France has a history of producing some of motor sport’s most iconic team-driver combinations
News that three-time World Touring Car title-winner Yvan Muller will join Citroen and its nine-time World Rally champ for its WTCC debut in 2014 got us thinking about other seemingly invincible equipes rich in Gallic flavour.
Alain Prost/Rene Arnoux, Renault RE30B, F1
The French manufacturer was using two French drivers who both had ‘champion’ written all over them, the best tyres (also French, ie. Michelin), in fact French everything and having pioneered turbo technology and turned it into the thing to have really should have won the title in 1982. There were pole positions and wins (as pictured above at Paul Ricard) but too many blow-ups, from the turbo and internally between the drivers, put paid to the title hopes.
Jacques Laffite/Patrick Depailler, Ligier JS11, F1
Possibly the most patriotic French team of all time – complete with evocative livery from French fag firm Gitanes. When Ligier’s new JS11 won 1979’s opening rounds in Argentina and Brazil (let’s ignore the British Cosworth engines) France really took note. But that was as good as it got. There would be one more major moment, in 1981, when Laffite went to Las Vegas’s final round with an outside chance of the title (Ligier now using the wonderful V12 Matra engine – now that was French).
Sebastien Loeb/Sebastien Ogier, Citroen DS3, WRC
Citroen has had a French ‘dream team’ before when Sebastien Ogier joined its WRC line-up full-time alongside Sebastien Loeb in 2011. At first all was fine, then Ogier started winning – as much as Loeb – and Citroenville was no longer big enough for the pair of them. Ogier left and is now thrashing everyone with VW, including Citroen.
Didier Pironi/Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, Renault A442B, Le Mans 24 Hours
A win at Le Mans would free up Renault’s engineers concentrate solely on their new turbo technology in F1 and in 1978, with Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, it happened with the long-tailed A442B. Does it get any better for a French driver than winning for a French team in a French car in front of a French crowd at la Sarthe?
Henri Pescarolo/Gerard Larrousse, Matra-Simca MS670B/C, Le Mans 24 Hours
Like Renault this team had French drivers, a French car, French engine, French tyres and it was France’s great race, Le Mans. Where it was even Frenchier (is there such a word?) than Renault was that in addition to French oil giant Elf, its main sponsor was French cigarette company Gitanes. As well as two wins aux Mans (1973-74), the result was possibly the sexiest looking and most glorious sounding car in motor sport history.
Sebastien Loeb, Peugeot 208 T16, Pikes Peak
Take the world’s greatest rally driver (French), develop for him an outrageous, purpose-built 875bhp car (French) in the spirit of the one that conquered all before it 25 years earlier (French), and then, in June this year, let him loose in it up Colarado’s legendary Pikes Peak hill course. The result, using fat slick Michelin tyres (French) on a now all-asphalt road, was total annihilation of a/ the opposition and b/ the previous record.
Pierre Lartigue/Michel Perin, Citroen RX, Cross Country
Lartigue and his co-driver Perin dominated cross country rallying in the mid-Nineties with a hat-trick of World Cup titles and Dakar victories in Citroen’s robust yet fleet-footed ZX (1994-95-96). Michelin tyres and sponsorship from French fuel firm Total all added to the French celebrations.