Bloody Heroes: Jean Ragnotti
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Having announced his retirement at 74, we look back at the accomplished life and history of Jean Ragnotti.
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Known as “The Acrobat”, Jean Ragnotti is the fearless driver with wins at Group B and WRC, among other racing disciplines. He even had a career as an accomplished stunt driver. The success of Renault’s famous sporty hatchbacks, both classic and modern, owe a lot to this man.

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Ragnotti’s love for Renault started when at a very young age. He learned to drive his family’s Renault Juvaquatre at the age of 6! It was clear that driving came naturally to him and a career in motorsport was written in his future. The Renault 8 Gordini was his first race car and was bought from his earnings as a truck driver. The small, lightweight and nimble characteristics of the Gordini became the hallmark of Jean’s future race cars.

At 22, he made his motorsport debut at the Istres rally (1967). His success in that and the 1968 Renault 8 Gordini cup launched his professional racing career in 1971. Not long after, his talent was noticed by a movie stunt coordinator which lead to him doubling for actors such as Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo. This career was short-lived as Ragnotti refocused his efforts towards rally sport racing for Renault.

This new direction brought waves of success for Ragnotti as he won every leg of the 1977 French Rallycross championship in the Alpine A310 V6. Jean even made entries into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 4th and 5th in 1978 and 1979 respectively. No small feat considering the high chances of DNFs.

A line-up of Jean Ragnotti’s race cars Images by

Ragnotti’s had a tendency towards rally and entered the WRC, winning at Monte Carlo (1981) and Tour de Course (1982 and 1985), while driving the bonkers Renault 5 Turbo and Renault 5 Maxi Turbo. It is thanks to these victories that the Renault Turbo 5 cars became synonymous with Jean Ragnotti. In the 90s, Ragnotti continued to drive Renault’s sporty hot hatchbacks but this time in the front-wheel-drive Clio Maxi. All these cars shared the same engineering philosophy of being small, light and nimble. Much like the Renault 8 Gordini that he debuted his racing career in.

Although retiring from professional racing in 1995, Jean has remained loyal to Renault as their brand ambassador. He made frequent appearances as a showman for his fans which he was really popular. His ability to oversteer with precision earned him nicknames such as “the Acrobat” and “Negotiator of Corners”.

In October 2019, Jean Ragnotti announced his retirement at the age of 74. We wish him a happy retirement and thank him for all that he as given in the name of motorsport.

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By Jamil Jafri

Editor at The Mechanists