Josef Christiaens

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Josef Christiaens
Josef Christiaens (Indianapolis, 1914).jpg
Christiaens at the 1914 Indianapolis 500
NationalityBelgium Belgian
BornJosef Henri Charles Christiaens
(1882-06-16)16 June 1882
Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Belgium
Died25 February 1919(1919-02-25) (aged 36)
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, United Kingdom

Josef Henri Charles Christiaens, sometimes spelt Joseph (16 June 1882 – 25 February 1919), was a Belgian engineer, racecar driver and aviator.[1]


Josef Christiaens and his car in 1916

Christiaens was born in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode on 16 June 1882 [2] to a prosperous Belgian family. On 13 August 1905 he participated in the Coupe de Liedekerke et Williame race held near Dinant, Belgium. The race spanned 102.740 km, but Josef failed to complete the race. He also failed to qualify for the Il Coupe de Normandie with his Vivinus 6 racecar on 29 August 1909. The Vivinus later gave Christiaens his first victory, winning the 2nd Coupe de Liedekerke et Williame in Ostend, Belgium on 13 September 1909. He went on to take a string of victories in Europe and in the US.

On 9 September 1916 Josef and his 2,300 lb (1,000 kg) English Sunbeam racecar, became the first foreigner to enter the Indianapolis Motor Speedway "Harvest Classic", composing of three races held at 20, 50 and 100-100-mile (160 km) distances.[3] Johnny Aitken, in a Peugeot, came in first in all 3 distances. Josef's Sunbeam failed to start the race due to a broken crankshaft.[4]

When Henri Farman flew the Voisin-designed biplane and took Ernest Archdeacon for a 1241-metre flight at Ghent, Belgium on 30 May 1908, he was immediately captivated and inspired by the spirit of flying.

In March 1910 Josef met Géo Chavez at Camp de Châlons, France and learnt to fly on a Farman plane from him. By 12 April in the same year, he is registered with licence N°7, becoming one of the first 11 pilots registered at the Aéro-Club de Belgique (Aero Club of Belgium).

On 14 March 1911, Josef received much enthusiasm and assistance from the British Colonial Government in Singapore. a squad of Royal Engineers soldiers were dispatched to assemble and test the Bristol Boxkite.[5] On 16 March 1911 Josef made history in Singapore as the first man to fly an aeroplane on the island.

Josef died in a road accident while performing a test drive on a Sunbeam racecar near Moorfield Works on 25 February 1919 in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. Shortly after leaving the Works, his car crashed into a wall along Upper Villiers Street trying to avoid a horse-cart coming out of Fowler Street.[6]

Indy 500 results[edit]

Year Car Start Qual Rank Finish Laps Led Retired
1914 9 7 91.210 9 6 200 9 Running
1916 14 14 86.080 16 4 120 0 Running
Totals 320 9
Starts 2
Poles 0
Front Row 0
Wins 0
Top 5 1
Top 10 2
Retired 0


  1. ^ "Josef Christiaens". Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  2. ^ Saint-Josse-ten-Noode Civil Registry, 1882 births
  3. ^ 'Christiaens Sends Entry: Belgian Auto Driver Will Compete at Indianapolis.' The New York Times, 12 August 1916
  4. ^ 'Aikens Sweeps Indianapolis Card', Motor Age, 14 September 1916.
  5. ^ "The Aviation Display". The Straits Times. 15 March 1911.
  6. ^ This is not the case, he swerved and hit a cast iron stench pipe: the works photograph shows the car, with a large u shaped impact in the centre of the chassis. His passenger, Sunbeam mechanic Frank Bill was handicapped from that accident and given a job "for life" by the Sunbeam Company. It is Frank in the one picture wearing the flat cap, not Joseph. This mistake has been copied by numerous people on various websites. I can prove this to be the case, as I have copies of the works photographs {JohnHarrold Sunbeam, Talbot, Darracq - Wolverhampton History & Heritage Society Archived 26 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine