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Henri Pescarolo and Le Mans (3) - 1970-1974, en route for victory

After his accident in 1969, Pescarolo returned to drive at Le Mans every year for the following thirty years. He later became a team owner and “trainer of champions”.

However, at the dawn of the 1970s, he was still far from taking the title. In 1970 and 1971, he was forced to pull out of the race early, plagued with engine issues both times. Worse still, after its flop at Le Mans in 1970 (none of the three cars fielded saw the chequered flag), Matra only entered one car the next year and Pescarolo was temporarily laid off by Jean-Luc Lagardère, head of the racing programme. The French driver still took part in the 1971 24-hour race but at the wheel of a Ferrari 512 prototype instead.

In 1972, Matra finally seemed to hit on the right combination of men and machines to reach Jean-Luc Lagardère’s goal for victory. Pescarolo remembers: "That year, when I went back to Matra to help them win, I was paired with Graham Hill." The British racing driver had one of the finest trophy hauls in motorsport history, including five wins at the Monaco Grand Prix. "He was a living legend – he’d been Formula One world champion [in 1962 and 1968] and winner of the Indy 500 [in 1966],” Pescarolo goes on. “Given his age [Graham Hill was 43 at the time], I thought he wouldn’t really want to take any risks. In fact, he turned out to be quite an extraordinary character and, through the rain and the night-time stints, he made all the difference for the win!” After Pescarolo’s own exploit driving through the deluge in the night with no wipers (in 1968, see the second episode in our saga), the rain turned out to be his ally. He finally claimed his first Le Mans win after a splendid tussle with the sister car driven by François Cevert and Howden Ganley.

In 1973, Pescarolo teamed up with Gérard Larrousse for the first time."Gérard and I immediately hit it off. Like me, he got behind the wheel to win and not for his own personal gain. For example, when he achieved a good time during qualifying, I wouldn’t go back on the track to try and outdo him." Their extraordinary complicity was crucial to their success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, helping them to fend off the challenge from the Ferrari driven by Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman and take victory.

In 1974, Pescarolo ran into gearbox issues towards the end of the race. After pulling up on the Mulsanne straight and diving under the bonnet to carry out some makeshift repairs, he nursed the car back to the garage. Despite losing their previously comfortable lead, Pescarolo and Larrousse managed to stay in front and take a second consecutive win. In fact, it was the third for Pescarolo who remains the only French driver to have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in a row.

But there was much more to come over the next quarter of a century… as we will find out in the next instalment!

See the previous instalments in our saga:

Part 1: 1966–1967, the discovery

Part 2: 1968–1969, the exploit and the accident

 

Translated from French by Clair Pickworth

 

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