The 80th Le Mans 24 Hours is an opportunity to revisit a great sporting heritage. Today we look back to the reign of a Belgian at Le Mans in the 60s, with a tribute to Lucien Bianchi (1934-1969), winner in La Sarthe in 1968.
Like the Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas, four Belgians stood on the top step of the podium at Le Mans 24 Hours five times between 1960 and 1969: Olivier Gendebien, Paul Frere, Jacky Ickx, and also Lucien Bianchi. An Italian-born immigrant to Belgium, son of an Alfa Romeo engineer, he was a driver who was reliable and versatile, winning the Tour Auto four times for Ferrari (1957-58-59-64). Note that he shared his first three victories with Olivier Gendebien, the first four-time winner at Le Mans. Lucien Bianchi also won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1962, also in a Ferrari, with the Swede Jo Bonnier.
His success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was hard won. His first twelve attempts included no less than ten retirements, his best result being a fifth place in 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO, with compatriot Jean Blaton gentleman driver called "Beurlys". In 1968, his thirteenth 24 hours it was his time. He joined his Mexican team-mate Pedro Rodriguez (who replaced Jacky Ickx) driving the John Wyer Ford GT40. Lucien Bianchi replaced Brian Redman who was injured at the Belgian Grand Prix. This unique pairing did not take long to establish, and they won the 24 Hours despite disruption by rain, especially at night. This thirteenth participation was unfortunately his last. On the 30th of March 1969, Lucien Bianchi was killed in an Alfa Romeo during preliminary testing of Le Mans 24 Hours.
Today the Bianchi family continues in racing: Julius, born in 1989 in Nice, grand-son of Mauro's younger brother Lucien (six appearances in the 24 Hours of Le Mans), is now the third driver of the Force India team in Formula 1.