16/4/1899 - 10/5/2000
Gérard made his money from slot machines in Paris. Louis retired from racing in 1951 and went on to become the first major driver to reach his century, dying at the grand old age of 101.Louis Gérard died 22 years ago, he was 101
Born in Arres, Louis Gérard was the "slot machine king" of Paris. He had, through fair means or foul, managed to control the slot machine market in Paris and who had a liking for the most beautiful and expensive cars of the 30s.
He had not shown any interest in racing when his 9 year old son one day in 1937 convinced him to take a look at a Delage coupe that was for sale. The Delage had been built for the 1936 Le Mans. It had a beautiful bright red luxurious coupé body by Figoni & Falaschi and as the 1936 Le Mans was never run the car had been used instead for rallying and sports car racing. I had also became the show piece for the Delage brand and often stood in Walter Watney's car showroom in Paris which is where it was when Louis saw it. He liked what he saw and paid for the car with several bags of 20 centimes coins. Gerard was persuaded by de Valence to enter the car in the 1937 Le Mans. de Valence maintained that since the car he had bought was a racing car, as such it should be raced. So at 38 Gérard found himself making his racing debut at the Le Mans 24h race, finishing 4th.
Gérard was soon racing regularly and he proved to have natural talent. He raced with determination and a very aggressive style which would get him into trouble later. He drove the car for the rest of the year with quite good results. Then in 1938 the body was put on a Delahaye T 135CS chassis while Figoni & Falaschi delivered a new sports car chassis for Gérard's Delage. With the rebuilt car Gérard took part in the 1938 sports car season, finishing second in Antwerp and Spa and achieving his greatest moment with victory at the Tourist Trophy at Donnington Park on the 3rd September.
In 1939 he raced Delage cars for Walter Watney and had a try at GP racing at Spa in a Delahaye and it was Louis Gérard who changed Watney’s mind towards racing with his successes in his private grand-touring 3L Delage. With Gérard, Delage kept a foot in racing with no need to maintain an expensive racing department. Moreover Watney realized that at each good result of his driver, sales increased. When, at the end of 1938 Gérard sold his car to Peter Aitken, Watney built two Delages 3L 6cyl with Delahaye chassis.
At le Mans in 1939, Sommer was first to move, but Arthur Dobson was the leader as the field headed for the esses. However Luigi Chinetti in the 4.5 semi-GP Talbot passing the pits for the first time in the lead. Gerard moved up into second and a lap later, he took the lead. Sommer went out on the third lapbut even with the pre-race favorite sidelined, Gerard pushed on regularly running 95mph average lap speeds. Near the end of the first stint, Mazaud passed Wimille for second and closed up on Gerard’s Delahaye.
The battle for the lead continued relentlessly with the leaders constantly in touch through the four-hour mark.
At quarter distance, Chinetti had moved to the front though but because of scheduled fuel stops. When the round of stops were completed, Gerard was leading in the No. 21 Delage, a lap ahead of Chinetti in the No. 1 Bugatti.
Just after lunch, the leading Delage, which had been circulating with stunning regularity averaging 93mph, pitted with a sick sounding engine. Wimille took the lead and immediately eased the pace. In what was to be the final Grand Prix d'Endurance for a decade Wimille won with the Delage of Gerard and Monnefet second overall and first in the 3.0-liter class.
In 1946 Walter Watney set up the Ecurie Walter Watney with Gérard and Monneret as drivers and was planning to have 20 of these cars built for a one-model series of races run by the independent drivers association U.S.A. However the series never materialized.
Walter Watney still had the excellent 1939 3L 6C sports car at his disposal and a copy of it was ready for the Dijon race in 1946 for Gérard. Unforunately three weeks later Gérard was involved in an accident and subsequently had his licence suspended.
It happened at Nantes in 1946. He was driving the ex-Etancelin Maserati 8CM. Gérard was on the the fourth row of the grid with Mazaud. Wimille took the lead followed by Levegh and Raph. Mazaud and Chaboudgot away slowly. On the fourth lap, Mazaud tried to overtake Gérard’s Maserati. But Gérard was having difficulty keep the car in a straight line and moved into the path of Mazaud. Whether the cars touched or if Mazaud swerved avoid a Gérard, Mazaud’s Maserati flipped throwing him on to the track. Chaboud crashed into a ditch in an effort to avoid Mazaud. Sadly Mazaud had suffered severe injuries to his head and chest. He was taken to a Nantes hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The Clerk of the Course, Charles Faroux, came under pressure to take action due to the dangerous nature of Gérard’s Maserati. Finally some laps later he showed him the black flag. It would appear that Gérard did not obey since his competition licence was suspended on August 9th. Gérard appealed but this was rejected on January 29th, 1947. Gérard’s career was effectively over.
His hard charging driving style had provoked some discussion before the war so it immediately became a common belief that this - and not the indadequacy of the track - had been the cause of the accident.
Thus Watney now without his main driver decided to entrust Gérard with his cars as the manager of an independent team, the Ecurie GERSAC. Five Delage D6-3L were built and they were passed onto Gérard as soon as they were finished. Three of them appeared at Monthléry in February 1947, the fourth in Perpignan and the fifth at Monthléry in early June. By then Gérard had realised that with only 150 bhp the cars were not going to be competetive in Grand Prix racing. After some rather luke warm performances the agreement between Watney and Gérard was terminated.
Louis retired from racing in 1951 and went on to become the first major driver to reach his century, Louis died at the grand age of 101.