The racing world of the 1950s is full of hidden gems, to say the absolute least. The career lifecycle of drivers was perhaps even longer than it is today, even if the expected lifespan was shorter. Opportunities were endless to travel back and forth around the world, but it was just as possible to make a great name for oneself in their own country or region. Today’s reject Roger Loyer had a near-40-year career of professional racing that took him until he was almost 60. Twice French national motorbike champion, he switched from two wheels to four after the Second World War, and did well enough to nab himself an F1 drive in 1954.
|August 5th 1907
|March 24th 1988
|Number of Entries
|Number of Starts
|Retired (Argentina 1954)
Early Years: the Parisian Chauffeur
As with so many of the earliest Grand Prix drivers, Roger Loyer’s beginnings are somewhat vague and mysterious. He was born and raised in Paris, and as a young adult he worked in various driving roles, including as a chauffeur, while it is understood that his father may have been a taxi driver himself. His very first races came when he was just 20 years old, in early 1928. As part of his automobile upbringing, he had gained a strong knowledge of engineering and maintenance, and took this throughout his life, such as in his later years when he would settle in the City of Lights with his own garage.
However, while Loyer qualifies as a reject for his stint in a four-wheeled F1 race, bikes were his first and foremost passion in his younger days. It wouldn’t be until 1938 that the Frenchman would take his first dip into four-wheeled racing.
1932-1936: A National Name on Two Wheels
Paris was and is surrounded by many small and accessible racing tracks. It was in the local scene that Roger began in the late 1920s, before expanding his horizons. Naturally, he started in the lower cc categories, with most of his entries concerning the 250cc and 350cc classes. These events were always multi-class, usually in concurrence with one another, and often in the realm of 20 to 50 motorbikes participating.
His first major success that turns up in the history books, so to say, is his 350cc podium at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the May of 1932 on his beloved and soon-to-be-famous Velocette. As is often the case, success breeds success, and another podium came right after with another podium in Reims-Gueux. Both tracks in northern France were to be his hunting grounds in the years to come.
In 1933, his first victories came. Winning the Drap d’Or, Comminges and the very first Grand Prix de l’Albigeois at the Albi circuit in three consecutive weekends, Roger Loyer was now officially a name to be reckoned with. Further podiums in Dieppe and Linas-Montlhéry were the cherry on the cake, with the latter rounding out the year’s season of racing.
1934 saw Loyer’s first successes in 500cc events, although it would be a class he would seldom participate in. He saw success in this and in 350cc events, such as at Comminges where he won in both classes in one weekend. New podiums came at Carcassonne, while Linas-Montlhéry saw more double duty and another double podium. Indeed, it was something of his circuit of choice, as he would end up second the following year. Carcassonne bore a double podium in 1935, while Albi and Comminges saw yet more victories in 350cc. 1936 was a leaner year for George, although he finally took a victory at Linas-Montlhéry to round out the year.
1937-1947: French National Champion
While the early 1930s had been a boon for racing and events everywhere, there was a noticeable drop as the Second World War approached. There were only six national events around France by 1937, as opposed to the 15 to 20 when Roger started. The central tracks – Albi, Linas-Montlhéry, etc. – all stayed on the calendar. Of the two events mentioned, he won both, before taking the French Championship. At this point, the latter track was being organised as the season-closer to decide the country’s national champions in their biking class. It so happened that Loyer, in his 250cc Velocette, made him one of France’s golden boys.
His name now firmly in those history books, Loyer had a much more stripped back calendar in 1938. His only biking event was the following national championships, and in the 350cc class this time he again won and was declared French champion. One thing of great interest occurred, however: Loyer drove a race in a four-wheeled machine. Furthermore, it was a little-known national event called the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Having bought himself a collection of sportscars off the back of his success, Loyer entered the 1938 Le Mans race with a Watney Delage, along with Georges Monneret. Despite their best efforts, the two made it around a third of the way through before a fuel pump issue took them out of the running. The following year saw him enter with Armand Hug from Switzerland, but one of the two collided with three-time winner Luigi Chinetti’s entry around halfway through, causing both cars to retire.
1939 would see the vast majority of the year’s planned races take place before war broke out. However, Roger’s season would be halted after a horrific crash he experienced at the Grand Prix des Remparts that summer. Racing drivers are a rare breed though, and Loyer amazingly attempted to run in the French national championships just months later. However, he crashed out of the first lap, and his only remaining event was at the Coupe de Paris, which he won at Linas-Montlhéry shortly before war broke out.
These events which had made Roger so successful and known in his native France were halted for close to a decade, although Loyer was among the first to bring racing back to a recovering country. At Bois de Boulogne, he took part in the very first post-war race in the country in the September of 1945.
In this post-war period, bike racing was still the foremost category of racing that Loyer partook in. Victories in Croisé-Laroche and at the Circuit des Remparts came in the immediate years, along with another win at old faithful Linas-Montlhéry.
1947-1953: Loyer on Four Wheels
After the Second World War ended, there was a revival in car racing all around the country. France, which had always in the first decades of racing been one of the world’s central hubs for talent, tracks, and culture, led the earliest post-war years, and helped build the careers of many drivers whose careers had been stalled by the world conflict.
It was in these post-war years that Loyer’s career switched to four wheels instead of two. He went from cameos to full seasons of events. At the Pau Grand Prix event for the wonderfully named Écurie France, he shared a car with Charles Pozzi, himself a Reject, before the car busted a wheel and sent them both home early. Entering alone for the Grand Prix du Roussillon, this time unusually electrics were deemed at fault, and the car ground to a halt around two thirds of the way in. Further mechanical bumps and bruises took him out of the race at Marseille, while at the Swiss Grand Prix in Bremgarten he was knocked out already in the first heat.
It is important to note that Loyer’s entries were private, or on the backs of his friends, and driving a pre-war Delage D6 meant that his car was close to a decade old, and never with any real chance of performing strongly on any weekend. When he switched briefly to a Cisitalia D46 – only a year-old design – the performance came with it. His debut with the machinery at Albi netted him a fourth place, and a month later he took another fourth at Comminges behind famous names like Louis Chiron. It was a mightily busy year for Roger, and the last of his truly busy ones. Now 40 years old, he was no spring chicken, and the pace of his calendar started to slow. A podium at the Montenero Circuit in Italy was proof he still had it, though.
Throughout this time he was no longer focussed on Écurie France; now he had his own team named Écurie de Paris, based out of his garage in the very upmarket 17th Arrondissement of the French capital. His teammate, always mysteriously self-styled in the entry books as Robert, drove with him for most events in their two Cisitalia D46s. It was in this car that Loyer had taken his podium in 1947, and the following year in 1948 he would finish third again. In his return to the event, he would take a podium too at the Coupe de Paris.
1948 as a whole was a bit of a luckless year for Roger. His few appearances, such as at Pau and Comminges, led to very early mechanical retirements. At Linas-Montlhéry, he was ninth and six laps down – far off the pace he had been able to show even a year earlier. He took part in the 12 Hours of Paris, again at Linas-Montlhéry, but failed to finish. 1949 saw even worse luck: no success at Linas-Montlhéry; he didn’t qualify through the heats at Marseille; he crashed out at the Grand Prix des Remparts, although he had set the fastest lap of the weekend during the first heat! Robert and he shared a drive to 6th at the Circuit de Lac, while the two made a rare trip abroad to the Grand Prix of the Nürburgring, where Roger again retired early on in his Cisitalia.
Roger’s career experienced a turnaround in 1950, when the modern era of motorsport is said to have started. Signing up with the Simca Gordini team, from here for the next half-decade he engaged in on-and-off Formula 2 races around France and the surrounding countries. This time he was often partnered with Nello Pagani, who was himself both a motorcycle champion and a one-race GP Reject. The two hardly saw success, but they did see action, such as when they finished second at Medoc in a race that saw only four finishers! Another retirement at the Grand Prix des Remparts was a sad end to the year. He was also entered into Le Mans again that year, along with former biking rival Jean Behra. Five hours in, however, their engine blew and they were forced into retirement.
His first entry at what we would now call a Formula 1 event was at the non-championship German Grand Prix, which had a whopping 52 entries, 36 starters, and only ten finishers. Loyer and Robert were not among those ten, sadly, and neither made it past the fifth lap at the gruelling circuit. Earlier that year the two had entered the Grand Prix of Geneva, held the same day and on the same track as the Grand Prix of Nations. Again, a retirement and his teammate finishing last.
1951 was a bare year for results, but in 1952 he took a podium at the Coupe de Salon at the very familiar Linas-Montlhéry. In that year’s Le Mans, Loyer again failed to finish with Clarence de Rinen, again lasting five hours before a clutch issue took them out. In 1953, he was entered in a private Gordini with Andre Guelfi, but again reliability took him out 10 hours in. However, that year Loyer would take a four-wheeled win at the Linas-Montlhéry finally, just a week after winning in Agen. It was these double victories that got him into Formula 1 and onto this website.
1954-1965: Formula 1 and Retirement
With Loyer’s reputation being so strong throughout France, and his double victory turning heads, Gordini offered the Frenchman a drive at one of the world championship events. It would be Roger’s first and only event outside of Europe, and indeed one of the remarkably few outside of his native France. At Argentina, which began the 1954 season, he qualified second of his team’s three entrants. Remarkably ahead of Jean Behra but eight seconds off the pole time, he only made it a very short time in the race before a drop in oil pressure stopped him out on track.
Loyer’s footnote in Formula 1 is therefore very short. However, he was not done yet for F1 racing: two weeks later there was another race at the very same Buenos Aires circuit for the remarkably named Buenos Aires Grand Prix. Here, in the Gordini T16, Loyer’s car broke down yet again, although he would share teammate Elie Bayol’s car for the second half and take it to a mighty tenth. And these two paragraphs begin and conclude the Frenchman’s international racing career.
From here, races become fewer and fewer in frequency. Loyer won the Bol d’Or one last time in 1955, while achieving further late-career glory in 1956 when he won the GT class at the multi-event Agen Grand Prix. While 1956 was the year the Frenchman fully wound down his career, an enthusiast would tell you that he popped up here, there, and everywhere, for close to a decade afterward.
There were late entries, such as at the Coupe de Printemps in early 1960, where he took an Elva 100 to what was very likely his last victory in any category at the age of 52. His last entry was very likely the 1965 Coupe de Paris, where at the age of 58 he entered with an Alfa Romeo GTA under the Service Sport team (the name of his garage). Fifth place was no mean feat, considering his competition included the winner Bernard Consten, who was himself four-time French rally champion in various classes.
In his retirement, Loyer continued the running of his garage in Paris. While the garage itself no longer exists, it is believed to have worked in repairs and selling. Selling what? Deluxe British caravans, of course!
Roger Loyer’s career can tell us a lot about the real enthusiastic world of passion racing that thrived close to a century ago. He was someone almost every race of whose career was in France, because it was possible and worthwhile. His career could thrive in an era where his home country had its own established circuits, events, awards, and glory. To be a champion in France, and to beat the opposition on these circuits, really meant something, whether on two wheels or four. It meant that Loyer could achieve the glorious peaks that he did with remarkably little in the way of international experience. He could get himself into the World Championship of Drivers based off of what was effectively one victory in one class in a national-only series. It shows both how accessible the top series was, and also the value placed upon the competition and the drivers of these national series.
Like us all, Roger Loyer was therefore someone of his time. While he may be unknown to the absolute majority of racing fans today, footnoted by those who believe that F1 is the only series and that 1950 is when racing began, he remains both a hero of his day, and an example of the old days when one didn’t need to reach F1 to be a hero.
Sources: racingmemo; driverdb; oldracingcars; statsf1; the-fastlane; historicracing; racingsportscars; forums.autosport; les24heures; lemans.eklablog; autodiva; velobanjogent; cyclememory; museocisitalia; franceaviation