Bob Bondurant is an American former racing driver and a founder of the famous Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.
He raced mostly in the USA but also spent one full season in the Formula One World Championship in 1966. In total, he recorded nine F1 starts over two years. He participated four times at 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing best in 1964 in the fourth place overall, and the winner of GT class, together with Dan Gurney in a Shelby Cobra Daytona.
He opened the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in 1968. After changing several locations, the School is today located in Chandler, Arizona.
The first racing steps with Indian motorcycle on dirt ovals
Born in April 1933 in Evanston, Illinois, Robert 'Bob' Bondurant started his racing career at the age 18, riding Indian motorcycle on dirt ovals. Five years later, in 1956, he switched to sports car racing at the wheel of Morgan Plus 4. He also raced in an Austin-Healey, Triumph TR2, Ferrari 166 MM over the next couple of years.
In 1958, he started to race in a Chevrolet Corvette C1 and in 1959 he scored his first great success, winning the West Coast "B" Production Championship after 18 wins in 20 races.
Racing in a Chevrolet Corvette until 1963
Bondurant raced in a variety of cars in 1960 but his main job was to drive a Chevrolet Corvette C1 for Santa Barbara Chevrolet dealer Shelly Washburn. He was especially remembered for his performance in the #614 Corvette Stingray, winning numerous races all over America.
Among his commitments in sports car races, Bondurant made one start in NASCAR Grand National, driving a Chevrolet at Riverside International Raceway in November 1963. He crashed out after 44 laps.
Driving for Caroll Shelby since 1963
His last year at the wheel of Corvette was 1963 because he was noticed by Carroll Shelby, who invited Bondurant to drive for his Shelby American team. Bondurant's first race in a Shelby Cobra was in August 1963 in the US Road Racing Championship event at the Continental Divide Raceway. Bondurant finished fifth overall and the winner in GT class.
Later that season, he scored GT class win at Road America and an overall victory at Riverside International Raceway in October.
1964 - GT class podium at Sebring, victory at Le Mans
In 1964, Bondurant started a season with GT class podium (2nd place) at Sebring 12 Hours, sharing the #12 Shelby Cobra roadster with Lew Spencer. He then went to Europe, racing at Targa Florio with Phil Hill (DNF), Spa 500 Km (GT class win), Nurburgring 1000 km with Jochen Neerpasch (DNF) and finally at Le Mans 24 Hours.
In his debut at Circuit de la Sarthe, Bondurant was sharing the #5 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe with Dan Gurney. They were winners of GT class and fourth overall, behind three Ferrari prototypes. Later in 1964, Bondurant scored a couple of wins with Shelby Cobra roadster in the European hillclimb races.
World endurance champion with Shelby and Ford in 1965
In 1965, Bondurant continued to drive for Shelby American and Ford, contributing to a victory in the FIA International Championship for GT Manufacturers. He participated in seven victorious races against Ferrari 250 GTOs in Europe.
Bondurant and Richie Ginther finished third overall at Daytona 2000 Km race in a Ford GT40. After that, Bondurant and Jo Schlesser scored GT class victory at Sebring 12h in a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. At Le Mans 24h, he was sharing the #7 Ford GT40 with Umberto Maglioli, not finishing the race.
Two starts in the 1965 Formula One World Championship
Besides being successful in sports car racing, Bondurant made a Formula 1 debut in 1965. In October, he joined North American Racing Team in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Driving the #24 Ferrari 158, he finished in the ninth place, four laps behind race winner Graham Hill (BRM).
Three weeks later, Bondurant participated in his second F1 Grand Prix race in Mexico, driving Reg Parnell's #22 Lotus 33-Climax. He didn't finish the race. Outside F1, Bondurant participated in several Formula 2 races in Europe that year.
Full season in the 1966 Formula 1 World Championship
In 1966, Bondurant continued to combine sports car races and Formula 1. He spent almost the entire season in Formula 1 World Championship, participating in seven out of nine events. In five races, he was driving a BRM P261 for Bernard White's Team Chamaco Collect. Bondurant scored his career-best F1 result at Monaco Grand Prix, finishing in the fourth place. Later he recorded DNFs in Belgium and Germany, finished 9th at Brands Hatch and 7th at Monza.
For the last two rounds, he joined Dan Gurney's Anglo American Racers. He drove Climax-powered Eagle T1G at Watkins Glen and then the famous Eagle-Weslake V12 in Mexico. He was disqualified in the US Grand Prix and retired at Mexican Grand Prix.
Racing with Ferrari in 1966 sports car events
In sports car racing, Bondurant served mostly as a Ferrari driver in 1966. He and Jochen Rindt finished 9th in the inaugural Daytona 24 Hours, driving the #22 NART Ferrari 250 LM. At Sebring 12 Hours, Bondurant and Mike Parkes retired in a Ferrari 330 P3. At Le Mans, he and Masten Gregory retired after 88 laps in a Ferrari 365 P2.
Bondurant also made several appearances with other manufacturers. He and David Piper won Brands Hatch 500 Miles in a Shelby Cobra. At Nurburgring 1000 Km, Bondurant finished fourth together with Paul Hawkins in a Porsche 906. He was on a podium at Martini Trophy at Silverstone, finishing second with McLaren Elva MkII.
Driving trainer to famous actor James Garner
Parallel to his racing activities, Bondurant served as a technical consultant to movie director John Frankenheimer who was filming the 'Grand Prix' movie. A part of Bondurant job was also to teach famous actor James Garner how to drive Formula cars in race sequences.
An experience from that job gave Bob an idea to establish a racing school and two years later, in 1968, he founded the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. The school's first base was t Orange County International Raceway.
1967 - one more last start at Le Mans and accident at Watkins Glen
In 1967, Bondurant was driving McLaren Elva MkIII-Chevrolet in USRRC events for Dana Chevrolet Inc., scoring several DNFs and second place at Riverside. In June, he went to Europe to participate at Le Mans 24 Hours. He was sharing the #8 Chevrolet Corvette with Dick Guldstrand. They led GT class until engine failure stopped them after 13 hours of racing.
In the next race, two weeks later at Watkins Glen, Bondurant suffered nasty injuries after crashing with McLaren when the steering arm broke at 150 mph approaching the Loop-Chute section. His car flipped eight times. He luckily survived but doctors told him he would likely never walk again. They were wrong because he recovered.
Returning to racing in 1969
While recovering from injuries, Bob founded a racing school in 1968. He returned to racing in 1969, participating at Baja 500 off-road race with co-driver Tony Murphy, taking the first place in the passenger car class with an SC/Rambler.
Bondurant returned to circuit racing in 1970, driving a Lola T160-Chevrolet in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am). In March 1971, he participated in Formula 1 non-championship Questor Grand Prix at Ontario Motor Speedway, not finishing the race in a Lola T192-Chevrolet. In the 1971 Can-Am season, he raced in a McLaren M8E/D-Chevrolet.
Podium at 1979 Sebring 12 Hours
Bondurant was out of racing for a couple of years and then returned in 1974, participating in selected races in a Porsche 911 Carrera RSR. He and George Dyer finished second at Ontario 4 Hours.
In 1977, he started at Sebring 12 Hours with Ramsey Ferrari of San Francisco team, not finishing the race in a Ferrari 365 GTB/4. In 1978, he raced in two cars at Daytona 24 Hours, in a Ferrari 308 GTB and Datsun 260 Z, retiring in both cars.
In 1979, he came again to Sebring, finishing third overall in Dick Barbour Racing's Porsche 935. He was sharing a car with Bob Garretson and Gary Belcher.
Nine starts in stock car races from 1979 to 1982
In 1979, Bondurant also made one start in the NASCAR Winston West Series, driving a Pontiac at Sonoma Raceway. Next year, he made two starts in the same competition and then, in 1981, he returned to national division, recording two starts in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
In January 1981, he participated in the season-opening race at Riverside International Raceway in the #03 Oldsmobile, not finishing the race. In November, he returned to Riverside in the #69 Pontiac, finishing in 18th place. He also raced in the NASCAR Winston West Series, recording in total nine stock car starts between 1979 and 1982.
More than 250,000 students in Bob Bondurant's school
Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is today one of the most famous schools of that kind, having more than 250,000 students in fifty years of existence, ranging from housewives, racers, and celebrities, to teenagers, professionals and police officers.
While recovering in his hospital bed from injuries at Watkins Glen in June 1967, Bob recalled his short stint in Carroll Shelby's driving school in Riverside and a work on the 'Grand Prix' movie, deciding to start his own racing school. The project has been launched in February 1968 at the Orange County International Raceway near Los Angeles. Bob opened his school with three Datsuns, a Lola T70 Can-Am car and a Formula V.
Robert Wagner and Paul Newman among Bob's first students
Bob's first class consisted of just three students. The second week there were two famous students, the actors Robert Wagner and Paul Newman, who were training for the movie 'Winning'. Bob also served as a technical advisor, camera-car driver, and actor-instructor in the film.
By 1970, the school moved to nearby Ontario Motor Speedway, and in 1973, to the Sears Point International Raceway near Sonoma, California. In the first year, Datsun was one of Bob's main partners. In 1983, Ford Motor Company offered to provide vehicles and other support to the school.
Bob’s dream of building a purpose-built driver training facility became a reality in March 1990. The facility has been opened in Phoenix, Arizona. The school has over 200 race-prepared cars and other vehicles and is the largest dedicated facility of its kind in North America.