Former Porsche works driver, Gérard Larrousse, celebrates his 80th birthday on Saturday 23 May 2020. Gérard Gilles Marie Armand Larrousse was born in 1940 in Lyon, where his father ran a textile factory. “I was fascinated by motorbikes and sports cars from a young age but my family had other plans for me. For my father, cars were mainly a means of transport,” he reminisces. When he was 21 and still a student, he attended the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris and took part in his first rally in France. After completing his studies and military service, Larrousse decided in 1966 to make racing his career. “My first job was as official works driver at NSU France. After that, I drove for Automobiles Alpine for two successful years,” he says of his early days as a professional racing driver.
In 1968, Gérard Larrousse almost prevented the first Porsche win at the Monte Carlo Rally. Driving a Renault Alpine 1300, he was a major threat to Porsche works driver Vic Elford who was behind the wheel of a 911 T. Only when spectators shovelled snow onto the track on a special stage did Gérard lose control of the car and have to give up. However, in some way, Larrousse still won. When Porsche’s chief engineer Peter Falk approached Elford a little while later and asked him who the best French racing driver was, he answered: “That would be Gérard Larrousse.” This is how the fast man from Lyon was appointed to the Porsche works team in November 1968.
The 1969 rally season started with the Monte Carlo Rally. In his first race, Gérard Larrousse finished second behind Björn Waldegaard. By the end of the season, he not only won the Tour de Corse in the 911 R that year, but also the Rallye Neige de Glace and the Tour de France d’Automobile stage race, where he proved his all-round talent together with Maurice Gélin. Gérard Larrousse: “The race took eight days. It was a mix of rally and hill climb, and drivers had to be skilled in both disciplines. But only a very few were skilled in both, among them Vic Elford who opened the door to Porsche for me.”
Gérard Larrousse also lived up to his reputation as a fast all-rounder when he finished in second place at Le Mans in 1969. Together with Hans Herrmann, he lost the tightest finale of all time at Le Mans by just 120 metres. In 1970, he was again placed second in the classic endurance race at the Circuit de la Sarthe with Willi Kauhsen behind Herrmann and Richard Attwood.
In the same year, he came third in the Tour de France Automobile driving a 911 S 2.4 “Tour de France” in the yellow and red hippie livery, finishing just behind two factory Matra MS650 prototypes. “I drove the lightest 911 ever built by the factory. It weighed 789 kilograms,” says Larrousse. Originally, the 911 weighed 800 kilograms but Larrousse offered the mechanics a bottle of champagne in a bet for every additional kilogram they could save.
Larrousse enjoyed his greatest successes partnered with Vic Elford, who became a longtime friend. In 1971, they won the 12 Hours of Sebring on 20 March in the #3 Martini 917 K as well as the Nürburgring 1000 km race on 30 May in the #3 Martini 908/03 Spyder. At Porsche, Larrousse became known as a genuine all-rounder with the nickname of “the gentleman from Lyon” as he was straightforward, correct and one of the fastest in the world.
A few years later, Gérard Larrousse earned two well-deserved victories at Le Mans. In 1973, he won the race driving the #11 Matra-Simca MS670B with his French compatriot Henri Pescarolo, and in 1974 with Pescarolo again, driving the #7 Matra-Simca MS670C. As the Renault racing team manager, he led the French car manufacturer to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans ahead of Porsche and then in the Formula 1 where Renault won its first Grand Prix in 1979. In 1986, in collaboration with French lawyer Didier Calmels, he established his own Formula 1 team under the name Team Larrousse Calmels.
Gérard Larrousse has continued his close involvement with Porsche, and became President of the 24 Hours of Le Mans drivers’ club in 2008. As an ambassador of the Porsche brand, he participates in numerous historic driving events. For instance, in 2017 he and his friend Vic Elford competed at the 17th “Tour de Corse Historique” in a 911 SC RS for the Porsche Museum.
On 14th June 2012 at 11h00, Gérard Larrousse was awarded the Spirit of Le Mans by the (then new) ACO President Pierre Fillon, for his past association with the Le Mans 24 Hours and also for his tireless efforts in motor racing in general. This prestigious trophy had been awarded since 2001 by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to people who have served the Spirit of Le Mans. Larrousse scored back-to-back victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1973 and 1974, and was an eclectic driver able to shine in endurance and rallies, with a brief foray into Formula 1. He then became a team manager, and he was at the head of Renault Sport when the French manufacturer scored a memorable win in the Sarthe in 1978 with Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in the legendary Renault-Alpine A442B. Today, Larrousse continues to spread the renown of the Le Mans 24 Hours as he works with the International Club of Le Mans 24-Hours Drivers, of which he is the secretary.
Gérard Larrousse is now retired and lives in Marseilles, active and happy dividing his time between riding his bike, playing golf and his automobile activities.
Edited by: Glen Smale
Video by: Rennsport Collective
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto & Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale