Guy Ligier

Born:
12th July 1930
Vichy, Auvergne
Died:
23rd August 2015 (Aged 85)
Nevers, Bourgogne-Franche-Comte
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

It is as an idiosyncratic team owner that Guy Ligier is best known but he began in the sport as a driver. He started 12 Grands Prix as a privateer – finishing in the points on one occasion but never threatening the stars of the day.

Upbringing, rugby and early racing career

Maybe it was his early life that moulded the man. Orphaned at an early age, Ligier worked in a Vichy butcher’s shop. He saved enough money to buy a bulldozer with which he started a construction company that boomed as France’s motorway network was built. That brought wealth and political connections with the likes of future President François Mitterand that would serve Ligier well later in his life.

Early fame however was thanks to rugby union as Ligier represented his country during the late 1940s. He started racing a Porsche sports car in 1963 before switching to Formula 2 a year later as team-mate to close friend Jo Schlesser. That was with a Ford France Brabham BT10-Cosworth and Ligier finished fifth on his debut at Enna-Pergusa.

Formula 1 privateer

Ligier decided to step up in class to Formula 1 so he bought a Cooper T81-Maserati with which he made his debut in the 1966 Monaco GP. He was persistent and slow – still running but either unclassified or out of the points in his five starts. He enjoyed better fortune as Schlesser’s co-driver in a Ford France GT40 that year – finishing fifth in the Nürburgring 1000Kms – although his year was ended by a knee broken while practising for the German GP.

Ligier returned in 1967 and he acquired a Brabham BT20-Repco before the British GP. He finished sixth in Germany to score the only championship point of his F1 career. In addition to that achievement, Ligier won the Reims 12 Hours when again sharing Schlesser’s GT40. He started 1968 behind the wheel of an Intersport McLaren M4A-Ford in F2 but promptly stopped driving after Schlesser was killed during that year’s French GP.

Team owner and constructor

When Ligier returned it was as a constructor – his new sports car designated the Ligier JS1 in deference to his lost comrade Jo Schlesser. That new marque would become an icon of French racing – moving into GP racing in 1976 with the famous "tea-pot" JS5.

Jacques Laffite scored the team’s first victory in Sweden a year later and looked to have the championship in his grasp by winning the opening two races of 1979. Although that campaign floundered, Laffite was a title contender in 1981 and only lost the title in the Las Vegas finale.

Guy Ligier sold the majority stake in his team to Cyril de Rouvre after the 1992 season and withdrew from the scene. The Ligier name would win once more (Olivier Panis’s surprise 1996 Monaco GP victory) but he had already established his name in French sporting history.