- August 29, 1945
- Not Active
The French racing legend Jean Ragnotti, one of the stars of the world rallying during the 1980s, is most known as the pilot of the fantastic Renault 5 Turbo before and during the Group B era. Besides winning three WRC events with Renault, including 1981 Rallye Monte-Carlo, Ragnotti was also the French touring car champion in 1988.
He was also successful in other motorsport disciplines, including single-seaters and sports cars, scoring 4th place overall at 1977 24h Le Mans. Today, Ragnotti is the Renault brand ambassador and he is still active on the race tracks and rally stages, recording his last official race in 2015, at the age of 70.
Late start of the career
Jean Ragnotti was born on August 29, 1945, in Pernes-les-Fontaines in the Provence-Cote d'Azur region. He started his racing career relatively late, at the age 24, entering the rally races with Opel Kadett Rallye and circuit racing with Renault 8 Gordini.
In 1970, he competed for the first time at Rallye Monte-Carlo, which was his home event, because his birth place was close to Monaco region. Driving the Opel Kadett Rallye, co-driven by Pierre Thimonier, Ragnotti finished 11th overall in his first Monte Carlo Rally.
First international rally podium with Opel Kadett
Later in the season, he competed in many events of the European Rally Championship, scoring second place as the best result at International Tulpenrallye in Netherlands. He was also driving Opel Commodore in some races, including Tour de France and Nurburgring Nordschleife.
In 1971, Ragnotti was again 11th at Rallye Monte-Carlo and repeated the participation at the European Rally Championship, still with Opel Kadett, but the most notable race that year was Targa Florio in May. He was driving Lancia Fulvia HF alongside Raffaele Pinto, but they failed to finish the race.
Class win at 1000 km of Nurburgring
In 1972, Ragnotti's new car was Opel Ascona and he finished 9th at Rallye Monte-Carlo. In the European Championship, his only podium was third place at Olympia Rally in Germany. He continued combining rally racing and circuit racing, using different cars. At 1000 km Nurburgring, Ragnotti and Werner Christmann took the class victory, driving the Steinmetz Opel GT 1900. At 24 hours of Spa, he was competing with Alfa Romeo GTV 2000. At Tour de France, his car was Chevrolet Camaro.
After trying many manufacturers, Ragnotti was driving Renault rally car for the first time at 1973 Rallye Monte-Carlo, which was the part of the inaugural World Rally Championship. In the #7 Renault 12 Gordini, Ragnotti finished 15th overall.
A season in the British Formula 3
Another big change followed in 1973, because Ragnotti switched to open-wheel car racing, entering the British Formula 3, driving the March 733 for the Ecurie Antar. In 1974, he was driving March 74S prototype in the European 2-litre Championship, finishing 4th in the points.
In September 1974, Ragnotti had an interesting one-off appearance at the European Grand Touring Championship, driving the Porsche 911 Carrera RS at Monza 6-hour race. His co-driver was Thierry Sabine, who became known a few years later as a founder of Dakar Rally.
Occupied with prototype racing, Ragnotti skipped the 1974 rally season, participating only at Safari Caledonien and taking third place with BMW 2002 Ti. In 1975, he returned to Monte-Carlo, driving Alpine-Renault A110 1800, but retired after an accident. While driving the Datsun Violet 710, he won the 1975 Safari Caledonien.
Ragnotti's Le Mans debut in 1975
In June 1975, Ragnotti debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans. He partnered Michel Lateste in the Tecma 755 prototype. They retired due to fuel injection problems. Ragnotti also competed in the 1975 Formula Renault Challenge, finishing second in the points, behind Rene Arnoux and in front of Didier Pironi.
The 1976 season was Ragnotti's first year with expanded WRC programme. He was driving Ecurie Gitanes' various versions of Alpine-Renault in five WRC events, retiring four times. His best result was 4th place at Tour de Corse.
Fourth place overall and class win at 1977 Le Mans
In 1977, Ragnotti returned to Le Mans and scored his career-best result at Circuit de la Sathe. He was partnering Jean Rondeau in the#88 Inaltera LM77 prototype and they finished fourth overall, taking the win in the GTP class.
In rallying, Ragnotti came to Monte-Carlo with Volkswagen Golf GTI, for the first time with co-driver Jean-Marc Andrie, who became his longstanding partner. They finished 18th overall and 4th in class. Later in the season, the duo participated in two more WRC events (Sanremo and UK) with Renault 5 Alpine.
First WRC podium at 1978 Rallye Monte-Carlo
The season 1978 was the year when Ragnotti reached his first WRC podium, finishing second at Rallye Monte-Carlo. He was driving Renault 5 Alpine, the winner was Jean-Pierre Nicolas with Posche 911. In the same season, another WRC podium followed at Rallye Cote d'Ivoire, so Ragnotti finished ninth in the points of the Cup for Rally drivers.
Fourth place again at Le Mans
In June 1978, Ragnotti gained one more success at 24 hours of Le Mans, again finishing fourth overall. He was a part of the Renault factory team in the #4 Alpine A442A prototype, together with Guy Frequelin, Jose Dolhem and Jean-Pierre Jabouille. The winners were their teammates Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in the #2 car.
In 1979, which was the first year of the World Rally Championship for drivers, Ragnotti continued to collect WRC podiums with Renault 5 Alpine, finishing second at Tour de Corse, behind Bernard Darniche in the Lancia Stratos HF. Darniche was Ragnotti's partner at 1979 24 hours of Le Mans. They were sharing the #5 Rondeau M379. They finished fifth overall, behind four mighty Porsches.
Pole position and retirement at 1980 Le Mans
At 1980 Le Mans, Ragnotti was a partner of Henri Pescarolo in the #15 Rondeau M379B. They had a pole position but unfortunately retired after 124 laps. The winners were Jean Rondeau and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in the similar #16 car.
Ragnotti was more successful in the 1980 rally season, taking one victory at the European Rally Championship at Rallye de Lorraine and finished sixth in the points. His only WRC event with Renault 5 Alpine was Tour de Corse, but he retired because he had some technical issues with all-new Renault 5 Turbo.
Ragnotti scored first WRC win at 1981 Monte Carlo Rally
And then the 1981 Rallye Monte-Carlo came, Ragnotti's race of a lifetime and his first WRC victory. Driving the #9 Renault 5 Turbo, he won with almost three-minute advantage over Guy Frequelin and Jean Todt in the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
It was an important event when Audi Quattro cars appeared, but unfortunately, Hannu Mikkola and Michele Mouton didn't finish the race. In the 1981 WRC season, Ragnotti participated in two more races, finishing fifth at RAC Rally and retiring at Tour de Corse.
Tragedy at 1981 Le Mans race
He was driving Renault 5 Turbo in the circuit races also, taking the second place in the Renault 5 Turbo Eurocup, winning three out of twelve races. His return to Le Mans in June was marred by a tragedy, when his co-driver Jean-Louis Lafosse was killed in a crash with #25 Rondeau M379.
1982 Tour de Corse victory
In the 1982 WRC season, Ragnotti clinched one more legendary victory with Renault 5 Turbo. It was at Tour de Corse in May, when he won with more than five-minute advantage over second-placed Jean-Claude Andruet in the Ferrari 308 GTB. When it comes to other WRC events in 1982, Ragnotti finished third in Monte-Carlo and crashed out at Rallye Cote d'Ivoire.
He didn't miss the 1982 Le Mans race, again driving for Jean Rondeau. Besides the team owner Rondeau, his other co-driver was Henri Pescarolo. The trio in the #12 Rondeau M382 retired after 146 due to issues with Cosworth engine. It was Ragnotti's last Le Mans participation. In the 1982 Renault 5 Turbo Eurocup, Ragnotti finished third.
Reunited with his first rally co-driver
In 1983, Jean finished only one out of five rallies he entered. It was the Rallye Monte-Carlo and he finished in 7th place. During the season, he again paired with his first co-driver Pierre Thimonier.
The season 1984 was much more successful, as Ragnotti scored two wins at the European Rally Championship and finished 8th in the points. In the WRC competition, his best result was 3rd place at Tour de Corse, behind two Lancia 037 Rally cars of Markku Alen and Massimo Biasion.
Third WRC win at tragic 1985 Tour de Corse
In 1985, the new generation of Renault 5 Maxi Turbo came and Ragnotti scored his third WRC victory, beating all the rivals in the 4WD Group B cars at Tour de Corse. He won the rally with more than 12-minute advantage ahead of Bruno Saby in the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2.
Unfortunately, Ragnotti's victory was overshadowed by the death of Attilio Bettega.
WRC podiums with underpowered car
In 1986, the last year of Group B cars, Ragnotti switched to A7-class Renault 11 Turbo, that wasn't so competitive as the previous model. However, he finished fourth at Tour de Corse, in the event remembered by the death of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto.
In the first post-Group B season, Ragnotti continued to drive Renault 11 Turbo and participated in five WRC events. He scored two podiums, finishing second at Rallye de Portugal and third at Rallye Sanremo.
Jean was the best French touring car driver in 1988
In the next two seasons, Ragnotti slowed down with rally activities and focused on the touring car racing with Renault 21 Turbo. In 1988, he won the French Touring Car Championship title. A year later, he finished second in the points.
In 1990, Ragnotti returned to rally stages, driving the Renault 5 GT Turbo in five ERC events and one WRC event (Tour de Corse). He didn't finish the race at Corsica due to engine failure. In 1991, the new Renault Clio 16S came to the rally scene and Ragnotti scored the first win at Rallye Grasse-Alpin, the round of the European championship. Later in the season, he took one more ERC podium, finishing second at Rallye du Var.
In 1992, Ragnotti was victorious at Rallye du Var and he finished 9th in the European Rally Championship standings. His only WRC event was Tour de Corse, where he took 9th place overall and first place in A7 class with Renault Clio 16S.
Renault cars were changing, Ragnotti remained the main driver
The evolution of Renault rally cars continued in 1993 when Ragnotti was driving the Renault Clio Williams. At 1993 Tour de Corse, he finished 8th and was the best among the drivers of front-wheel driven cars. Clio Williams was Ragnotti's ride in 1994, with participation at two WRC events (Monte-Carlo and Corsica). In both races, he was the fastest of the drivers in FWD cars.
His 50th birthday Ragnotti celebrated driving the Renault Clio Maxi. At Rallye Monte-Carlo he won in the 2-litre World Championship, taking seventh place overall. In 1996, the new car was Renault Megane Maxi. It was Ragnotti's last year of active rallying. He participated in 12 events, including his last participation at Tour de Corse, where he finished 10th overall.
Renault ambassador and the main showman
Since 1997, Ragnotti continued to appear at rally stages but in the historic events or as a driver and he also became the Renault brand ambassador.
He also competed occasionally in some races with Renault cars, for instance, Spa 24h in 2000, Belgian Procar in 2000, Le Mans Classic in 2014 or Renault Sport Trophy in 2015. He is also a regular guest at many Renault events as the showman in the Renault 5 Turbo, the car that made him famous.