Olivier Jean Marie Fernand Gendebien (12 January 1924 – 2 October 1998) was a Belgian racing driver who was called "one of the greatest sportscar racers of all time".
Gendebien spent some years in the Belgian Congo. On his return to Europe he teamed up with Fraikin to compete in the 1952 Liège–Rome–Liège Rally using a Jaguar Mk VII saloon car. Together with Pierre Stasse, Gendebien won the sixth running of the Tulip Rally in Zandvoort in April 1954. Their car was an Alfa Romeo 1900 TI. The Gendebien and Fraiken partnership gained the nickname "the eternal bridesmaids", owing to their number of second-place finishes, but after two previous attempts they triumphed in the Liège–Rome–Liège Rally, the Coppa d'Oro delle Dolomiti and Rally Stella Alpina in 1955, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SL. In 1956 Olivier Gendebien and Pierre Stasse finished in third place driving a Ferrari 250 GT Europa (Nr 0373).
Formula One driver
Gendebien's success in rally competitions brought him to the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who offered him a contract to drive a Ferrari in sports car events and selected Grands Prix. Much respected as a true gentleman by everyone who knew him, he remained a member of the Ferrari team until he retired from racing. Enzo Ferrari summed him up as "a gentleman who never forgets that noblesse oblige and, when he is at the wheel, he translates this code of behaviour into an elegant and discerning forcefulness."
During his career he competed in only 15 Formula One races as most of the time he was Ferrari's spare driver, filling in only occasionally. He nonetheless scored points in five races, and was only one place away from a points-scoring finish on a further two occasions.
He made his début at the 1956 Argentine Grand Prix, with the Ferrari team, but it was during a stint driving for the British Racing Partnership's Yeoman Credit Racing team in 1960 that Gendebien scored his best finishes; he took second in the 1960 French Grand Prix and third in front of a home crowd at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix.
The second of these was a somewhat bitter-sweet success, as Gendebien's team-mate at the time, Chris Bristow, was killed in an accident during the race. Gendebien himself walked away with slight injuries in October 1961 after his Lotus-Climax failed to negotiate a turn during practice for the 1961 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, New York. The car flipped over and Gendebien's shoes were torn off by the impact.
Sports car competition
However, it was in sports car racing, particularly the long distance and endurance events, where Gendebien excelled. Piloting a 2.5-litre Ferrari, Gendebien teamed up with Maurice Trintignant to place third in the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans. They were seven laps behind the winners, privateer Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar drivers Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson. The 1958 Grand Prix of Buenos Aires was a 1,000 kilometre event in which Gendebien paired with Wolfgang von Trips. They finished second to a fellow Ferrari pairing Phil Hill and Peter Collins. In the race Argentine Maserati driver, Jorge Magnasco, died after his car skidded and turned over.
The same year he partnered Hill and won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. Their victory came in a 3-litre Ferrari and secured the World Sportscar Championship for the Ferrari factory. They covered 2,511 miles with an average speed of 107 miles per hour. Hill became the first American to win the event and their Ferrari was the sole factory-sponsored car running at the end. Ferrari drivers took the first three positions at the conclusion of the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans and, as they were to be again the following year, Hill and Gendebien were first, averaging 115.89 miles per hour, and establishing a race record. The duo were a natural fit and together they won the Le Mans race three times in total, with Gendebien winning it a fourth time, partnered by fellow Belgian Paul Frère in 1960. Gendebien's record number of Le Mans victories was not exceeded until 1981, when fellow-Belgian Jacky Ickx won for the fifth time.
Away from Circuit de la Sarthe, Gendebien also triumphed in the Targa Florio (1958, '61, '62), the 12 Hours of Sebring (1959, '60, '61), the 12 Hours of Reims (1957, '58) and the 1000 km Nürburgring (1962). When asked about the key to winning as a race car driver, Gendebien responded: "It is a matter of taking the corners a little faster than one would want." In honour of Gendebien's three wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the turn onto the Ullman straight is named after him. He also won the Dolomites Cup, a one-lap sportscar race that took place on a 188-mile circuit in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy.
Major race victories
- Tour of Sicily : 1957
- Tour de France Automobile : 1957, 1958, 1959
- Reims 12 Hours : 1957, 1958
- Targa Florio : 1958, 1961, 1962
- 12 Hours of Sebring : 1959, 1960, 1961
- 24 hours of Le Mans : 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962
- 1000km Nürburgring : 1962
Post race life
Married with three children, Gendebien's wife pressured him to get out of the dangerous sport of automobile racing where more than two dozen of his competitors had died at the wheel. At 38 years of age, in 1962 Olivier Gendebien retired following his fourth victory at Le Mans. Independently wealthy, and an avid skier, tennis player, and equestrian rider, he devoted the rest of his life to running a variety of businesses. In 1998 King Albert II awarded him the Belgian Order of the Crown.
Complete Formula One World Championship results
|1955||Equipe Nationale Belge||Ferrari 625||Ferrari Straight-4||ARG||MON||500||BEL
|1956||Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari 555||Ferrari L4||ARG
|Lancia-Ferrari D50||Lancia V8||FRA
|1958||Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari Dino 246||Ferrari V6||ARG||MON||NED||500||BEL
|1959||Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari Dino 246||Ferrari V6||MON||500||NED||FRA
|1960||Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari Dino 246||Ferrari V6||ARG
|Yeoman Credit Racing Team||Cooper T51||Climax L4||BEL
|1961||Equipe Nationale Belge||Emeryson Mk2||Maserati L4||MON
|Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari 156||Ferrari V6||BEL
|UDT-Laystall Racing Team||Lotus 18/21||Climax L4||USA
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)
|1956||Scuderia Ferrari||Ferrari 555||Ferrari||BUE
|1957||Scuderia Ferrari||Lancia D50||Lancia V8||BUE||SYR||PAU||GLV||NAP||RMS
|1961||Equipe Nationale Belge||Emeryson Mk2||Maserati L4||LOM||GLV||PAU
Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results
|1955||Ecurie Belge||Wolfgang Seidel||Porsche 550 RS Spyder||S
|1956||Scuderia Ferrari||Maurice Trintignant||Ferrari 625 LM||S
|1957||Scuderia Ferrari||Maurice Trintignant||Ferrari 250 TR||S
|1958||Scuderia Ferrari||Phil Hill||Ferrari 250 TR/58||S
|1959||Scuderia Ferrari||Phil Hill||Ferrari 250 TR/59||S
|1960||Scuderia Ferrari||Paul Frère||Ferrari 250 TR/59/60||S
|1961||SEFAC Ferrari||Phil Hill||Ferrari 250 TRI/61||S
|1962||SEFAC Ferrari||Phil Hill||Ferrari 330 TRI/LM||E
Complete 12 Hours of Sebring results
|1957||Scuderia Ferrari||Maurice Trintignant||Ferrari 250 TR||S5.0||109||DNF|
|1958||Scuderia Ferrari||Luigi Musso||Ferrari 250 TR 58||S3.0||199||2nd||2nd|
|1959||Scuderia Ferrari|| Dan Gurney
|Ferrari 250 TR 59||S3.0||188||1st||1st|
|1960||Joakim Bonnier||Hans Herrmann||Porsche 718 RS60||S1.6||196||1st||1st|
|1961||Sefac Automobile Ferrari||Phil Hill||Ferrari 250 TRI/61||S3.0||210||1st||1st|
|1962||North American Racing Team||Phil Hill||Ferrari 250 GTO||GT3.0||196||2nd||1st|
Complete 24 Hours of Daytona results
|1962||Scuderia Serenissima||Ferrari 250 GT SWB||GT3.0||75||16th||3rd|
- Cooper, A. 1998. Obituary: Olivier Gendebien. Motor Sport, LXXIV/11 (November 1998), 4
- "Belgians Win Auto Race". The New York Times. 1 May 1954. p. 20.
- "Olivier Gendebien". motorsportmemorial.org. Retrieved 24 October 2009.
- "Driver: Gendebien, Olivier". Autocourse Grand Prix Archive. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
- "Belgian Racing Ace Crashes". Los Angeles Times. 7 October 1961. p. A1.
- "Flockhart and Sanderson Take Le Mans Auto Endurance Race". The New York Times. 30 July 1956. p. 26.
- "Auto Race Driver Dies of Injuries". The New York Times. 27 January 1958. p. 31.
- "Hill of California and Gendebien Triumph With Ferrari in Le Mans". The New York Times. 23 June 1958. p. 30.
- "First Three At Le Mans All Ferraris". The Times. 12 June 1961. p. 4.
- "Life in a Sports Car". Los Angeles Times. 2 October 1961. p. C1.
- "Olivier Gendebien". grandprix.com. 5 October 1998. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
- Hill, Phil (20 April 2017). "Phil Hill on the Iconic Ferrari 250 GTO". Road & Track. Retrieved 28 August 2019.