Before cell phones, radio links or computer reconfiguration directly controlled from the steering wheel, sometimes it was necessary for drivers to work on their own racing car trackside in order to resolve mechanical troubles. Just ask Henri Pescarolo.
1987: Premature retirement
In 1986 and 1987, Pescarolo played a role in Mercedes' return and the rise in power of Swiss constructor Peter Sauber with its Kouros-Mercedes prototypes. After a retirement in 1986, the following year the car he shared with Mike Thackwell and Hideki Okada experienced constant electrical problems before Pescarolo stopped in the Porsche Curves with a malfunctioning transmission.
A veteran of Paris-Dakar where resourcefulness and a sense of DIY can save the day, Pescarolo managed after more than an hour to restart his car thanks to a strap and a spark plug wrench. But, when he finally made it back to his garage, it was deserted. The mechanic who had joined him in the Porsche Curves (without having the right to intervene on the car) had told Peter Sauber the failure was irreparable. The latter had therefore signed the retirement sheet, had the garage emptied and loaded all the equipment into the team's truck!
Impressed by Pescarolo's composure and determination, the Race Director discarded the retirement sheet as the team set the garage back up for the #61 Kouros-Mercedes. The car eventually returned to the track but was forced to retire for good on Sunday morning with two flat tires.
1974: The mechanics of victory
Incredibly, the 1987 24 Hours was not Pescarolo's first experience working on his own car trackside. In 1974 on Sunday morning, the Matra he shared with Gérard Larrousse was comfortably dominating with an 11-lap lead on the Porsche Carrera of Gijs van Lennep/Herbert Müller. However, in the 19th hour, a gearbox problem caused the car to stop in the Mulsanne Straight. Pescarolo immediately checked out the engine, managed to engage third gear and return to his garage at a slowed pace.
Repairs were completed in a record 45 minutes, but when the #7 Matra regained the track, its lead had dwindled to just three minutes. The Porsche trailing the Matra was experiencing its own transmission troubles, so the podium was up for grabs up to the checkered flag. In the end, Pescarolo and Larrousse clinched their second consecutive win, and Pescarolo remains to this day the only French driver to win the 24 Hours three years in a row.
These two anecdotes are excellent proof of the strength of character of an extraordinary champion whose reputation for determination and fighting spirit was born during his nighttime laps in the rain without a wiper in 1968 (read installment 9 of the 24 Hours Stories).
PHOTO (Copyright - ACO ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 1987 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. The of Kouros-Mercedes of Henri Pescarolo (#61) ahead of one of the factory Jaguars. The two constructors attempted to contest the supremacy of Porsche before the marque won its 12th (seventh consecutive) 24 Hours that year.