A fighter pilot during World War I, Robert Sénéchal began a car company in 1921 based in Courbevoie in the Seine region. He began racing that year to promote his products and developed into an excellent driver in his own right. He eventually sold the marque to Chenard-Walcker in 1925 and Sénéchals continued to be made for another four years.
Early racing career
Sénéchal initially took part in local hillclimbs and races and he won 51 of the 56 events entered during 1922 and 1923. Prime among his early successes driving the cars that bore his name were victories in the 1922 Grand Prix de UMF and twice in the 1924 and 1926 Bol d’Or 24-hour race for 1100cc voiturettes.
With the sale of his company impending, Sénéchal drove a Chenard-Walcker at Le Mans in 1924 and 1925 but could only finish 13th in that second (and his final) appearance in the race.
Grand Prix driver with Delage
In 1926 Sénéchal travelled to San Sebastian to race in the touring car race but earned a surprise GP debut. Part of a week of races, the European GP was a disaster for the Delage team. Its drivers suffered from fumes leaking into their cockpits and from burnt feet due to the hot exhausts passing under the car.
One-by-one they called for a relief driver. The watching Sénéchal volunteered to replace Edmond Bourlier at the wheel for a number of laps. Bourlier recovered sufficiently to resume, most for his Delage bodywork now removed to aid cooling, and ran steadily to a second place finish.
British Grand Prix winner
Sénéchal had done enough to be a starting driver for the inaugural British GP at Brooklands a month later. With his car sliding at lurid angles, the Frenchman climbed through the field to run second once more. Louis Wagner relieved Sénéchal for a stint behind the wheel and they inherited victory and the £1000 prize after team-mate Robert Benoist was delayed in the pits.
Winner of the following year’s Spa 24 Hours with an Excelsior, he finished fifth in the 1929 French GP in Count Veliktovich’s Bugatti T35B before buying an ex-works Delage 15S8 for the following season. He finished sixth in the 1930 French GP and fifth in 1931 when the only driver to race alone in both that year’s 10-hour French and Italian GPs.
Having retired from racing, Sénéchal became active in the Motorcycle Club de France and later served as its President. His grandson Patrick Zaniroli was a journalist who won the 1985 Paris-Dakar Rally and is now race director and promoter for the relocated event.