Jean Ragnotti – l’acrobat de Renault………

Jean Ragnotti Castle Combe 1999

The following article was written for Stage Times by me after meeting Jean Ragnotti at Castle Combe Race Circuit on 21st August 1999 ( I know, I spelt it wrong in the article ). The club invited him to our annual bank holiday track day.
Attached is a scanned copy of the print commissioned by me on behalf of The Group B Car Club by the brilliant Jim Bamber. We presented the original to Jean.
Just to emphasise how down to earth this man is at lunch time in the café at Castle Combe we brought in the two hundred or so prints we were distributing to members and asked Jean if he would sign one or two.  He signed every one !

Finally, he didn’t retire and is still spinning around Europe when it suits him.

Jeannot, l’acrobat.

Johnny, the acrobat. It’s hard to imagine that John Ragnotti is coming to Castle Coombe this year. He’s something of a hero to me and yet I’ve never seen him rally on anything other than videotape. An awful lot of Club Members probably have never heard of him, but anyone remotely interested in French cars and motorsport will be clammering to get his autograph on August 21st.

So why so popular ?

In France he is a motor racing icon. Equally at home on a circuit or on loose gravel, he is a prolific winner of both races and rallyes, in a style emulated by no other.

Alain Prost raced against him early in his career and maintains that Ragnotti could have followed a career in Formula 1. Maybe he was right, Ragnotti was runner up in the Formula Renault Europe in 1975, narrowly beaten by Rene Arnoux.

Born on 29 August 1945 in Monteaux, France, Ragnotti passed his driving test 18 years later and started work as a delivery driver, trucking between Nice and Amsterdam. To relieve the boredom he was known to pull off the autoroute and head off into the hills to “throw his camion about a bit”. This skill and experience did not go to waste. Later in his career Ragnotti , as a hobby, would take up stunt driving, standing in for actors such as Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon.

At the age of 22 he started his competition career rallying a Renault 8 Gordini, the beginning of a long association with Renault. He continued rallying for the next five seasons in various cars including an Opel Kadett 1900.

1973 saw a change to circiut racing , Ragnotti piloting a Formula 3 March to victory in Montlhery and finishing 6th in the French Championship. In 1974 he finished 4th, but after a brilliant season in 1975 he decided to go back rallying. He said in an interview with Car and Car Conversions magazine in 1985 that he preferred rallying because it is more involved than racing, in racing you turn up, qualify, race and go home. In a rally there is reconnoitre, testing and the rally itself which usually takes place over a few days.

In 1976 he signed to drive for Renault and he has driven for them ever since. In 1976 he drove an Alpine A310 in the French Rally Championship and in 1977 used the same type of car to take the honours in rallycross. After some giant-killing results in the Renault 5 Alpine ( called the Gordini in the U.K. )in 78 and 79 Ragnotti began 1980 knowing that before the end of the year he would debut the Renault 5 Turbo. Oh yes, I almost forgot. In between all that he entered Le Mans in 1978 and finished 4th overall !

In the French Auto Passion (Auto Collection No.10) publication of the Renault 5 Turbo Jean Ragnotti wrote “The Renault 5 Turbo offered me the chance to pit myself against the best in the World Championship. With it I won my first World Championship victory, The Monte Carlo Rally in 1981. I then won two Tour de Corse Rallyes in 1982 and 1985”.

The 1980 Tour de France Automobile Rally was the venue for the little cars debut (although Guy Frequelin had hinted at what was to come previously in the 1979 Giro d’Italia). As mentioned above major success came the following January in Monte Carlo co-driven by Jean-Marc Andrie. The same pairing came to Great Britain later that year to compete in the RAC Rally, finishing a creditable 4th overall on their first ever attempt. During the 1981 and 1982 rally season Ragnotti also competed in the Renault Elf Cup, a series of races at various circuits throughout Europe with all competitors in identical 5 Turbo’s. He finished 2nd in the Championship in ‘81 and after competing in a limited number of rounds in 1982 finished a creditable 3rd.

Both racing and rallying up to the 1985 season he could now take on the top drivers in the Renault 5 Maxi, a much modified version of the 5 Turbo. In it he won the famous Belgian round of the European Championship , the 24 hours du Ypres, a victory many drivers covet. Success on the Tour de Corse, the Tour de France Automobile and Alsace Rallyes completed a memorable 1985 season.
It’s interesting to consider what Jean Ragnotti would have achieved if Renault Sport had followed other manufacturers along the path of Group B four wheel drive Rally cars instead of concentrating on Formula 1.
Ragnotti’s ability was never in dispute and the Maxi historically was the fastest Group B Rally car on tarmac, with the smallest engine and rear wheel drive only. Renault’s rallying engineers have always produced well prepared and cleverly designed cars on limited budjets and with the 1986 season approaching decided to have a go at Group A Rallying. Did they see “the writing on the wall” ?

Ragnotti was back to giant killing performances again. Piloting his front wheel drive Renault 11 Turbo to Group A class wins in European and French Rallyes, the banning of Group B at the end of 1986 put Group A cars firmly in the public gaze for the 1987 season. Consider the opposition on loose rallyes and tarmac rallyes that Renault were up against in 1987 :- Lancia 4WD HF Turbo, Mazda 323 4WD, Ford Sierra 4×4 and Cosworth, Audi Coupe Quattro and 200 Quattro, BMW M3 and main 2WD opponent Volkswagen’s Golf 16V. Then look at what Jean Ragnotti and Renault achieved :- 6th Monte Carlo, 2nd Portuguese, 4th Tour de Corse, 5th Acropolis, 3rd San Remo putting Ragnotti 5th overall in the World Championship for drivers.
Unfortunately 1988 intercooler and turbo coefficient rule changes meant that the Renault 11 would no longer be competitive so Ragnotti and Renault went racing once again.

The following two years he raced in French Championships in a Renault 5 Maxi developed for racing and a Renault 21 Turbo 4×4 and then for 1990 went back rallying.

Ragnotti competed in the French Rally Championship right up to 1995 campaigning and developing Renaults Rally cars from the Group N 5 GT Turbo, through to the Clio 16v and Clio Williams and on to the Clio Maxi.

He is still involved in development work for Renault and was recentely entertaining journalists at the much publicised launch of the racing Clio V6.

His style and skill have made him a household name in France and anyone who at the end of winning a race, along the pit straight at 90 plus mph can induce a double 360` spin in any car he is driving, including 4wd turbocharged saloons and carry on without killing themselves has got to be special, haven’t they ?

Curriculum Vitae.
1967 Debut
1968 7 Hillclimb class wins. 3 Rally victories.
1969 Opel Kadett 1900 debut. 1st in Group 1 Tour de Corse, 17th o/a.
1970 11 victories out of 14 Rallyes in Group 1. 2nd o/a in French Rally Championship.
1971 Victory in Group 2 in Monte Carlo Rally.
1972 Victory in Group 1 in San Remo Rally, 3rd o/a in Lancia.
1973 Victory in Formula 3 Race at Montlhery, 6th o/a in French Championship in March (Antar).
1974 4th o/a in French Formula 3 Championship in 2 litre March (Antar) Prototype.
1975 Formula Renault Europe, 18 Races for Antar. 2nd o/a in Championship behind Rene Arnoux.
1976 Rally season with Renaul Elf.
1977 French Rallycross Champion in A310.
1978 Debut Renault 5 Alpine, 2nd o/a on Monte Carlo, 3rd o/a Bandama, 1st in Group 2. 4th o/a Le Mans
in Alpine Renault Turbo Elf.
1979 4th o/a Acropolis, 2nd o/a Tour de Corse in Renault 5 Alpine Group 2.
1980 1st o/a Lyons-Charbonnieres in 5 Alpine Group 2. Debut Renault 5 Turbo in Tour de France
Automobile.
1981 Victory in 5 Turbo in Monte Carlo. 1st o/a Du Var. 4th o/a RAC. 2nd o/a in Renault Elf Cup
1982 Victory in Tour de Corse. 3rd o/a in Renault Elf Cup (did not compete in every round).
1983 Rallye season in Renault 5 Turbo Tour de Corse-no success. Raced in Renault 5 Alpine Turbo
Production Series.
1984 1st o/a in Alpin-Behra, Monte-Blanc, Tour de France Automobile, 5th o/a Portuguese, 3rd o/a Tour
de Corse, in Renault 5 Turbo Tour de Corse. French National Rally Champion.
1985 Victory in Tour de Corse in Renault 5 Maxi , 1st o/a 24 Hours du Ypres, Tour de France
Automobile, Alsace.
1986 Victory in Group A Class in Rally des Cevennes, Du Var, 24 Hours du Ypres, Rally de Della Lana in
Renault 11 Turbo.

Cont.

1986 Victory in Group A Class in Rally des Cevennes, Du Var, 24 Heures du Ypres, Rally de Della Lana in
Renault 11 Turbo.
1987 6th o/a Monte Carlo, 2nd o/a Portuguese, 4th o/a Tour de Corse, 5th o/a Acropolis, 3rd o/a San
Remo, 5th o/a in World Rally Championship for drivers in Renault 11 Turbo Group A.
1988 Wins in French Super Production and French Championnat Productionnais in 5 Maxi and 21 Turbo.
1989 Wins in French Super Production and French Championnat Productionnais in 5 Maxi and 21 Turbo.
1990 4th o/a in French Rally Championship in Renault 5 GT Turbo Group N.
1991 1st o/a Grasse-Alpin, 4 No. 2 Litre Class wins, 3rd o/a in French Rally Championship in Clio 16v.
1992 1st o/a Limousin, 1st o/a Var, 7 No. 2 Litre Class wins, 2nd o/a in French Rally Championship
Group A Clio 16v.
1993 1st o/a Tour de la Reunion, 7 No. 2 Litre Class wins, 4th o/a in French Rally Championship in
Group A Clio Willaims.
1994 1st o/a Tour de la Reunion, 5 No. 2 Litre Class wins, 5th o/a in French Rally Championship in
Group A Clio Williams.
1995 Rallying in Clio Maxi in French Rally Championship.
1996 1997 Development work / contract driving.
1997 – 2013 Still actively involved in the wordwide promotion of Rallysport.

James Jones.

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