René Le Bègue

15/1/1914 - 24/2/1946

Record updated 24-Feb-23

Le Bègue was a French racing driver who competed in Rallies and circuit races. A works Talbot driver, he won a number of races including the Monte Carlo Rally and the Coupe de Vitesse at Monthléry in 1937 and the 1938 Grand Prix du Comminges. He raced at Indy before the war. He died in his bath in 1946 when he was asphyxiated by fumes from a defective boiler.

René Le Bègue
René Le Bègue was born in Paris. He started competing in rallies in 1935 before switching to circuit racing the following year with a Delahaye 135CS. René was 5ft 5in (1.66 m) and of light build, he was declared unfit for active service and his name in French means 'the stutterer'! All in all not the typical image of a racing driver.

René Le Bègue

Having said that he was pretty good and in that first proper season in 1936 he finished 5th in the Marseille 3 Hour race, second in the Spa 24 Hours with Marcel Mongin, 4th in the Comminges Grand Prix and he set the fastest lap at Ards, Ireland, during the Tourist Trophy, a lap time that was never beaten. The main reason being that on lap 17 of the race, local driver Jack Chambers, driving a Riley, lost control entering Newtownards and went into the crowd. The accident claimed the lives of eight spectators and injured 15 more. The Ards course was never used again.

Bira (3rd) Franco Comotti (1st) and Le Bègue (3rd) at the RAC Tourist Trophy at Donington in 1937

He started 1937 in fine style winning the Monte Carlo Rally driving a Delahaye with co-driver Julio Quinlin. In the Mille Miglia he was running fourth with Cattaneo in a works Talbot-Lago, when he crashed into a ditch to avoid a cart in the wet conditions.

He was out of action for three months but was back for the Grand Prix de la Marne at Reims-Gueux where he finished 3rd driving a Talbot T-150C. He then finished 2nd in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Donington, despite running out of fuel when his reserve tank didn't function properly at first, and won the Coupe de Vitesse at Monthléry.

In 1938 he continued with Talbot T150C, winning the Lyon-Chamonix rally and the Coupe de Paris at Montlhéry in September and finishing second in the Paris-Nice rally. He then teamed up with André Morel to win the Paris 12 Hours race at Montlhéry. It was Le Bègue’s first circuit victory. At le Mans he drove a Talbot T150C with René Carrière and led comfortably. However he gradually dropped back during the night delayed by mechanical problems. Eventually retiring at 3 in the morning with a broken clutch.

René Le Bègue on his way to third in a Delahaye 145 at the 1939 French Grand Prix held at Reims-Gueux.

A works Talbot-Lago driver for 1939, he raced a special Talbot T150 SS at Le Mans in 1939 with Pierre Levegh. But they spun out while lying ninth. However he finished a fine 3rd driving the new Monoplace Décalée in the French Grand Prix behind the dominant Auto Union Silver Arrows and then went on to win the Grand Prix du Comminges, beating both Wimille and Sommer, the two top drivers at the time. René thus finished third in the French Drivers’ Championship, all be it behind Sommer and Wimille.

Le Begue with the Maserati 8CTF at Indy in 1940.

In 1939 Lucy O'Reilly had purchased the two ex-works Maserati 8CTFs and had them re-painted in light blue. In 1940, despite the war, she successfully shipped them to America for the Indy 500 along with Le Bègue, his wife, René Dreyfus and Luigi Chinetti. Le Bègue started on the last row in 31st position but drove steadily to a 10th place finish. The Le Bègue's were the only ones to return to occupied France in 1941 apparently to get permission to take two Talbots to the 1941 Indy 500 via Portugal.

How the trip worked out is slightly unclear. The cars were shipped to America and Le Bègue and Jean Trévoux wanted to drive them at Langhorne before an assault on the Indy 500. They didn't run at either race however they did enter the Lands End Hill Climb at Grand Junction, Colorado, where Le Bègue finished third ahead of Trévoux.

Le Bègue enrolled in the Forces Françaises Libres fighting in North Africa, Sicily and at Monte Cassino. In 1946, with the war over, Le Bègue prepared to return to racing. He was voted vice-president of the the French Drivers Association (AGACI). But then, before the season started, he died in a stupid accident when he was asphyxiated by the gas fumes of a defective boiler while taking a bath.

On June 9, 1946 the Grand Prix at Saint-Cloud was named the René Le Bègue Cup in his memory. It was won by Raymond Sommer.