Forever blue

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Guy Ligier
1930-2015

There was a certain patriotic elegance about the cars he drove, likewise those that bore his name. Former racer and team owner Guy Ligier has died at the age of 85, leaving a trail of memories with an indelibly French blue tint.

Orphaned at the age of seven, Ligier left school at 14 and commenced his working life as a butcher’s apprentice before discovering an aptitude for sport. He was French rowing champion in 1947 and played rugby to a very high standard, being selected for the national B team before his career stalled following a series of injuries. He then switched to motorcycle racing, winning domestic titles and generating sufficient profit to launch his own construction business. Friendships with local politicians – including Pierre Coulon, mayor of Ligier’s native Vichy, and future French president François Mitterand – did little harm when it came to contract tenders.

He first dabbled with car racing during the late 1950s, but became more serious about it the following decade, when competing in both GTs and single-seaters. In 1966 he drove his own Cooper T81 in selected Grands Prix, before switching to a Brabham BT20. Both, naturally, were French blue. He scored his only world championship point at the Nürburgring in 1967, finishing eighth on the road (but sixth of the F1 cars, behind a couple of F2s). During that same summer, he and close friend Jo Schlesser won the Reims 12 Hours in a Ford France-entered GT40.

Schlesser’s death in the 1968 French GP temporarily sapped Ligier’s appetite for the sport. At that stage he was already looking at building his own sports racer, a project that was temporarily shelved in the wake of Schlesser’s accident. It was reprised the following year and, when finished, was baptised JS1 in his fallen friend’s honour.

Ligier continued to compete occasionally and his early sports racers – pretty cars, all – scored a few wins. Reliability wasn’t always a strength, although Guy Chausseil and Jean-Louis Lafosse took a JS2 to second overall at Le Mans in 1975. By then, however, le patron had greater ambitions. When Matra Sports withdrew from racing at the end of 1974, Ligier purchased the assets and now had a factory capable of supporting a Grand Prix project. Powered by a Matra V12, his first F1 car – the JS5 – made its debut in Jacques Laffite’s hands in 1976 and finished on the podium at Zolder, only its fifth race. One year later Laffite won in Sweden with the JS7.

The marque would be an F1 fixture for 21 seasons, disappearing only when Alain Prost bought and renamed the team in 1997, five years after Ligier had sold his controlling stake. Its apotheosis came in 1979 and 1980, with the stylish JS11 and JS11/15. Laffite won the opening two Grands Prix in 1979 and looked set to mount a serious championship challenge, but in the end he finished only six races – five of those on the podium. His team-mates Patrick Depailler and Didier Pironi notched up one victory apiece. Laffite scored two more wins in 1981, when he emerged as a title outsider, but they would be Ligier’s last until Olivier Panis’s against-the-odds success from 14th on the grid at Monaco in 1996.

During his time at the helm, Guy Ligier was equal parts charm and irascibility. Leading French F1 writer Patrick Camus says, “We had some lovely evenings together – and it was a tradition to drink pastis. Every so often he’d invite a small group of French journalists to join him – usually when the team had suffered a bad day at the track, or he wanted to announce something. I guess it was his version of a press conference. You’re supposed to mix pastis with water and ice, of course, but he rarely left space in his glass for anything else. Afterwards, we’d have a small buffet at the track, or else repair to a restaurant. He always wanted to drive, because he hated being a passenger, but if he’d had a few drinks the rest of us didn’t want to be passengers, either…

“I also saw him blow a fuse many times. He once broke a wooden table in the Michelin motorhome because he was angry that Ligier wasn’t being given the softest tyre compounds. And then there was the 1984 French GP at Dijon. Andrea de Cesaris had his qualifying times annulled after his fire extinguisher was found to be empty. Guy’s reaction was to take the extinguisher and attack the race director’s road car with it. On one occasion, when he was irate about something a French reporter had written, he grabbed him around the waist, picked him up and dropped him in a nearby bin.”

Englishman Chris Williams worked as the team’s press officer during the mid-1990s, by which stage Ligier’s role was mostly ambassadorial. “Tom Walkinshaw and Flavio Briatore were running things by then,” he says, “but Guy would often turn up at races and give everybody a huge hug, whether he knew them or not. He retained a very strong emotional attachment.”

British engineer Humphrey Corbett joined at a similar time. “I hated pastis,” he says, “but every day at about 5.30pm we were supposed to decamp to the store room for a drink. It had apparently been a tradition from the start. Guy was no longer directly involved, but one day I spotted an elderly chap pottering around outside the factory and asked who it was. Somebody replied, ‘Oh, that’s Guy – he quite often stops by to do a bit of gardening.’ He clearly still cared.”

Having sold the F1 team, Ligier created a new business in the fertiliser industry and turned that into a huge success, before later taking over Automobiles Martini and planning to market Ligier F3 cars. That failed to bear fruit, but the name returned to the track with a successful range of small sports-prototypes and today, under the stewardship of Onroak Automotive, Ligiers score regular class wins in the world’s major endurance events.

Motor racing has been stripped of a character, but his legacy continues as, appropriately, does that JS suffix.
Simon Arron