Saturday, March 2, 2024

Early Dakar Rally racer Stephan Bosteels dies at 91

Stéphan Bosteels, who raced the Dakar Rally from the inaugural edition in 1979 into the mid-1980s alongside his family, passed away last Sunday. He was 91 years old.

Bosteels and his sons Stéphane and Bernard entered the first Paris–Dakar Rally in 1979, an opportunity that arose via Stéphane’s brother-in-law Michel Van Gorp, who ran a caravan seller and invited them to join him. The family had a long history of interest in automobiles, with the older Bosteels having owned multiple Citroëns.

Stéphan acquired a used Citroën DS, which he received from a showroom agent Georges Vanelslande who advised him against driving it due to the risks that the African desert presented on its parts. He eventually selected a new Citroën GS X3 upon which he installed safety modifications for racing. Hector Bossaert, a mechanic for Citroën’s rally programme, made further upgrades such as a new engine that produced more horsepower. Vanelslande and Stéphan’s brother-in-law Gérard Maïr, a former professional football goalkeeper in Austria and Belgium, tagged along in a Ford Transit support vehicle.

Stéphan and Stéphane led the team in the GS, with the father as driver and son by his side as navigator. Bernard was supposed to miss the start of the race due to military service until it turned out Maïr could not attend either for reasons that Bernard wrote he could not recall. While the Citroën completed the Prologue stage fine, the Ford struggled through the mud such that even race organiser Thierry Sabine stopped by to help out. The rally took its toll on the Transit, and it was eventually sold to a surgeon in the Ivory Coast afterwards.

On the other hand, Bernard recalled the GS “worked rather well in crossing the Sahara,” though it was not a clean endeavour. The Bosteels quickly realised that while it went through sand without problem, the car’s hydraulic suspension was not going to survive on rockier terrain that heated up the oil and rusted the structure. The car’s rear end came apart during the fourth stage in Niger, forcing them to “wait a long time” for the Transit to arrive with help. Stuck for too long, they were forced to retire from the rally but managed to arrive at the finish in Dakar, Senegal, by train.

The Bosteels continued to race the Dakar into the 1980s, with Stéphan going on to pilot a Toyota HJ45 with other friends while his sons were in different cars. Despite failing to finish the 1981 edition, the Bosteels turned the effort into a film titled Le Familia that drew over 400 viewers across three screenings in March 1982. Stéphan’s best overall finish as a driver was sixty-fourth in 1984 with Bernard as his co-driver, while Stéphane won Stage #13 that year in his HJ45 en route to a nineteenth. Stéphane stepped up with a ninth overall in 1985 alongside Vanelslande.

Outside of racing, Stéphan oversaw the Bosteels Customs Agency that collected taxes for goods crossing the French/Belgian border in Halluin. Founded by his father Aimé in 1931, he took over the company in 1964. Bosteels merged with Vallaeys in 1990 as European countries started to open up which eventually led to the creation of the Schengen Area.

His service took place in Halluin on Friday, 1 December.

Fellow 1979 Dakar Rally competitor Marcel Schacht passed away in late October at the age of 99. Michel Anglade, who managed race rescue operations from the air from 1979 and into the 1980s, died in a helicopter accident in September.

Stéphan Bosteels: 3 May 1932 – 26 November 2023