July 12th, 1930 – August 23rd, 2015
Founder of Ligier car company, sports car and F1 teams
Formula One driver 1966 – 1967
Guy Camille Ligier enjoyed one of the most unique careers of all the movers and shakers of the motorsports world in his time. A French national team rugby player, a motorcycle racer and a construction magnate, the often wild Ligier transitioned to racing cars in the early 1960’s.
He began his career in a Formula Junior Elva, then racing sports cars for Porsche, before working up the ranks to the brink of Formula One during one of the sport’s most competitive eras. His F1 debut came at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix at the wheel of a Cooper Maserati. He scored top tens that season at Spa, Brands Hatch and Zandvoort. Ligier hoped the results would bag him a top drive, but he was forced to enter 1967, his final season in the sport, still as a member of the privateer class, this time in a Brabham Repco car. He scored three more top 10 finishes; at Spa, Silverstone and the Nurburgring, but it was not enough and Ligier left the sport at the end of the year.
In 1968 Ligier formed a partnership with driver Jo Schlesser to campaign a pair of McLaren Formula Two cars. Unfortunately Schlesser crashed while at the wheel of a Honda RA302 at the French Grand Prix and lost his life. Ligier immediately ended his driving career and committed himself to becoming a full on automotive manufacturer and constructor of racing cars. He gave all of his subsequent machines the prefix of JS, to honor his dearly departed friend and countryman.
The first of which was a sports car of Ligier’s own design, the JS2, a mid-engined Maserati powered machine, closely related to the highly lauded Citroen SM. The 1973 Energy Crisis hit Ligier and France hard and the road car division halted production of the JS2 to focus on microcars, a market they still thrive in today.
The racing division had mixed results and fortunes. Ligier initially focused on sports car racing and Le Mans, with the JS1, JS2 and then open cockpit JS3 prototypes. In 1974 Matra closed up its race shop and sold all of its assets to Ligier, which Guy used to great effect. Most notably a second place finish for a JS2 in the 1974 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Despite coming oh so close to sports car success, Ligier transitioned the racing team’s emphasis to Formula One in 1976. The team won their first race at the 1977 Swedish Grand Prix with Jacques Laffite behind the wheel, and a screaming Matra V12 in the back. The Matra deal ended at the end of 1979 leading the team to build a new Cosworth powered car that Lafitte used to win the first two races of the season, Patrick Depailler also won in Spain. The team ended the season third in the Constructor’s standings, with Lafitte finishing fourth in the drivers, only 15 points behind champion Jody Scheckter of Ferrari.
After initial success the team’s fortunes waxed and waned before declining, prompting Ligier to sell the outfit in 1992. The team continued on, and in 1996 earned a shock victory in the Monaco Grand Prix with Olivier Panis at the wheel, the first all French victory the sport had experienced in years. French racing legend Alain Prost then bought the team and entered it in the 1997 season as Prost Grand Prix. It struggled on for six more years before declaring bankruptcy in 2001.
Despite years away from the racing scene, Ligier made an agreement in 2012 with French company Onroak Automotive to brand a new generation of sports car prototypes as Ligiers. Onroak had taken over the assets of the bankrupt Pescarolo Sport team in 2009 and wanted to bring the remnants of the two great French constructors together. The first fruit born of the endeavor was the highly successful JS P2 LMP2 prototype that has raced successfully at Le Mans and all around the world. The newest project is the JS P3, a smaller prototype designed for the nascent LMP3 category which debuted earlier this year.
Ligier was a character, who for all to brief of a time graced Formula One and sports car racing paddocks with a larger than life presence, out bursts, histrionics and gorgeous blue racing cars. His legacy lives on in the new Onroak Ligier prototypes and his many contributions to French motorsport and the French automotive industry. Ligier passed away August 23rd at the age of 85.