Legendary F1 owner, sports car driver Guy Ligier dies at 85

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Some sad news out of France came through on Sunday, as Guy Ligier passed away at age 85.

After his rugby playing career, Ligier was a driver in his own right, competing throughout the mid-to-late 1960s in Formula One, and also went onto race in sports cars including at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Where Ligier made his mark though was as a team owner and constructor. Based first in Ligier’s hometown of Vichy and later in Magny-Cours, the team was a staple on the F1 grid from 1976 through 1996. They won nine races, scored 50 podiums and achieved nearly 400 career points – which in those days was quite a decent haul in prior F1 points systems where 9 points occurred for a win, then 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 made up the minor placings.

Jacques Laffite scored the first Ligier win for the Matra-powered JS7 at the 1977 Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp, his first of six wins with the team. Patrick Depailler and Didier Pironi added a win apiece.

However the team’s dry spell lasted from the 1981 Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal, Laffite’s last Ligier victory, to Olivier Panis’ shock and iconic win in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix – the team’s last year as a Constructor before Ligier sold to Alain Prost, and Panis’ only career victory.

In recent years the Ligier name has made a comeback as the chassis designation for Jacques Nicolet’s Onroak Automotive line of prototype cars. The Ligier JS P2 chassis has had a successful year-plus racing in both Europe and North America with the new Ligier JS P3 chassis, which debuted at Le Mans this year, set for a race debut later this year after a series of testing.

Ligier himself was present at the Ligier JS P3 launch (pictured left, with Nicolet), although did not appear in the best of health at that time.

We extend our sympathies and thoughts to Ligier’s family.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.