Few race car drivers have managed to move as seamlessly from the cockpit to the television camera as Alain de Cadenet, who died last week at age 76 in California after a battle with cancer.
Alain de Cadenet was born in 1945 near the end of World War II to Maxime de Cadenet, a lieutenant in the French Air Force, and his English wife, Valerie. We went to school at Framlingham College in England, and very soon after began racing sports cars. “Although I got into it because I thought it would be a great way to get with women,” he said in one published interview, “I started to rather enjoy the racing.” He started his racing career in 1966.
In an era when factory support from manufacturers was gaining popularity, de Cadenet often preferred going his own way, driving cars he built and partly designed himself. At one point he convinced noted designer Gordon Murray to create a car for him, and de Cadenet went on to finish 12th overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His best finish at Le Mans was third.
In 1980, driving with Desire Wilson, who had spent some time briefly in Formula 1, they won two rounds of the World Sportscar Championship —the Monza 1000 and Silverstone Six-Hour. He raced mostly in Lolas that he often modified.
Soon after, De Cadenet moved in front of the camera, where his sense of humor, erudite delivery and good looks made him an ideal TV presenter. And with his collections, mostly Alfas, and his racing pedigree, he had the credibility. He was a regular at all the top auto shows.
He hosted a number of programs for the Speed Channel, ESPN, and the Velocity Channel. He hosted “Legends of Motorsport” for Speed between 1996 and 2000 for which he is likely best known, as well as the network’s coverage of the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
During the 2000s, he hosted Speed’s “Victory By Design”, in which he drove vintage racing cars and discussed their history. In 2012, he hosted “Renaissance Man” for the Velocity Channel.
“I have known Alain for 40 years,” wrote Wilson in an online post honoring de Cadenet. “What a gentleman. He gave me the greatest opportunities of my racing career. Winning the Monza 1,000 km and Silverstone Six Hour in 1980 as his co-driver, we also finished third that year at the Brands Hatch 1000 km – this being my first race in WEC. It was great to see him each year as we raced at the Goodwood Revival events. I will always remember the good times, the jokes, laughter and his vitality. I know there is a race car waiting for him on the other side.”
I remember him – in my era – for Victory by Design. It was a refreshingly calmly-paced script that gave adequate time to really appreciate the details of the cars. May Alain rest in peace.