Jean-François Piot

Jean-François Piot

28/3/1938 - 6/11/1980

Jean-François Piot was one of the members of the legendary Renault Armada, a superteam of drivers that competed in the rallies near the end of the 60s in the 'voitures bleues' of the Régie Renault. The group, composed exclusively of French drivers, counted with other notable names as Jean-Luc Therier, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Jean-Claude Andruet and Bernard Darniche that, with so many 'Jeans' in the team, was sometimes jokingly called Jean-Bernard as well. Entering rallies with the Renault Gordini and the Alpine Renault Berlinetta, the Renault Armada won several of the most famous rallies of the world in those seasons.

Piot was born in 1938 and started his racing career in 1964, driving a Renault Dauphine in local races for a private team that also included a young Henri Pescarolo. Piot's success was such that at the end of that season he was nicknamed 'le roi de la Dauphine 1093'. These results allowed him to be nominated official driver for Renault, winning the 1966 Tour de Corse with co-driver Jean-François Jacob in a Renault 8 Gordini Proto, and the Rally dei Fiori-Sanremo of the following year with co-driver Claude Roure at the wheel of a Renault 8 Gordini.

Piot's outings were not limited to rallying; he also raced in five editions of the 24 Heures du Mans, in which he drove Renault, Triumph, Porsche and Ligier. His best result was a 14th place overall in 1965 sharing a Triumph Spitfire with Belgian Claude Dubois, and his last attempt at the Circuit de la Sarthe took place seven years later in a Maserati-engined Ligier co-driven by Guy Ligier himself. Piot also drove five times the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, obtaining his best result in 1966, a 15th place with Jean-Claude Andruet in a Renault 8 Gordini.

At the end of the 1968 season Piot left Renault and its associated Société des Automobiles Alpine and moved to Ford France, driving yellow-and-green-liveried Escort and Capri models in rounds of the World Rally Championship. He partecipated also sportscar races for Ford France and in the 1969 1000 Kms of Paris at Montlhery circuit he was 5th over all in a Ford GT40 with Michel Martin.

His first race for the new team was the 1969 Rallye de Monte-Carlo, in which he obtained a credible fourth place with co-driver Jim Porter in a Ford Escort TC, followed by a third in the Tour de Course, using a Capri RS and navigated by future Scuderia Ferrari manager Jean Todt, and sixth at the Tour de France Automobile, with co-driver Jean-Paul Behra also in a Capri RS.
In 1970, the association between Piot and Todt as navigator continued, and they finished the Alpenfahrt Rally in Austria in third place and the Acropolis Rally in fourth.

The next year Piot managed third at the Coupes des Alpes and seventh at the Tour de France Automobile, both with Jim Porter. Piot's last season with Ford France was 1972: his most remarkable result that year was a fifth at the Rally de Monte-Carlo, once again with Porter in an Escort RS.

In 1973 Piot returned to Renault and was classified second at the Tour de Corse with co-driver Jean De Alexandris - driving the second Alpine Renault A110 of the five that finished the event in the first six places. Despite this formidable result, Renault decided that it was time to abandon the fabulous Alpine berlinetta at the end of the year in favor of a new car, the 1600 cm3 Renault 17 coupé. This model had a rather problematic development and Piot, re-united with old mates Therier, Nicolas and Darniche had a frustrating year. The only victory in a World Rally Championship came in the hands of Jean-Luc Therier, who took the laurels at the Press-on-Regardless Rally in the United States; Piot's best mark was a second in the Lyban-Sirie Rallye. Such disappointing results led Renault to bring the Alpine A110 1600cm3 out of retirement for the all-important Tour de Course, which the marque entered with three of these cars while reluctantly keeping a 17 for Piot; he finished the event in eighth place, whilst the Nicolas was best driver in an Alpine in second. The victory belonged to Andruet, who had defected from Renault, at the wheel of a Lancia Stratos.

The Renault 17 was in need of a substantial performance improvement, and one of its main changes for 1975 was the adoption of a larger, 1800 cm3 engine. The car did acquire competitiveness and, still together with De Alexandris, Piot completed the Rallye de Monte-Carlo in a promising fifth place overall, having won the event in the Group 2 category. However, later that year Piot suffered a major accident in one of these cars at the very first stage of the Rallye du Bandama in Ivory Coast in one of these cars and decided to hang up his helmet at the end of the season.

But the fire for racing that burned inside Piot's heart would not be put down so easily. After five years officially out of racing he let the second thoughts that had been mulling on his head come out and speak for themselves, and engaged in the Paris-Dakar event as an assistance staff. In 1980 he put together a team of two Vespa PX 200s, ridden by M. Simonot and B. Tcherniawsky, in the second Paris-Dakar rally. They reached the finish line.

Although this was surely exciting, it could not be compared with the thrill of being behind the wheel. Thus, after an invitation by Jean Claude Bertrand, Piot decided to take part in an event the latter was organizing, the 1980 Tour du Maroc, a grueling twelve-stage, 6300-kilometer long crossing of that African country. On 06 November 1980 the Land Rover driven by Piot went off the road for unknown reasons and fell down a two-hundred-meter ravine in the mountains of the Haut Atlas Central during the fourth stage of the event. Bertrand, who was at the end of that segment of the rally, rushed back to assist the rescue of his friend, but it was too late; Piot had died at the scene. His co-driver, Jean R. Mourene suffered several injuries, but fortunately survived.

After the Piot's fatal accident Team Suzuki, then in the two first positions in the classification table of the event, withdrew for the race in respect for Piot. Regardless of that the rallye was taken to the end, and at the finish line the winner was Furgerouse in a Toyota Land Cruiser.


Nanni Dietrich

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