24 Hours of Le Mans – Belgium still a major contender

24 Hours of Le Mans – Belgium still a major contender

The 24 Hours of Le Mans win record holder between 1962 and 2005 thanks to Olivier Gendebien's four victories and Jacky Ickx's six, Belgium has recently added remarkable chapters to its history at the race. Here is a recap ahead of the penultimate European Le Mans Series round at Spa-Francorchamps.

Though the most recent overall win at Le Mans for a Belgian driver dates back to Jacky Ickx's victory in 1982, the heir apparents of the six-time winner – namely Olivier Gendebien, brothers Lucien Bianchi and Mauro Bianchi, Christine Beckers, Didier Theys, Thierry Boutsen and Eric van de Poele – have given remarkable performances in recent years, not least of which is Team WRT at the 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans.

2021 | Team WRT, a memorable debut – Vincent Vosse and his troops will not soon forget their first 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. The Belgian team seemed on its way to a one-two when, just a few minutes from the checkered flag, LMP2 class leader Yifei Ye came to a stop on the track with a failed accelerator sensor. Suddenly in the lead at the wheel of the sister car, Robin Frijns snatched the LMP2 win just 727 thousandths of a second ahead of JOTA's #28 ORECA. While winning one's rookie 24 Hours is already an accomplishment in and of itself, Team WRT came extremely close to another feat: clinching a one-two at Le Mans with two LMP2s entered in two different championships. 24 Hours winners Robin Frijns/Ferdinand Habsburg/Charles Miles compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship, while their teammates Delétraz/Robert Kubica/Yifei Ye take part in the European Le Mans Series, the penultimate 2021 round of which is this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.

2019-2021 | Stoffel Vandoorne, two podiums in as many participations – In two starts, Stoffel Vandoorne finished on the podium in two different classes. In 2019, he finished third overall at the wheel of Russian team SMP Racing's BR Engineering LMP1 prototype. Last year, with British outfit JOTA, the Belgian driver and teammates Tom Blomqvist and Sean Gelael reached second place in LMP2. Vandoorne is also working on new endurance racing technologies along with Frenchman Norman Nato and Monaco native Stéphane Richelmi relative to the development of the ACO's hydrogen-electric prototype for Mission H24.

2021 | Nigel Bailly, a lesson in willpower – Driving a Filière Frédéric Sausset prototype for disabled drivers, last month Nigel Bailly crossed the finish line at his first 24 Hours. The Belgian driver and teammate Takuma Aoki, both paraplegic, joined forces with experienced racer Matthieu Lahaye who boasts two LMP2 podiums at Le Mans (third in 2008, second in 2010). The trio brought its ORECA to 32nd place overall without any major setbacks.

2011-2021 | Vanina Ickx and Sarah Bovy, Belgian female drivers making their mark – Exactly 10 years ago, for her seventh and final participation in the 24 Hours, Vanina Ickx scored her best result ever at the race, a seventh place overall finish at the wheel of an Aston Martin shared with fellow countrymen Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin. In 2021, Sarah Bovy joined forces with Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting, a trio nicknamed the "Iron Dames," within the Iron Lynx team and finished ninth in LMGTE Am with a Ferrari 488 GTE.

2017-2018 | Laurens and Dries Vanthoor, winning siblings – Experts in GT racing, the Vanthoor brothers have both recently made their marks at the 24 Hours. Dries (born in 1998) was the first to triumph. For his rookie participation in 2017, he won the LMGTE Am class at the wheel of a Ferrari along with Rob Smith and Will Stevens. The following year, his big brother Laurens (born in 1991) won LMGTE Pro at the wheel of a Porsche 911 RSR shared with Kévin Estre and Michael Christensen.

2020 | Maxime Martin, from one generation to the next – After first participating in the 24 Hours in LMP1 then LMP2 prototypes, Maxime Martin then became a factory Aston Martin driver. In 2020, his victory in LMGTE Pro with Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell brought him to the level of his father Jean-Michel and his uncle Philippe, third overall and class winners in 1980 with a Rondeau prototype. That year, they teamed up with British driver Gordon Spice who passed away on 10 September.


PHOTOS: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE, CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS 2017-2021. From top to bottom: the ORECAs of Team WRT (#31), JOTA (#28) and the Filière Frédéric Sausset (#84); "Iron Dame" Sarah Bovy ready to hit the track; the Ferrari of Dries Vanthoor (#84) in 2017 and the Porsche (#92) of his brother Laurens in 2018; the factory Aston Martin Vantage AMR (#97) of Maxime Martin in 2020.