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24H Le Mans

Le Mans Flashback: 1983, Rondeau’s Big Push

A look back at Rondeau’s 1983 Le Mans effort with Ford…

Photo: Christian Vignon

Photo: Christian Vignon

By the end of the 1982 FIA World Sportscar Championship season, Jean Rondeau was in a financial pitfall.

The Frenchman, who became the first driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the car of his own construction in 1980, had lost Otis as its primary sponsor and was left hunting for new backing to keep his team, and dream afloat.

Help came from Ford, with the French division of the American automaker investing 4 million Francs ($700,000) to support the three Rondeau M482 Fords in the 1983 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Twenty one new employees were hired at Rondeau’s new factory in Le Mans, with a huge presence of French dealers were on hand to support the effort, complete with dealer incentives.

Despite an extensive testing program, having completed more than 12,000 kilometers, including a 24-hour test, the race did not go to plan in its quest to take the fight to the established Porsche 956s.

Two of the Cosworth-powered cars dropped out before midnight with engine failure, with the No. 24 car of Michel Ferte, Thierry Boutsen and Henri Pescarolo battling hub failure and an alternator change.

But that car too, soon hit engine issues, having retired in the early morning hours. “The most infuriating [thing] is being decimated on engine problems, which we could do nothing on,” Rondeau said afterwards.

Ford France boss Rudy Boniface admitted they let Rondeau down but supported the continuation of the program. That, however, did not happen.

However, Rondeau’s team was disbanded at the end of the year, although both the M379 and M482 continued competing at Le Mans through the late ’80s.

Rondeau, though, died in 1985 in a tragic railroad crossing accident just outside of Le Mans. He was 39 years old.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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