Jean-Louis Schlesser

Schlesser was born in France but grew up in Morocco where his father worked as an agricultural engineer. When he was young Schlesser raced bicycles and then motorcycles, inspired by the exploits of his uncle Jo Schlesser. In 1963 Jean-Louis was sent back to France to study. Jo was killed in the French GP at Rouen in 1968 but after completing his military service Jean-Louis eventually enrolled in the racing school at Le Mans in 1970.

He finished runner-up and tried to compete in Formule Renault the following year but he did not have the money necessary. Schlesser did some rallying and development work for racing car companies but it was not until 1978 that he made his mark in Formula 3, sharing the French national championship with Alain Prost. He struggled after that but in 1981was given the job of racing for Martini in the European Formula 3 Championship. That launched his career, although at 33 he was much older than many of those he was racing against. That year he finished second in the Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing a Rondeau with Jacky Haran and in 1982 he was signed to drive a factory Maurer in the European F2 series. At the end of that season he did his first test for the Williams F1 team.

He had an F1 outing in the non-championship Race of Champions in 1983 with RAM but did not have the money to continue although he did continue to test for the Williams team throughout the 1980s. In 1984 he was offered a job with the TWR Rover team in the French Touring Car Championship and he won the title the following year. He then graduated to the Austin Rover European Touring Car team and ultimately to the TWR Jaguar sportscar team.

In 1988 Williams asked him to stand in for Nigel Mansell who was unwell, and he made his Grand Prix debut at the age of 40 at the Italian GP. Late in the race the leader, Ayrton Senna, tripped over Schlesser while overtaking and went off, enabling Ferrari to score a 1-2 finish.

At the end of that year Schlesser was hired by Sauber Mercedes for the World Sportscar Championship and he won the title for two consecutive years. As sportscar racing faded, Schlesser moved to raid rallying and began to build his own two-wheel drive buggies. These became so dominant that Jean-Louis won six consecutive Two-Wheel Drive Trophies while also winning some events outright. In 1998 he switched to Renault power and won four consecutive World Championships, including a win on the Paris-Dakar in 1999. He continues to compete in rally raids.

A great character, Jean-Louis also appears in the French Taxi film series playing a policeman!