In Grand Prix racing history, there have been two Henri Durands, both from the town of Mamazet, near the celebrated fortified city of Carcassonne, in the south of France.
Unsurprisingly, Henri Sr was the father of Henri Jr -but both have had very different paths in the sport.
Henri Sr was a racing driver, born in 1903, who joined the happy band of daredevils who raced in France in the 1920s and 1930s. He started out with a Rally cyclecar, powered by a SCAP engine, but soon moved on to acquire a more potent two-litre Bugatti T35, a Grand Prix car that allowed him to race against the big names of the day. It was underpowered by the time he acquired the car in the early 1930s and he would later switch to a Bugatti T37, a 1.5-litre version of the T35, designed for voiturette racing, which gave him a better chance of success. He would race throughout the 1930s, his best results coming in Casablanca in 1932, where he finished second in the voiturette class at Anfa to Pierre Veyron (after whom the modern Bugatti is named) and later a third place at Albi in 1934 and second (to Veyron again) at the same track the following year.
He then faded away from the racing scene and the name Henri Durand did not pop up again until the 1980s, when his son Henri Jr, born in 1960, emerged as the leading light of the generation of French aerodynamicists, trained at the Ecole Nationale Superieure de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, who joined the sport in the 1980s.
F1 teams had begun to understand how important aerodynamics are for racing cars, largely as a result of grand-effect machinery, pioneered by Lotus in the late 1970s. It was still a fairly hit-and-miss business at the start and Ligier’s success in the 1979-1981 period was more to do with practical knowledge than science. When the team realised that it needed a different approach it went looking for aerodynamicists and signed up the 23-year-old Durand to work on the Renault-powered JS23, which had been designed by Michel Beaujon and Claude Galopin. This was not too bad, scoring some points in the hands of Andrea de Cesaris, but the JS25, which followed in 1985, was better and scored four podium finishes in the hands of Jacques Laffite and Philippe Streiff. The JS27 of 1986 helped the team to finish fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, the team’s best showing since its glory days.
Sadly, the collaboration with Renault ended and the team went into a dive and Durand was lured away to work with John Barnard at Ferrari. This partnership resulted in the radical but elegant Ferrari 639 and 640 designs – the predecessors of the 641, one of which features today in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (right). The 640 won its first race in the hands of Nigel Mansell in Brazil in 1989 but Ferrari decided to change its approach and Barnard was pushed out and Durand departed soon afterwards, the Frenchman joining McLaren in the summer of 1990. He replaced Mike Gascoyne as the head of aerodynamics and remained at McLaren for the next 10 years, becoming a UK citizen along the way.
The team won the World Championship in 1998 and 1999 with Mika Hakkinen. At the end of 2000, however, he decided to return to return to France to become Technical Director of Prost Grand Prix. That was not a great success because Prost never had the money to do the job properly and Durand moved on to Jordan, where he became director of race and test engineering before being taken on by Red Bull Cheever Racing in Indycar in 2004. He would return to Europe later to work briefly with the abortive Epsilon F1 team in to Vitoria-Gasteiz, in northern Spain before getting a job with Mecachrome back in the US market. He spent a while working with Panther Racing in the Indy Racing League before finally settling into a job at Toyota Racing Development in Charlotte, NC.
Durand was nonetheless a competitor, like his father, but his preferred sport was rowing, right back to his college days when he competed at national level. In recent years, Durand suffered a serious surfing accident, which resulted in his left leg being amputated below the knee. Keen to continue rowing, but unable to find a prosthetic leg which could do the job, he solved the problem by designing one himself, which was then machined from solid titanium by the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR team. This allowed him to return to competition in rowing and to inspire others with disabilities to chase their dreams.