In 2017, Ferrari celebrated its 70th anniversary. The first chapters of its stunning history unfolded at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a first success in 1949. Among the drivers who won Ferrari's nine victories at Le Mans between 1949 and 1965, Frenchman Jean Guichet holds a very special place, one of gentleman-driver originally a Ferrari client who turned factory driver and went on to triumph at the 24 Hours.
On August 10th, Jean Guichet celebrated his 90th birthday. A remarkable age that makes him the dean of still-living former 24 Hours of Le Mans winners. His next in line is German driver Hans Herrmann, winner in 1970, who will celebrate his 90th this coming February 23rd.
When Ferrari won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for its very first participation, in 1949, Jean Guichet was 22 years old: "I was an industrialist already interested in motorsport and already participating in rally racing. I had heard about the 24 Hours in the press. What intrigued me is that at Le Mans you had to know how to go fast without breaking the car, without damaging the brakes, etc. All that made the 24 Hours very attractive to drivers."
Jean Guichet raced a Ferrari for the first time at Le Mans in 1961. During that fourth participation, a fruitful association was kicked off with Pierre Noblet. In three starts, the duo finished third in 1961, then second the next year, at the wheel of the mythical Ferrari 250 GTO. "Pierre Noblet and I ran together always keeping in mind it was necessary to preserve the car for 24 hours, never going beyond the strategy we had defined together and more specifically that one never tried to go faster than the other," explains Jean Guichet.
In 1964, Jean Guichet was a factory Ferrari driver. "Enzo Ferrari noticed me because I was competing in races at the wheel of Ferraris I had bought myself as a client and I had an excellent relationship with him," says Jean Guichet who formed, at the wheel of the #20 Ferrari 275 P, an outstanding driver duo with Sicilian native Nino Vaccarella. Guichet ran a shipyard in Marseille, while Vaccarella was a maths professor at a private college in Palermo: "Nino and I got to know each other during races in which we were both competing, and we hit it off. We were always on the same page in terms of how to avoid pushing a car too far. There was absolutely no ill will between us, we got along just great."
On June 21, 1964, Jean Guichet became the first Frenchman to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans since Maurice Trintignant 10 years earlier. This French-Sicilian collaboration even resulted in a new distance record (4,965 km at an average of 195 km/h). In 1965, 1966 and 1967, these last three participations at the wheel of a Ferrari amounted to as many retirements. But the win secured by Jean Guichet in 1964 proved to be a prelude of sorts to the great return of French drivers at the summit of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (namely thanks to Matra whom he joined in 1969). Today Jean Guichet holds a very special place in the Ferrari pantheon.
You can read this conversation with Jean Guichet in its entirety in the no. 4 edition of Spirit of Le Mans, the official magazine of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Click here to learn more.
Click before for previous installments in this series about Ferrari pioneers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): At the wheel of the Ferrari GTO, today one of the most coveted collection cars in the world, Jean Guichet finished second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1962 (pictured here), then won the Tour Auto the following year.