24h Le Mans
24/07/2019 - 09:01

Bugatti at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1) – Three drivers for two wins

This year marks a dual celebration for Bugatti: the French constructor's 110th anniversary and the 80th anniversary of its second and final win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first installment in this series is dedicated to the drivers who took Bugatti to victory at the 1937 and 1939 runnings of the race: Jean-Pierre Wimille, Robert Benoist and Pierre Veyron.
Bugatti at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1) – Three drivers for two wins

All three are considered among the most brilliant drivers of the era between the two world wars, and also stand out for their involvement in World War II.

Jean-Pierre Wimille, two-time winner and constructor – Born on 26 February 1908, Jean-Pierre Wimille is a member of a very exclusive club: multiple winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans whose every participation culminated in triumph, moreover for the same constructor. He started out with Bugatti and won the 1936 French Grand Prix, quickly reaching the level of his great friend Robert Benoist, considered to be the best French driver of the period between the two world wars. Together they won the 1937 edition of the race. Two years later, they won a second time, along with Pierre Veyron. During World War II, Wimille and Benoist headed to England and joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the secret service created by Winston Churchill in 1940 when he became Prime Minister. After the war, Wimille returned to competition and even attempted to become a constructor: four units of a road car in his name were produced. He passed away on 28 January 1949 during the free practice at the Buenos Aires Grand Prix.

Robert Benoist, driver and patriot – Born on 20 March 1895, Robert Benoist first piloted recon planes and fighter jets during World War I. He joined Delage in 1924, winning the Automobile Club de France Grand Prix in 1925 and 1927. After Delage ended its involvement in competition, Benoist participated in his first and second 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928 and 1929 (finishing eighth with an Itala, sixth with a Chrysler), then took a break for a few years before returning behind the wheel of a Bugatti in 1934. Three years later, for his third and last start in the race, he led the French constructor to victory with Jean-Pierre Wimille. On the heels of that win, Benoist definitively retired as a driver. During World War II, he became a secret agent with the SOE. Arrested in Paris on 18 June 1944, Robert Benoist was deported to the Buchenwald camp where he was executed on 10 September 1944.

PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 19 & SUNDAY 20 JUNE 1937. The first Bugatti to win Le Mans, shared by Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist.

Pierre Veyron, living for Bugatti – Two years after clinching his first win at the 1930 Grand Prix of Geneva at the wheel of a French industrialist's Bugatti, Pierre Veyron (1903-1970) was recruited by the French constructor as a driver engineer. In nine participations between 1934 and 1953, Veyron took the start in the 24 Hours four times at the wheel of a Bugatti, with as a highpoint his 1939 victory shared with Jean-Pierre Wimille. Just like Wimille and Robert Benoist, Veyron was very active during World War II, earning the Légion d'Honneur in 1945. He participated in the race from 1949 to 1953, but failed to make it to the chequered flag. In 2005, seven years after the marque's rebirth under the aegis of the Volkswagen Group, Bugatti paid tribute to Veyron by giving his name to a car powered by a turbocompressed V16 engine with 1,001 hp. Up until 2015, 450 units were produced with a computer-controlled hydraulic system that adapted the aerodynamic configuration of the car according to its speed, lowering the ground clearance and deploying a rear spoiler. This onslaught of power and technology allowed it to exceed a top speed of 400 kph, a reflection of the excess that was Bugatti in the 1930s, and also the contribution Veyron made to the marque's history, particularly at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 17 & SUNDAY 18 JUNE 1939. Jean-Pierre Wimille (at left on the car) scored his second victory in as many participations in the 24 Hours, along with Pierre Veyron (to his left).