Popular sports-car racing veteran Didier Theys said on Monday that he will retire from professional race driving, effective immediately. Theys, 52, will continue to work in the sport as a consultant and driving coach, both for individual drivers and teams, and for World Class Driving, where he is the driving director.
A native of Nivelles, Belgium, Theys rose from modest means and a family with no connections in the sport. He took out a bank loan in 1978 for his first Formula Ford championship, and built a successful career at the top of the sport for more than 30 years. A long-time resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., he recorded 61 podium finishes in sports-car racing all over the world, with 18 wins, 22 second-place finishes and 21 third-place finishes. He was the Grand-Am Rolex Series champion in 2002. He finished third in that series in 2001, and was runner-up in 2000.
Theys is a two-time winner of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. He won in 1998 in the MOMO Ferrari, and in 2002 in the Doran Lista Dallara-Judd. In 1998, he also won the American Le Mans Series' biggest race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, in the MOMO Ferrari, as well as the Six Hours of Watkins Glen. He has the most wins of anyone in a Ferrari 333 SP, with 10. Many of those came in America driving for Kevin Doran. Last year, Theys was fifth in the LMP2 class at Sebring in the debut of Horag Racing's Porsche RS Spyder. Most recently, he drove that car in the Le Mans Series in Europe, placing third in LMP2 championship with co-drivers Fredy Lienhard and Jan Lammers while driving for team owner Markus Hotz.
"I enjoyed working with friends like Fredy Lienhard and Markus Hotz in the last few years," Theys said. "I was planning on retiring in 2009 anyway, but I was hoping to do it at the end of the season, not in March. Unfortunately, due to the downturn in the global economy, we weren't able to put together a program for 2009. But I'm certainly thankful for everything Fredy has done for me in my career. He became a true friend, not just a co-driver and sponsor."
Theys also made his mark at Le Mans. He first appeared there in 1982, and his last start in that race came 20 years later in 2002. He finished third in 1999 with Audi Sport Team Joest. He started from the Le Mans pole in 1996 driving a Joest TWR Porsche LMP1 car.
Theys also won the 24 Hours of Spa in 1987 in a factory BMW. His final win came at the 1,000 Kilometers of Monza in Italy in 2007, driving Horag Racing's Lola-Judd LMP2 car.
Before focusing on endurance sports cars Theys had a very successful career in formula cars in the 1980s and early '90s. He competed in 47 CART World Series races, and made three starts in the Indianapolis 500 (1989, 1990 and 1993). His best CART finish was third in the Miami Grand Prix.
Theys won the Indy Lights championship in 1987, after he won the 1986 Super Vee championship--which he did after racing in Europe's Formula Three and Formula Two championships. In 1985, he finished third in the Monaco F3 Grand Prix. He also won two Formula Ford championships prior to winning his first of six overall karting championships, the Belgium Karting Championship, in 1977.