24h Le Mans
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest remembers Bob Bondurant
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest is saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Bondurant. The American driver entered the racing hall of fame by winning a class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964.
Born on 23 April 1933 in Illinois (Evanston), Bob Bondurant first started out in moto before switching to racing cars in 1956. After a string of wins on the west coast of the U.S. with Chevrolet Corvette, he drew the attention of Carroll Shelby in the early 1960s. Winner at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans with Aston Martin, Shelby had become a constructor and was looking for talented competitors to drive his Cobras. Bondurant made his mark once again in the U.S., at the wheel of a Cobra Daytona Coupe in 1963, before hitting the world stage the following year in the World Marques Championship.
In 1964, for his first start in the 24 Hours, he teamed up with Dan Gurney, at the time considered the fastest American driver competing in Europe. In the #5 Cobra Daytona, the American duo finished fourth overall, and in their class beat the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, undeniably the top GT at Le Mans at the time.
Bondurant participated in the 24 Hours three more times, with a Ford GT40 in 1965, a Ferrari 365 P2 in 1966 and a Chevrolet Corvette in 1967, but was forced to retire at each running.
Having served as an advisor to actor James Garner on the set of Grand Prix in 1966, he formed a driving school in 1968 called the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. One of his students was a certain Paul Newman, a major car racing enthusiast after doing the movie Virages during the 1968 Indianapolis 500. Newman went on to win his class and claim the second step on the overall podium at the 1979 24 Hours.
During his four Le Mans participations, Bondurant worked with two American driver winners at the 24 Hours, teammates Dan Gurney (in 1964) and Masten Gregory (in 1966) who won the race in 1967 and 1965, respectively.
Bondurant even enjoyed posterity in the world of Franco-Belgian comics. In 1966, he appeared in Michel Vaillant's album Concerto pour pilotes which features a meeting at the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit between the driver imagined by Jean Graton and the Thunderbirds aerial acrobatic patrol of the U.S. Air Force.
To his family and loved ones, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest offers its sincerest condolences.