Between heaven and the sea

Didier Pironi was linked with watersports already since his youth. He was a university swimming champion, appreciated water-skiing or enjoyed life on-board his parents' yacht. Already while being in Formula One he imported Italian Abbate speedboats as well as Lamborghini engines to France.

During his reconvalescence after the accident at Hockenheim he coped more with motorboats and together with his half-brother José Dolhem he founded a company called "Euronautique-Leader" at St. Tropez. 5000 square metres of hangars for reparation and preparation of boats were built. Additionally Leader competed with three boats in the 1986 European Offshore-Championship, with an Abbate 41 with Didier Pironi on board, a Conquest 39 ('Rocky') and a Cigarette 38. All three were of course powered by Lamborghini engines. Didier had driven the 1986 season to find out and settle down in the 'scene' and also found out about the unpleasant sides of the sport when breaking four ribs in an accident during his first race near Villanuova in Spain.

In 1987 he competed in the World Championship, together with his navigator Bernard Giroux, a two times Paris-Dakar winner with Ari Vatanen, and the so called "throttleman" Jean-Claude Guénard, an ex-Ligier engineer. The boat, the 'Colibri' was revolutionary. Entirely made of carbon fibre it was the lightest boat among the competitors, less than 3500 kg, built at the ACX shipyard at Brest, France.

Then in early August 1987 came the first big success - the Midial-Colibri (Midial being the main sponsor) won at Arendal in Norway, Pironi and his team became the top-competitor for the title.
Among the congratulations there was even a telegram from Enzo Ferrari which touched Didier a lot. Totally enthusiastic they went on to England for the Needles Trophy, a race off the Isle of Wight. Just after the start the 'Colibri' was already among the top five, a few minutes later they took second place.

A duel between the 'Colibri' and the Italian boat 'Pinot di Pinot', piloted by Renato della Valle, developed. The two boats, with the 'Colibri' still in second place, approached a signal where they had to turn around. Not far away the smaller Esso-tanker 'Avon' cruised the sea. To be in front after the turning-point, the 'Colibri' crew stayed on the throttle but took a narrower way around the turning-point, then hit a wave produced by the tanker. Suddenly the extremely light and unstable 'Colibri' was in the air, went head-over, crashed down onto the surface again, onto water that is as hard as concrete at speeds like these. The crew was killed instantly while the boat was only slightly damaged. The lifeless bodies of Didier Pironi, Jean-Claude Guénard and Bernard Giroux were brought back to the Isle of Wight by Navy helicopters.

Didier Pironi was buried at Grimaud near St.Tropez a few days later. He left his wife Catherine, pregnant with twins.

After the accident José Dolhem took over the role as team principal, the 'Colibri' was salved, fitted with a kind of a 'hardtop' roof and raced by (among others) Jean-Pierre Jarier. The team decided to continue the season in honour of Didier and his crew.

Then, at the beginning of the 1988 season, José Dolhem died in an airplane crash when he was on his way to the event off St.Tropez.

By this the Leader team had practically stopped to exist. The boat was stored in a shed of the Leader property at Baie des Canoubiers at St.Tropez.
After many years when the carbon fuselage had already begun to delaminate, the boat was finally sold for just one Euro to Michel Hommell, a publisher of many car and motorsport magazines in France, at that time producer of an exclusive sportscar in the tradition of Alpine, the Renault powered Hommell Berlinette and owner of a beautiful museum called the Manoir de l'Automobile at Lohéac in Brittany, France.
With the help of Lamborghini and the Abbate brothers, the famous boat constructors from Lago di Como in Italy, the Colibri has been restored and is now on exhibition at the Manoir de l'Automobile. Last time I visited the village even the old trailer of the Colibri could be found on the court of the former Hommell factory.
Mail : info@didierpironi.net