DRIVERS: WALT HANSGEN
Name: Walt Hansgen
Nationality: United States of America
Date of birth: October 28, 1919 - New Jersey
Date of death: April 7, 1966 - Le Mans
Born in a small town in New Jersey, not far from New York City, Hansgen grew up watching races at the local speedways. He did not start racing himself until the 1950s when he was working with his father in a body shop in his home town. He borrowed money from his mother and bought a Jaguar XK120. This was not very competitive but Hansgen showed his pace and in 1952 shared an MG with Randy Pearsall to finish 10th at Sebring.
He then decided to build his own car for the SCCA series, using some of the parts from the Jaguar. This was debuted at Cumberland in 1953 and won straight away. Victories followed at Bridgehampton and finally in September that year at Watkins Glen. He then sold the Hansgen Special and bought a Jaguar C-Type. He raced Jaguars for the next couple of years finally getting noticed by Briggs Cunningham in 1956 at Cumberland where he won in a Jaguar D-Type. He was hired by Cunningham a fortnight later.
Cunningham, Hansgen and mechanic Alfred Momo would soon become the dominant force in East Coast road racing. For four consecutive years he won the SCCA 'C' modified title in Cunningham Jaguars. In 1958 he tried his hand in Europe with a variety of different machinery and did well. He then returned to the US and began racing open-wheelers with a Formula Junior Cooper. There were more international chances as well with a prototype Jaguar which he shared with Dan Gurney at Le Mans in 1960.
After winning a number of races in Formula Junior, Hansgen had a chance at F1 in 1961 when Cunningham agreed to enter him in a Cooper in the United States GP. He qualified 14th and was doing well in the race until he went off in order to avoid a spinning Olivier Gendebien and wrote off the car. A year later he took part in the non-championship Mexican GP and again did well but retired with mechanical trouble.
After that he went back to sports cars and won races in Cunningham's Cooper-Buick before joining John Mecom in 1964. That year he went to Indianapolis and qualified 10th for the 500 in his MG-Liquid Suspension Special and he ran as high as second until mechanical troubles slowed him. Later in the year, Hansgen returned to F1 with a third Lotus in the United States GP in which he finished fifth.
That year he also had outings in NASCAR and began to help a young New Jersey driver called Mark Donohue. He had become a BMC dealer by this time and helped to convince the company to put Donohue into an MG. Later Hansgen talked Mecom into letting Donohue co-drive a Ferrari 275 at Sebring and finally got Donohue a drive in a GT40 at Le Mans. Early in 1966 he and Donohue shared a Holman Moody Ford GT MKII at Sebring and finished second
Hansgen then went to Indianapolis to test the new Mecom Lola Indycar before flying to France for the Le Mans test day. Pushing too hard he went off up an escape road only to find that two large piles of sand had been left there. The car flipped and Hansgen suffered series head injuries from which he died five days later.