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Jean Rondeau (Le Mans, France, 13 May 1946 - Champagné, France, 27 December 1985) was a French race car driver and constructor, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1980, in a car bearing his own name, an achievement which remains unique in the history of the race.
Rondeau drove briefly in Formula Renault before moving to saloon cars. He raced a handful of Le Mans events as a guest driver before forming the Inaltera team in 1976. After the wallpaper company withdrew its sponsorship, Rondeau went alone with his Ford-powered GTP cars in 1978, scoring a coup by hiring Henri Pescarolo for his team in 1979.
Rondeau and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud took victory in the 1980 24 Hours of Le Mans after fighting hard against the Porsche 908/80 of Jacky Ickx and Reinhold Joest. Rondeau remains the only man to win the race in a car bearing his own name and design. After teammates Pescarolo and Jean Ragnotti retired with engine problems during the night, Rondeau and Jaussaud took overall victory by a margin of two laps.
Rondeau's factory, similarly to those of Courage and Henri Pescarolo, was based near Le Mans. The Rondeau M379B that won the 1980 Le Mans race was powered by a Ford-Cosworth V8 engine, as were all cars constructed by the team. In 1981 he entered five cars, finishing 2nd and 3rd. However, this was overshadowed by the death of Jean-Louis Lafosse in the early hours of the race after crashing out on the Hunaudieres straight. Rondeau would never again approach those heights with his own cars; 1982 saw all three works M382's outed before half distance, while his three all-new M482 cars retired early as well. Rondeau's team was wound up at the end of 1983.
Before that, Rondeau's team had suffered disappointment in 1982 when he believed he had won the Manufacturers' title in the World Endurance Championship. However, an FIA ruling allowed Porsche to claim points from a privately entered 911 at the Nurburgring race, which gave the title to the German-based company. Rondeau's main sponsor, elevator company Otis, were so incensed that they withdrew sponsorship of the French concern. The team was never to overcome this setback.
The Rondeau car was last seen at Le Mans in 1988 in privately run hands; Henri Pescarolo has since occasionally run one of the M379B's in historic competition. A total of 19 Rondeau chassis were constructed, of which 17 remain in existence.
Rondeau was killed when his car was hit by a train outside Champagné. He had been following a police car across the train tracks - while the boom gates were down - and his car was hit by the train that the gates had closed for.
|Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
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