Didier Theys hangs up the helmet

After spending over 30 competitive years behind the wheel of racecars, Didier Theys has decided to call it time on his racing career. The 52-year old announced Monday his retirement as a professional driver, but the likable Belgian will not completely disappear from the sport.

Didier Theys.
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt.

Theys has become well known for his success in sportscar racing worldwide, but his roots actually date back to open-wheel racing, where he made a name for himself in both Europe and America.

After winning the Belgium Karting Championship in 1977, Theys took a gamble of his own to make the next step. He took out a bank loan to fund his first Formula Ford championship, in which he won. After racking up his second title, Theys moved up the ranks to the European Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships, finishing third in the Monaco Formula 3 Grand Prix in 1985.

The following year, Theys crossed the Atlantic to take on a new challenge in America, winning the Bosch Super Vee championship and securing the prestigious Indy Lights title in 1987.

His success in the junior formulas was rewarded with a drive in Indycars, where he made 47 career starts from 1987-1993. In all, Theys recorded ten top-10 finishes, with his best result of third coming at the Miami Grand Prix in 1988. He was also a three-time starter of the Indianapolis 500.

A new opportunity dawned in 1995 when he moved to sportscar racing, racking up an impressive list of wins and championships. In all, Theys stood on the podium 61 times, with 18 victories and numerous runner-ups.

His most magical season came in 1998, when he won the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring and the Six Hours of The Glen, all while piloting a Doran Racing/Momo Ferrari 333 SP.

Much of Theys' sportscar success came with Kevin Doran's team, including scoring a second overall victory at Daytona in 2002 as well as the Rolex Series SRP championship in the Doran Lista Dallara Judd.

LMP2 podium: class winners Fredy Lienhard, Didier Theys and Eric van de Poele.
Photo by Linda Mansfield.

Theys also shared much of his driving duties with longtime racer and friend, Fredy Lienhard. After a stint in Grand-Am competition, the duo took their program to the European-based Le Mans Series in 2005. First campaigning a Lola B05/40 and then a Porsche RS Spyder, the Markus Hotz-led Horag Racing outfit scored two wins, the last coming at the Monza 1000km in 2007.

Last year, the Swiss team campaigned a Porsche RS Spyder in the Le Mans Series, placing third in the highly competitive LMP2 category with Theys, Lienhard and Jan Lammers at the wheel. The trio also took home top honors in the Michelin Energy Challenge.

But following Lienhard's retirement at the end of 2008, and the global economic downturn, Theys was left without a ride for the coming season, despite a valiant effort to put the Horag Racing Porsche RS Spyder on the grid for 2009. Now, it appears those efforts have come up short.

"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."

Throughout his career, Theys also enjoyed success at Le Mans, placing third in the 1999 enduro in an Audi Sport Team Joest R8R. He also started from the pole in 1996 in a Joest-entered TWR Porsche.

It's now time for Theys to write a new chapter in his storied career. He's pledged to continue work as a consultant for individual drivers and teams, and also as a driver coach at World Class Driving, where he's the driving director. With his charismatic smile and decades of racing experience, Theys will be right at home helping mentor potential stars of tomorrow.