Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day – Les Bleus

Recently I had the following tidbit sent to me... Claiming there’s a Famous French saying: “I regret that I only have one life to surrender for my country.”

To which I’ve never heard before, so can’t vouch for its accuracy; Wee-Wee, Sufferin’ Succotash! As I always find it most karmic when something that’s been eating at you becomes World News in a round about way, as your Humble Scribe had originally been ponderin’ if this year’s (2010) Formula 1 World Championship was the first in modern history to not have a French Grand Primo Piloto taking part in the action?

And I’ve experienced both sides of French behaviour, from sublimely good to traditional French bleu nastiness... As I found everyone to be fairly polite to us in “Gay Paree,” (Paris) as people were pleasant and willing to serve us... To being called certain French cuss words on the TGV High-speed Train upon accidently having taken the wrong seat! Ooh La La; Sei la Vie! Yet I must confess that it was the English (Americans?) who gave us a Saliva shower on the top of the Eiffel Tower whilst trying to hawk loogeys off the Observation Deck; YUK! (JACKARSES!)

Thus this Questione has been bouncing ‘round my Cranium for a few months now and I finally decided to get to the bottom of it upon the recent Noise “The Frenchies” have been making during their scandalous World Cup behaviour which I simply deplore! Not to mention all of the entertainment Grizzled “Journo” Joe Saward’s been having with Air Traffic Control and Ground Staff in his adopted Home Country... Actually having been so blatant to simply leave his Aeroplane without any Airstairs/Ramps or Busses to take the just landed (stranded) passengers; SHEISA!

Yet if I recollect correctly? I believe the Trains went on strike during the 1998 World Cup Tournament in France? While I myself have spent the day in Italy awaiting the possibility of a “lone” Passenger Train during a One-day strike...

And for some reason my very mild thoughts upon France’s history pertains to the fact that Alexandre Eiffel was responsible for the Eiffel Tower, but the Statue of Liberty... Although I tend to think more ‘bout the Maggot Line and the French Resistance, while I’m not overly impressed by Louis Chiron claiming that Mademoiselle “Helle Nice” was a Nazi sympathizer. Yet on the plus side I find Simon Pageunaud to be an extremely pleasing bloke to listen to, a real breath of fresh air and a great contemporary racing Star who should be given his chance in Indy Car immediately! (Can you say De Ferran Dragon Racing and Two Car entry?)

As I was gonna say something ‘bout the ‘FROG’s, but I DON’T even like the sound of that anymore...
And yet without France’s love affair of the Automobile and all things Motorsports, we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without their massive contributions!

Thus in this story that keeps getting “Supersized,” I’ve attempted putting down some very brief thoughts upon the French Connection circa 1980-Present, as I’m NOT even gonna try chronicling such great Marques as Bugatti, Delahaye and Gordini, or every DAMN thing that’s related; Aye-Yai-Yai!

For a very cool book on the French classic Delahaye, written and photographed by local Western Washingtonians you may wish to check out:
Delahaye Styling and Design

Formula 1Over the past three decades a total of six French Grand Prix Constructors have tried their hand at the Uber competitive stage known as the Pinnacle of Motorsport... Nee Formula One...

AGSAutomobiles Gonfaronnaise Sportives (1986-91)
Although I only recall this Minnowesqe F1 Constructor as one of the countless Backmarkers of the late 1980’s, you have to admire Team Founder Henri Julien who began by working as a Gas Station mechanic and built a racing car in his spare time in the late 1940’s and steadily worked his way into Grand Prix Motor Racing, along the way having signed two rising French Stars named Philippe Streiff and Pascal Fabre in 1982 whilst progressing towards Formula 1.

AGS tmade it’s F1 debut in the 1986 Italian Grand Prix with Rookie Ivan Capelli driving the JH21C, a revamped Renault Sports Car chassis fitted with the Italian Motori Moderni V-6 turbo engine, before Roberto Moreno, who replaced Fabre at the end of the ’87 season scored the Team’s first Grand Prix points with a sixth place finish at the Australian GP in Adelaide.

Yet like all small Teams, AGS continuously struggled for adequate financing, and after several key members defected to rival Coloni along with Streiff’s debilitating injury in March, 1989, Julien sold his team to others and apparently walked away from Motorsports...

LarrouseLarrousse (1987-94)
My only memories towards this “Mid-packer” squad was that I liked it since it briefly ran the lumbering Lambo lump, nee Lamborghini V-12 during the Normally Aspirated renaissance, when there was still a smorgasbord of V-8, V-10 and V-12 Powerplant’s to choose from.

And I was unaware that Team Founder Gerard Larrousse wasn’t too bad of a Sports Car racer either, winning the Sebring 12hrs behind the Keyboard of a Porsche 917 Panzerwagon along with two LeMans victories before being put in charge of the Renault Sport F1 Team...

Yet interestingly, Monsieur Larrousse apparently had a habit of picking sketchy Business partners for his own F1 Operation. Originally beginning life in the F1 Paddock as Larrouse Calmels in 1987, before partner Didier Calmels went to Jail after shooting his wife in a Domestic dispute! Yet in ’92 Larrousse found himself associated with an even more colourful co-Team Owner named Rainer Walldorf, who had a nasty habit of murdering people, using hand grenades on the Police and ultimately dying in a stand off with the German Police!

Equipe Ligier (1976-1996)
Not sure what to say ‘bout Ligier, as they simply seemed like a Midpack Mainstay for a very long time, although interestingly, they could possibly claim to be the second most “Successful” French Team behind le Reggie, eh? As after all, as far as I can tell, they’re the only other Post-war Team to have actually won Grand Prix’s... As Guy Ligier seems to have used his many powerful connections to keep his Racing Team afloat over the years, mainly by getting his hands upon the Renault motors, along with continuous support from the State-owned Oil, cigarette and Loto industries before Monsieur Ligier retired from Motorsports in order to pursue building a new empire in Natural Fertilizer! While on a side note, he hired some ‘Yank named Ken Anderson to help design his 1989 F1 Racecar...

MatraMatra Sports SARL (1968-1972)
Its funny to me how whenever I think of Matra, I think of there more successful “English” counterpart Tyrrell, as it was “Uncle Chopper,” nee Ken Tyrrell flying the banner of Matra International who brought them their success as 1969 World Champions, as Matra won the Constructors Title, while The Wee Scot; Sir Jackie, A.k.a. John Young Stewart won the first of his three Drivers Crowns, albeit all with the Blue Oval’s Ford Cosworth DFV V-8 behind his backside...

Having been born out of the desires to Showcase the French Aerospace Company by utilizing it’s recently acquired Racecar business, Matra founder Marcel Chassagny arranged to have France’s Oil Giant Elf pay for development of a Normally Aspirated 3.0 liter V-12 Formula 1 engine in 1967, which would debut in ’68 and see double duty as a Grand Prix and Sports Car Powerplant, as both categories used the same engine regulations. This venerable V-12 lump then remained in F1 until 1982, propelling the various guises of Ligier F1 in the later stages.

Also of note, in the fall of 1969, Matra’s Automotive Division was sold to Chrysler France and rebranded Matra-Simca.

Interestingly, I’ve just discovered that former F1 Drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Patrick Depailler Teamed up with somebody named Jean Todt to win the 1970 Tour de France aboard a Matra MS650...

But it was Sports Car racing where Matra was most successful of all, winning the prestigious 24 Heurs du Mans three consecutive years in-a-row; 1972-73-74, with Henri Pescarolo and Gerard Larrousse winning, as Pescarolo pulled off a rare “Hat Trick,” while the Duo won the latter two consecutively, along with Matra winning the Sports Car World Championship back-to-back from 1973-74, Before Matra announced its withdrawal from Motor Racing at the end of the year, selling its Operations to guy Ligier, with the majority of the Engineering Staff including noted Designer Gerard Ducarouge forming the nucleus of Ligier’s Formula One Team...

Unfortunately Michelin seems to be inexplicably linked to what forever will be known as the great Indy “Tyre Debacle...” To which I can only recall breaking out in great laughter over this while hanging Trackside at Portland International Raceway... NOT because it was funny, just because the “Powers-to-Be” were so totally uncompromising!

Yet, without a one Monsieur Andre Michelin deciding to participate in the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris Trials, where Mr. Michelin debuted his revolutionary invention, known then as the pneumatic tyre whilst the Public was quite content with the current day’s wooden horse carriage wheels, we may still be breaking our teeth on hardwood wheels...

Yet with Andre’s desire to test his invention for the first time in competition, like many great ideas, it wasn’t an immediate success, as the rough roads were quite harsh and Michelin had to stop and change tires so many times that he failed to complete the Race’s distance in the specified 100hrs aboard his Peugeot, with Michelin being overly ridiculed by his fellow competitor’s. Yet soon after the pneumatic tire would become standard equipment of the automobile and Michelin tyres would go onto win countless Motorsports events, including many Formula One World Championships!

PeugeotPSA Peugeot Citroen (1994-2000)
There were actually a handful of Peugeot’s taking part in what is considered the very first Automobile Race held on June 22, 1894 in France, while soon after in 1912, Peugeot would develop the modern day Double Over Head Camshaft (DOHC) engine, which later during World War One would become the Blueprint for the Miller and subsequent All conquering “OFFY,” nee Offenhauser racing dynasty’s, while in 1913 Peugeot won the Indy 500.

Jean Todt appointed in 1982 to set-up Peugeot Talbot Sport and ironically is Ari Vatanen’s Boss, who wins Peugeot’s debut race in Finland. Then in the Mid-1980’s Peugeot Dominates the World Rally Championship (WRC) enroute to winning two Drivers & Manufacturers Championships. (1985-86)

Then at Todt’s insistence after driver fatality and a dispute with the FIA, Peugeot withdraws from WRC and concentrates upon Rally Raids, winning the Paris-Dakar Rally four consecutive year’s in-a-row: 1987-1990, along with Vatanen and Robby Unser winning the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in 1988-89.

Peugeot then returned to the WRC in 2000 and wins a further two Drivers & Manufacturers Championships with Marcus Gronholm before withdrawing again and letting Citroen take up the charge... With the Uber Dominant Sebastian Loeb having won the Title a record six consecutive times!

Sports Cars
In the early 1990’s; Peugeot won the WSC Drivers & Team Championship (1992) along with winning the 24 Heurs duMans (Overall) with its 905 model twice, (1992-93) before returning to the Circuit De la Sarthe in 2007 with its mighty 908 TDi, winning the French classic once again in ’09.

Formula 1
Meanwhile, in 1993, Peugeot Sports Boss Jean Todt left after being turned down by Management over his pleas to become an F1 Constructor, with Todt going off to rival Scuderia Ferrari to revamp its F1 Racing Department which was in a shambles...

And I’m assuming that the French “Lion’s” Formula One engines it provided were a derivative of its winning WSC lumps? As I was unaware that Peugeot sold off its disappointing F1 engines to Asiatech at the end of 2000.

As I simply recall the French Lion’s lumps going KUHBLAMOE way too many times as Ron Dennis swiftly ditched these in favour of Mercedes, while ‘EJ puttered along with the unreliable engines before a swansong three seasons with Alain Prost: (1994) McLaren; (1995-97) Jordan; (1998-2000) Prost.

ProstProst Grand Prix (1997-2001)
If nothing else, you’ve got to commend Alain Prost, France’s only World Champion for taking a spirited stab at Grand Prix Racing, by running his own Team, albeit born out of the ashes of Guy Ligier’s longstanding effort, albeit under Flavio Briatore’s ownership. As Prost certainly seemed to try making a go of it, with his two Homegrown Stars being Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis, along with three other fairly decent lads named “Truli Scrumptious,” (Jarno Truli) “Quick Nick,” (Nick Heidfeld) and “Heinz 57,” (Heinz-Harald Frentzen) not to mention a potential up ‘N comer named Tomas Enge.

Renault Sport (1977-1986, 1989-97) Renault F1 2002-Present)
Although Renault actually is credited with winning the very first Grand Prix in 1906, the Post-war iteration of Renault Sport was born out of a merger between Renault-Gordini and Alpine, borrowing heavily from Alpine’s F1 turbocharged Prototype, before making its debut in the British Grand Prix as the Renault RS01 in the summer of 1977.

Originally spurned by rival F1 Constructors, this revolutionary turbocharger engine would shortly become de rigor in Formula 1 some scant three-plus years later, although it would be German rival BMW winning the very first ever World Championship with a turbocharged Powerplant.

Renault Sport ran its Factory “Works” Team between 1977-85, with Jean-Pierre Jabouille appropriately making history for the French Auto manufacturer by scoring the first ever Grand Prix victory by a turbocharged racecar, while Elio de Angelis, Rene Arnoux, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna would contribute to the “Reggie’s” growing number of Grand Prix victories, before Renault decided to drop its racing program at the end of 1985.

For the year 1983, Renault hired Mecachrome SA, a precision parts company whose work included the Concorde Airplane as producer of its Customer lumps (engines) to Lotus. The following season Mecachrome built engines for Lotus and Ligier while Renault itself quit racing at the end of the year.

Yet for the next two years, (1985-86) Mecachrome supplied engines to Lotus, Ligier and Tyrrell, as Renault honoured their contracts with these customers until the end of the ’86 season before quitting F1 completely.

Yet once again Renault revolutionized Grand Prix engine design with the advent of its all conquering Normally Aspirated V-10 lump, which featured the use of a pneumatic valvetrain to conquer the spiraling increases of engine revolution demands. Renault returned initially as a Sole Engine Supplier to Williams in 1989, which ultimately saw Williams capture the first of its four Drivers World Championships in 1992 with Nigel Mansell.

Yet once again the Reggie Subcontracted Mecachrome as the producer of Customer engines, once again to Ligier beginning in 1992, whilst over the winter of ’94 Flavour Flav (Flavio Briatore) purchased the faltering Ligier concern. Briatore did so mainly in order to secure the French Powerplant to propel Benetton Ace Michael Schumacher to his second Drivers Crown in 1995.

Renault then announced the selling of its engine business to Mecachrome in Mid-1996, as the company had just been privatized, with Mecachrome supplying these V-10 units to Williams and Benetton badged as Mecachrome and Playlife respectively.

Then upon his ouster from Benetton, Flavour Flav set-up a company that bought the Mecachrome engines and resold them as Supertec engines to Benetton, Williams and BAR before Renault purchased the Benetton racing Team in 2001 and returned as a F1 Constructor the following season, with Flavio securing another two Drivers Championships with Fernando Alonso in 2005-06; meanwhile Flavio has once again been removed, this time permanently for his handling of “Crash-gate,” with a majority share of the racing Operation having been sold to GenII Capitol, with Customer engines being supplied to Red Bull Racing since 2007...
To continue reading, see: Bastille Day - Les Bleu Pilotes'