable - despite notable obstinance - to impede the German manufacturer's rise in power and eventual domination at the 24 Hours with seven consecutive wins from 1981 to 1987. But four years after his victory, the Le Mans native claimed another podium finish at the 24 Hours...at the wheel of the Porsche 956. Along with American drivers, Preston Henn and John Paul, Jr., he finished second in 1984 behind Henri Pescarolo, one of his former drivers (pole position in 1980 with Jean Ragnotti and the Rondeau M379 B) and the winner at the wheel of another 956...entered by Reinhold Joest! This result basically brought full circle the stunning mutual history of Jean Rondeau and Porsche. Then in a fatal twist of fate, Jean Rondeau passed away on December 27, 1985...at the wheel of a Porsche 944 Turbo.
Click here for the preceding 45 Porsche stories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans article.
Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - Translation by Nikki Ehrhardt / ACO
Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY & SUNDAY JUNE 16 & 17 1984. Jean Rondeau, here at the wheel, on his way to reaching the second step on the podium for his next-to-last participation at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.