- October 28, 1919
- April 07, 1966
- United States
- Not Active
Walt Hansgen (1919 – 1966) was an American racing driver who achieved the most in the sports car racing in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the SCCA National Champion four times in a row from 1956 to 1959.
In the open-wheel racing, Hansgen started two times in Formula 1 Grand Prix races and two times at Indianapolis 500. He was killed in April 1966, in an accident with Ford GT40 during a test for Le Mans 24 Hours, shortly after he scored overall podiums both at Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours.
Regular participant from the inaugural Sebring 12 Hours
Born in October 1919 in Westfield, New Jersey, Walter Edwin Hansgen started his racing career in 1951, entering the SCCA National Sports Car Championship with Jaguar XK120. In March 1952, he participated in the inaugural Sebring 12-hour race at Sebring International Raceway, sharing an MG TD with Randy Pearsall. They finished in the 10th place.
He became a regular contestant at Sebring 12 Hours, returning in 1953 with Jaguar XK120 and finishing 12th. In 1954, his car was a Jaguar C-Type but he didn't finish the race. In 1955, he and William Eager were driving an OSCA MT4 1350, retiring after 58 laps. In 1956, Walt Hansgen and John Fitch finished 9th in a Chevrolet Corvette.
Four SCCA National Championship titles in a row
Through the years, Hansgen was more and more successful in the SCCA Regional and National races and he finally became a champion for the first time in 1956. His championship-winning car was a Jaguar D-Type.
He mostly competed in a car owned by Briggs Cunningham. The second SCCA championship title with the same car followed in 1957, and then one more in 1958. In 1959, Hansgen had been won his fourth title in a row, driving a Lister Costin Jaguar.
Unsuccessfully chasing victory at Sebring
Of course, Hansgen continued to race at Sebring 12 Hours regularly. In 1957, he and Russ Boss finished fifth in a Jaguar D-Type. At 1958 Sebring 12 Hours, he was driving two Lister-Jaguars for Alfred Momo, sharing cars with Archie Scott-Brown and Briggs Cunningham, but both cars failed to finish the race.
In summer 1958, Hansgen participated in two races in the UK with Lister-Jaguar, winning at Snetterton. At 1959 Sebring race, he and Dick Thompson finished 12th in a Lister-Jaguar.
Le Mans 24h debut in 1959
In June 1959, Hansgen made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans. He and Peter Blond were driving the #2 Lister Costin LM Jaguar for Brian Lister. They retired after 52 laps with a broken engine.
In March 1960, Hansgen was driving Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage at Sebring 12 Hours, sharing a car with Ed Crawford. They stopped after 149 laps. He continued to drive Maserati in the 1960 SCCA season but returned to Jaguar at Le Mans race in June. Hansgen was sharing the #6 Jaguar E 2A with Dan Gurney, retiring after 89 laps.
Formula One debut at 1961 US Grand Prix
In 1961, Hansgen had no luck both at Sebring and Le Mans. At Sebring, he was driving two Maseratis for Momo Corporation, with Bruce McLaren, Briggs Cunningham and William Kimberly as co-drivers. One car retired, the other finished 19th. At Le Mans, he and Bruce McLaren retired after just 31 laps in a Maserati Tipo 63.
In October 1961, Hansgen made a debut in the Formula One World Championship, driving the #60 Cooper T53-Climax for Momo Corporation in the US Grand Prix at the Watkins Glen. After starting 14th on the gird, he retired after 14 laps because of an accident.
Driving a Cooper Monaco in 1962 and 1963
In the 1962 SCCA season, Hansgen was driving mostly a Maserati-engined Cooper Monaco T57 for Briggs Cunningham. At Sebring, he and Dick Thompson retired in a Maserati Tipo 64. At Le Mans, he and Bruce McLaren contested in a Maserati Tipo 151, retiring after 177 laps.
At 1963 Sebring 12 Hours, Hansgen returned to Jaguar, sharing the #20 E-Type with Bruce McLaren. They finished in the 8th place. Jaguar E-Type was also Hansgen's car at 1963 Le Mans, where he was sharing a car with Augie Pabst. A broken gearbox forced them to retire after just 8 laps.
1964 – Indianapolis 500, NASCAR and Formula One
The season 1964 was the most versatile year for Hansgen. Besides his usual commitments, he made a debut at Indianapolis 500, participated in two NASCAR races and recorded one more Formula 1 start. At Indianapolis 500, Hansgen was driving the #53 Huffaker-Offenhauser for Norwegian-American businessman Kjell Qvale, finishing in the 13th place.
Hansgen made a NASCAR debut in July at Bridgehampton Raceway, driving his own Ford in the Grand National race and finishing third. He was third again a week later at Watkins Glen.
Hansgen's second Formula 1 start came in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in October. He was driving factory entered #17 Lotus-Climax, finishing in the fifth place and taking two championship points.
DNF at Sebring, victory at Road America with Ferrari
Of course, Hansgen didn't skip the Sebring 12 Hours in 1964. He was driving a Lola-Chevrolet for Mecom Racing Team, sharing a car with Augie Pabst. A broken engine caused a retirement. In September 1964, Hansgen and Pabst scored a victory in the US Road Racing Championship race at Road America, driving a Ferrari 250 LM for John Mecom.
Hansgen continued to drive Ferrari in 1965, coming to Sebring with Ferrari 250 LM. He and Mark Donohue finished 11th place.
One more Indianapolis 500 attempt in 1965
In May 1965, Hansgen returned to Indianapolis 500 with Kjell Qvale. Driving the #53 Huffaker-Offenhauser, he retired after 117 laps because of overheating, being classified as 14th.
In the 1965 USRRC season, he was driving mostly Lola T70 for Mecom Racing, scoring several victories.
Two major podiums in a Ford GT before fatal accident
In 1966, Hansgen became a Ford driver, participating with Ford GT MkII both at Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. In the inaugural 24-hour race at Daytona, Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue were driving the #95 Holman & Moody Ford GT, finishing in the third place.
A month and a half later, at Sebring 12 Hours, Hansgen finally reached his first overall podium, finishing in the second place, together with Mark Donohue in the #3 Ford GT MkII.
Unfortunately, just a week later, Hansgen had a fatal accident during a test with Ford GT at Circuit de la Sarthe. He crashed on April 3 and died a few days later.