3/8/1884 - 21/4/1916
Georges Boillot was a French Grand Prix motor racing driver and World War I fighter pilot who was shot down over Verdun in a dogfight with a squadron of German fighters during WW1. Georges Boillot died 106 years ago, he was 32
Born in Beaulieu-de-Valentigney, a mechanic by training, Boillot started racing in 1908 and went on to join drivers Paul Zuccarelli and Jules Goux to help create a novel range of racing cars as part of the Lion-Peugeot Voiturette team. He debuted with them in 1909 in the Coupe de l'Auto at Rambouillet and in 1910, went to Italy to compete in the Targa Florio.
When Lion-Peugeot were absorbed into the senior Peugeot company, the racing team and it's drivers went too. However Peugeot weren't interested in Voiturette racing and commissioned their new acquisition to build them a Grand Prix car. Designed by the young Swiss engineer Ernest Henry in association with Zuccarelli, Goux and Boillot, the result, was the first motorcar in the world to have an engine with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It was one of the landmark designs in motor racing history and, for 3 years between 1911 to 1913, all were swept before them.
Armed with the best equipment available, Georges Boillot became the leading driver of the immediate pre-WW1 period, only the great Felice Nazzaro was probably more talented, but he'd stepped away from Grand Prix racing in order to delve into the commercial side of motoring, and Georges' only consistent challengers were his own team mates, Jules Goux, Paul Zuccarelli, Rene Thomas and Dario Resta
At Dieppe, France, on June 26, 1912, Georges Boillot won the French Grand Prix in his Peugeot L76. Boillot won the Coupe de l'Auto in 1913 and became the darling of French racing fans when he won his second straight French Grand Prix at Amiens.
That same year, his Peugeot teammate, Jules Goux became the first Frenchman to win the Indianapolis 500 in the United States. The following year the French sent a number of competitors to the Indiana speedway where on May 27, during qualification runs, Georges Boillot came tantalizing close to breaking the 100 mile-an-hour barrier when he set a new speed record of 99.860 mph. Much faster than any other driver, Boillot would most likely have won the race with ease had it not been for repeated tire trouble. He ended up finishing 14th while his fellow Frenchmen finished in the top four positions with René Thomas getting the win.
Ironically it was the Germans,in the guise of Mercedes, who would finally rise to the technical challenge and, in what would turn out to be his last race before the onset of the WWI, the 1914 French Grand Prix at Lyon, he was beaten by Christian Lautenschlager in a Mercedes.
In what is often considered to be his finest race, Boillot demonstrated all his tremendous skills to keep the Peugeot running. With the car literally falling apart around him, it finally overheated on the last lap forcing him to retire, handing victory to Lautenschlager. Lautenschlager had never been in the same league of driving talent as Georges and his victory owed everything to the superiority of his Mercedes.
With the outbreak of war, Georges joined the newly formed Armee de L'Air as a fighter pilot. Initially his duties involved driving the commander-in-chief, General Joseph Joffre, to help him keep in touch with the various units under his command. But looking for action he requested to join a fighting unit beoming a fighter pilot. During his active service he won the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'Honneur.
However he lost his life on April 21 1917 when he engaged in a dog-fight over the French town of Verdun-sur-Meuse (on his own, it is said, against four or five German Fokkers), and came off second-best to the Germans for a second, and conclusive time, crashing near Bar-le-Duc. Severely injured, he died in a military hospital at Vadelaincourt, Meuse.
In his honor, several places in France named a street for him and there is a George Boillot School in Montlhéry in the Essonne département near Paris.
When racing resumed in 1919, Peugeot returned, and initially they seemed to be going to pick-up where they left-off with Georges' younger brother Andre winning the 1919 Targa Florio. However neither Andre nor Peugeot would play a major roll in Grand Prix racing beyond that first season. Andre did continue racing well into the 1930s, and did maintain a close association with Peugeot.
Georges' son, Jean Boillot, became the director-general of Peugeot Talbot cars and in 1981 was responsible for involving Peugeot in motor sport again.
historicracing.com with input from Ricardo Davilla