AGS  

Official Name: Automobiles Gonfaronaises Sportives
Nation: France
Founded: 1969
Team Principal(s): Henri Julien (1986-1989)
Cyril de Rouvre (1989-1991)
Patrizio Cantù and Gabriele Raffanelli (1991)
Past Drivers: Philippe Streiff (1988): 16 races, 0 points
Gabriele Tarquini (1989-1991): 44 entries, 13 races, 31 DNQs, 1 point
Pascal Fabre (1987): 14 entries, 11 races, 3 DNQ, 0 points
Yannick Dalmas (1989-1990): 25 entries, 5 races, 20 DNQs, 0 points
Ivan Capelli (1986): 2 races, 0 points
Roberto Moreno (1987): 2 races, 1 point
Fabrizio Barbazza (1991): 12 entries, 12 DNQs
Olivier Grouillard (1991): 1 entry, 1 DNQ
Stefan Johansson (1991): 2 entries, 2 DNQs
Joachim Winkelhock (1989): 7 entries, 7 DNQs
First GP: 1986 Italian Grand Prix Best Finish: 6th
Last GP: 1991 Monaco Grand Prix Best Grid: 10th
Entries: 125 Grands Prix: 47 Non-starts: 79
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0 Points: 2 Retirements: 25

YEAR-BY-YEAR GRAND PRIX HISTORY
1986 2 Grands Prix, 0 points, Not Classified
1987 16 entries, 13 Grands Prix, 1 point, 12th overall
1988 16 Grands Prix, 0 points, Not Classified
1989 31 entries, 5 Grands Prix, 1 point, 15th overall
1990 32 entries, 8 Grands Prix, 0 points, Not Classified
1991 28 entries, 3 Grands Prix, 0 points, Not Classified

AGS

Frenchman Henri Julien had owned a service station in his hometown of Gonfaron for almost twenty years while dabbling as an amateur racer, founding the Automobiles Gonfaronaises Sportives – or AGS, for short – four years after he hung up his helmet.

The other half of the AGS operation would be a young technician, Christian Vanderpleyn, who had joined Julien’s garage as an apprentice mechanic when he was fourteen. Julien wanted to build his own cars, and with Venderpleyn under his wing, the youngster set about designing them with the assistance of a couple of other willing technicians. It truly was a cottage industry team, and it’s a style that never really changed all the way into their almost-six-year stint in the spotlight of Formula 1.

The team built single-seater racers for a host of domestic championships – from Formula France all the way to Formula 2 – for the likes of Richard Dallest and Philippe Streiff. The drivers scores several wins, but the outfit didn’t have the resources to mount a full tilt at championship title honours.

Unhappy with the spiralling costs of Formula 2 – which was set to become Formula 3000 – Julien figured that he could keep his costs at a similar level in Formula 1, and so made an approach to Renault to secure a customer engine deal.

Renault rebuked him, and undeterred, Julian approached the Italian engine firm, Motori Moderni, who were dipping their toes into F1 by supplying engines to the privateer Minardi outfit.


Breaking into F1

They agreed to a deal and formed the Jolly Club AGS F1 team, which would enter the final European rounds of the 1986 championship before launching a full-time entry in 1987. Under Vanderpleyn’s direction, the tiny crew of seven AGS staff designed and built the team’s first F1-spec car, the JH21, in the team’s cramped corrugated iron workshop among the Gonfaron pine trees.

Partly-derived from that year’s Formula 3000 car and the rear end of Renault’s 1985 F1 car, the JH21 had its test debut at Paul Ricard in the hands of former F1 driver Didier Pironi, who had his first outing in Grand Prix machinery since his career-ending accident four years earlier.

The car would make its World Championship debut at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, with Ivan Capelli – then leading the Formula 3000 championship – getting the racing honours.

Having survived its first two Grands Prix at Monza and Estoril – admittedly, not managing to finish either – the team readied itself for the 1987 season.

Its first full year saw the team produce a new car and land itself a new engine – the turbo Motori Moderni had proved both underpowered and unreliable – in the Ford Cosworth DFV-powered JH22, which was effectively a minor redesign of the JH21 with the addition of an oddly-placed airbox.

Into the cockpit came a young Frenchman called Pascal Fabre, and Julien had high hopes for the team’s first full year: to finish regularly and then hopefully land a few points-scoring finishes in the back half of the season.

Finish regularly they did. Fabre sensibly brought the car home at every Grand Prix all the way to the British Grand Prix, but without a points’ finish the team needed to keep it out of prequalifying.

From the next round in Germany, things started to go pear-shaped. Mechanical gremlins began to set in, and Fabre started to fail to make the qualifying cut. And as the tiny team’s coffers dwindled, Julien made the difficult decision to dump Fabre for the final two rounds and replace him with Formula 3000 racer Roberto Moreno, who had one Grand Prix DNQ to his name way back in 1982 with Lotus.

Moreno proved considerably quicker than Fabre, and in an attrition-hit curtain-closer on the streets of Adelaide, the diminutive Brazilian brought the JH22 home in sixth place to claim the team’s first championship point. It would only happen to the team on one further occasion.


A rise, and then a fall…

Buoyed by the team’s first top-six finish, Julien set about building the team and going about on the search for a major sponsor, which came in the form of public works company Bouygues, who pumped in enough funds to allow for the development of a brand new car and a bigger workshop for the team.

In came Philippe Streiff as the team’s new driver, who immediately showed promise in the JH23 by putting in a string of excellent qualifying performances, only to see points finishes go begging, either by mechanical intervention or over exuberance on account of the driver.

But the momentum began to falter in the mid-season, and Bouygues stopped paying. With debts mounting, Julien was forced into relinquishing control of the team to business magnate Cyril de Rouvre, who was owed a substantial amount from his support of the team.

De Reouvre set about getting more funds into the team, expanding it to a two-car operation for the 1989 season with the appointment of Joachim ‘Smoking Jo’ Winkelhock as teammate to Streiff. A new car, the JH24, was being designed, but it wouldn’t be ready until the mid-season.

But it was during the final pre-season test at Rio de Janeiro where things took a terrible turn. Streiff suffered a huge accident that ripped the roll hoop clean off. Coupled with inadequate trackside medical assistance, the Frenchman would suffer a severed spinal cord and be a quadriplegic.

Gabriele Tarquini was hired as the unfortunate Streiff’s replacement for the rest of the season, but the loss of the team’s lead driver – on top of the major restructuring going on in the team’s headquarters – meant that the year was largely a write-off. Tarquini scored the team’s second and final points finish with a surprise sixth-placed finish at Mexico.

Winkelhock never made it past Friday prequalifying, and his mid-season replacement, French driver Yannick Dalmas, didn’t do any better. The introduction of the new JH24 didn’t improve matters either, and Tarquini failed to qualify the hopelessly slow car even once.

Despite an injection of more sponsorship and new management, matters didn’t improve into 1990. The new JH25 arrived by the third round of the season, but it was just as slow and heavy as its predecessor. It was a richness of embarrassment, and the new management and sponsors left as quickly as they arrived. Race finishes were rare, on the miraculous occasion that either Tarquini or Dalmas made the grid…


A sad farce…

What ultimately became AGS’ last season in Formula 1 was simply about survival. The team needed pay drivers and after losing out at the eleventh hour to a deal with the Marlboro-backed Andrea de Cesaris (who wisely joined the Jordan team and reignited his career), the  team started the season with Tarquini and Stefan Johansson, who had just spent two years with the equally appalling Onyx/Monteverdi concern.

Tarquini even offered to buy into the team, and in his negotiations, he brought in Patrizio Cantù and Gabriele Rafanelli, who in turn brought back Vanderpleyn, who’d left AGS when de Rouvre came on board.

The constant reshuffling didn’t do any good at all. Johansson quickly quit the team and was replaced by IndyCar rookie of the year Fabrizio Barbazza, who couldn’t qualify either the ancient JH25 or its replacement, the JH27.

The team’s last race outing came at the Monaco Grand Prix in May – Tarquini retired – and the outfit staggered on until the final European round in Spain before commonsense prevailed and the team closed its doors.

While the outfit may not have graced another major motorsport category again, many of its cars still survive as part of its Formula 1 driving school, which has proved far more profitable than its Formula 1 team ever could be.

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