AUGUST 11, 2008

Following the family tradition

Belgian Jules Bianchi has had a reputation for being rather wild in his two seasons of car racing to date, but on Sunday he outshone his ART Formula 3 team-mates to win the Masters event at Zolder. The much talked about Nico Hulkenberg ended up second ahead of a third ART car of Jon Lancaster.

Bianchi comes from celebrated racing stock. His grandfather Mauro and great-uncle Lucien were both top level racers in the 1960s. The sons of an Alfa Romeo mechanic, who was sent to Belgium to work in racing for jazz musician Johnny Claes, the pair grew up in Belgium and Lucien shot to fame with victory on the Alpine Rally in 1951 when he was just 17 years old. Money was always a problem but Bianchi worked himself into a position to be competitive in sports car events, notably the Tour de France which he won in 1957 with Olivier Gendebien. He followed up with further wins in 1958 and 1959. He won the Paris 1000 at Montlhery twice and in 1960 tried his hand in Formula 1 with an out of date Cooper and the uncompetitive Emeryson. He returned to more success in sports cars with a third win in the Paris 1000 , plus a win at Sebring before a return to F1 with Cooper-BRM team. Soon afterwards he won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Pedro Rodriguez in a Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40.

Early in 1969 he was killed while testing an Alfa Romeo sportscar at Le Mans, after a suffered a mechanical failure on the Mulsanne Straight.

The Le Mans circuit also ended Mauro's career. He did well in French national racing and even tested an Alpine F1 prototype, but his career was cut short with a fiery accident at Le Mans in 1968, which left him with serious burns. He later started his own engineering business which enjoyed much success. Jules is Mauro's grandson.