Teams André Simon
Races: 12Andre Simon: One Overlooked and Underrated FrenchmanBy Jeremy McMullen
Being one of the elite motor racing drivers of the world is an achievement in and of itself. Being a champion is truly a rare feat. But to be considered one of the best all-around drivers is truly something very special, but that is often overlooked and underrated. And one such overlooked and underrated all-around driver would have to be Andre Simon.
Andre Simon's resume reads like an adolescent dream. Often picked to drive some of the most potent cars for manufacturers at the height of their dominance, Simon would have the opportunity to drive some truly special cars for some truly special teams. Manufacturers like Gordini, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz would all come beckoning Simon for his talents. This would be a testament to the Frenchman's talents and abilities, but it would also make for one intriguing story. How could a man that many considered to be as quick as Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari be so unknown and overlooked? The fact is, there is no easy answer to that question, and that only adds to the intrigue.
Born in Paris in January of 1920, Andre Simon would be around automobiles all of his formative years. His father, Mathis, had a French car manufacturing company prior to the outbreak of World War II. In addition, Mathis had a garage located in the suburbs around Paris. Therefore, young Andre would practically grow up at the garage.
Unfortunately, Andre's early life would be marked by tragedy. At just the age of nine, Andre would lose his father. As a result, Andre would be raised by his uncle. By the time he was fourteen or fifteen, Andre would begin working in the garage in which he had inherited with his father's death.
Then came World War II. This would disrupt Andre's life as it would so many others. However, at war's end, he would return to his garage business, but would no longer be involved in car manufacturing.
Being in his mid-twenties at the end of a long world war, it wouldn't be at all surprising Simon would come to have a zest for life and for motor racing. It was natural for Simon. He had grown up in a garage, and therefore, motor racing would be the natural course he would take. And, sure enough, in 1948 Simon would purchase a Talbot-Lago and would begin his motor racing career.
One of his first races, rightfully so, would take place at Montlhery. And in the end, Simon would prove just how natural motor racing was for him as he would come through to take the victory. He would go on to take part in a few other races throughout 1948 and would have some success, but not like that early victory at Montlhery. Still, the die was cast. The meteoric rise of Simon's career had begun.
One year later, Simon would drive in a number of different races and would show himself to be a solid talent. However, no performance would garner as much attention as that which he and Pierre Flahault would put together in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Delahaye 135 for Charles Pozzi, the two men would be running 2nd at one point before mechanical troubles forced them to drop a number of places. Fortunately, they were still able to continue. And this would be when Simon and Flahault would capture the attention of many. Injured, but not out, the two men would drive an absolutely marvelous race and would actually gain back many of the places they had lost while in the pits undergoing repairs.
The two men were fast, but Simon was fastest. The two men were charging hard to get back what they lost. Simon would push the hardest as he would end up turning the fastest lap of the race. This would be most impressive in a repaired car. Unfortunately, the car had already been wounded. And around the 19th hour, the car would finally succumb to its injuries and would be forced out of the race.
Still, Simon's performance managed to capture the attention of Amedee Gordini who would approach Simon about driving for his team. Agreeing to the deal, Simon would join a driver lineup that already included Jean Behra, Robert Manzon and Maurice Trintignant.
The move to Gordini, at least for 1950, would prove to be a fruitful one. In just his second full season of racing, Simon would finish 2nd no less than six times in Formula 2 races. And then, at the Circuit du Medoc, Simon would come home ahead of Roger Loyer and Raymond Sommer to take his first Formula 2 victory. His star continued to be on the rise despite his relative inexperience.
Encouraged by such results, and with an incredible driver lineup, Gordini would decide to make the just to Formula One in 1951. And, in addition to taking part in some of the Formula One World Championship races, Gordini would take part in a slew of other races in order to capitalize on participation funding. Unfortunately, going up against such competition as Alfa Romeo and Scuderia Ferrari, the Gordinis would prove to be fragile and outclassed.
Simon would do what he could with what he had. Unfortunately, what he had couldn't really do anything, not with such competition as the Alfa Romeo 159 and the Ferrari 375. But, after two early retirements in the French and German grand prix, Andre would come through in the Italian Grand Prix to earn a fine 6th place. In fact, Simon's 6th place would prove to be the best result scored by the team in the World Championship the whole season long.
The 1951 season would be a difficult experience for Simon and for the whole Simca-Gordini team. Nagging reliability woes would often take away from fantastic performance that seemed destined for positive results. Still, despite the reliability woes, Simon was showing himself to be a real talent behind the wheel of a race car. This would, in no small way, be due to the type of person Andre was.
In spite of the unreliability of the Gordini T15, Simon would still manage to come away with some strong results in Formula 2. This would only help his career continue to rise. And his ability to shine while his car was working well would catch the attention of no less than Enzo Ferrari. Incredibly, when the World Championship was about to head into the Formula 2 and dominant Ferrari 500 era, Simon would be right there hired by Ferrari to be the team's fourth driver in some races running right there beside greats like Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Piero Taruffi.
But while nobody in their right mind would ever turn down driving for the best team at their peak, the situation at Scuderia Ferrari wasn't exactly the best opportunity for Simon. Besides the fact it was just his fourth season of competitive racing, he was on a team with the likes of Ascari and Villoresi. And when on a team with such drivers as those legends Simon's inexperience would come to be obvious. But more than that, it meant he would take a backseat to the two. And this would be Simon's experience throughout the 1952 season.
Often times, throughout the 1952 season, Simon would end up nothing more than a reserve driver. However, when he did get the opportunity to take part in a race at the wheel of a Ferrari 500, he would find his time at the helm wouldn't be determine as much by his performances as it would be by the fortunes, or misfortunes, of his fellow teammates.
Simon's education would come at his first World Championship race with the Scuderia Ferrari. The race would be the Swiss Grand Prix held at the Bremgarten circuit. Still, just four years into his racing career, Simon would put his Ferrari on the grid in 4th place. And while this would be his best qualifying performance and would certainly be a reason for excitement for any driver aspiring to drive in Formula One, his pace was such that he was nearly five seconds slower than Giuseppe Farina's pole-winning effort.
It is said in racing, 'Where one starts is unimportant. It is where one finishes that is important.' Unfortunately, during the 1950s, starting position spoke much more loud and clear than what many might think and that fact would bear itself out during the race.
Though he would start from 4th on the grid, Simon would make a quick getaway from the line and would soon be fighting for 2nd place. Simon would stay right there throughout the early part of the race. Unfortunately, Farina would retire from the race on lap 17 with magneto troubles. But Ferrari wasn't about to have its pole-sitter lose out on championship points and a possible victory. Unfortunately, Simon would pay the price for such an approach and he would be called into the pits so that he could hand his car over to Farina for the remainder of the race. Now it wouldn't matter, as the car would fail after 51 laps with, interestingly, magneto failure, but the events would certainly set the tone for Simon's experience with the Italian team.
It was clear Simon's talent was not going unnoticed, but his inexperience, and the fact he was the only French driver amongst an Italian driver lineup and team would also certainly greatly diminish his chances at great success.
Simon would always seem to find himself as the odd man out while with Ferrari. At the Grand Prix de Comminges in 1952, the seventh round of the French Formula 2 Championship, Simon would barely get his race started when he would be ordered into the pits in order to hand his car over to Alberto Ascari who had retired after just 2 laps. Ascari would go on to take Simon's car and would earn the victory by a full lap over Farina, but it would still be a frustrating experience for Simon.
Being easily replaced, Simon would learn real quick that he would have to take advantage of any and every opportunity presented to himself. And he would do this as well. At the third round of the French Formula 2 Championship Simon would take over Giuseppe Farina's car and would turn that opportunity into a 2nd place finish behind Piero Taruffi. Then, at the Gran Premio dell'Autodromo di Monza, Andre would come through the two 35 lap heat races to finish a lap down in 2nd place.
Unfortunately, as the inexperienced member of what many would consider to be a superstar driver lineup, Simon's time with Scuderia Ferrari would be short-lived. And after not making an appearance in a single World Championship grand prix in 1953, it seemed Simon's career in Formula One was already at its end.
While Simon's Formula One career would not draw to a close, it would certainly change in its look and feel. The change wouldn't necessarily come by choice. Early on in 1953 Simon would suffer terrible injuries from a garage fire. This would cost him much of the 1953 season and would plague his return to racing for more than just that season.
Simon would return to drive for the Equipe Gordini team in non-championship races throughout 1953 and 1954, but would not take part in a single World Championship race throughout those two years. Still, Simon would prove his talents as he would take a 3rd place in the 1954 BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone.
But while Simon would continue to take part in grand prix his role would change to a degree. In many ways, Simon's Formula One career would become something akin to a pinch hitter in baseball. Knowing that he was fast and capable, Andre would be called in on a moment's notice to drive. And, sure enough, this would be how he returned to the Formula One World Championship.
Prior to the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix Hans Herrmann would be badly injured in an accident and would not be able to drive his W196. Therefore, Alfred Neubauer would turn to Simon. Here, once again, Simon would find himself squeezing himself down inside one of the most dominant cars of its day and driving for the most dominant team of that season. Once again, Simon's talents had not been overlooked, but after he retired from the race with a failed engine, he would find himself, once again, without a ride.
Simon would be called in to pinch-hit one more time during the 1955 season. This time it would be with the Maserati factory team at the British Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the race would end up like so many others in his Formula One career with a gearbox letting him down after just 9 laps.
Though he would continue to drive for the top teams when he was called, Simon was growing tired of being called upon to sub. Therefore, Simon would decide to purchase his own Maserati 250F for the 1955 season. He would pick a good car. Simon would purchase the same chassis Fangio would use to score victory in the Argentine and Belgian grand prix during the 1954 season. Partnering with Louis Rosier's team, Simon would score a 4th at the 1955 International Trophy race and would finish 6th in the Pau Grand Prix.
Still, Simon's grand prix career had lost much of that initial interest. As a result, Andre would only take part in a few more Formula One World Championship races throughout his career. His final Formula One appearance would come in 1957 in a shared drive with Ottorino Volonterio at the Italian Grand Prix. Driving a Maserati 250F, Simon would come away with an 11th place finish. The race would be a far cry from his debut with Simca-Gordini some six years earlier.
Simon's grand prix career would diminish as his focus would switch from single-seater grand prix cars to sportscars. Simon had taken part in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 1949 driving for Charles Pozzi. In fact, Simon had always taken part in sportscar races throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, after the 1954 season, he would pick up his involvement in sportscar endurance racing.
And there was good reason for this increase in participation in endurance racing. Though Simon would fail to finish even a single sportscar race until 1952, he would prove fast and capable each and every time out. Just like in single-seater grand prix cars, his performances would not be overlooked. And then, would come the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Partnering with Lucien Vincent driving a Ferrari 340 America for Luigi Chinetti, Simon would start the famed endurance classic from the pole. He and Vincent would go on to eventually finish 5th, but it would be another great opportunity in which Simon would show his prowess behind the wheel of a racing car.
Sidelined due to injury for most of 1953 and 1954, Simon would only take part in the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans. Again, he would come away with a failure to finish, but this would not diminish his opportunities.
After subbing for the injured Hans Herrmann at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1955, one month later, Simon would be called upon to co-drive with Karl Kling in the grievous 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. In what was, perhaps, the best car he would ever have at an overall victory, Simon and Kling would be running 5th overall when Mercedes would decide to withdraw from the tragic race. Nonetheless, Simon would come away with another failure to finish at his home country's greatest race.
Then, in one of the last sportscar races in which Mercedes would contest for more than 30 years, Simon would share a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR with a young Wolfgang von Trips and would come away with a 3rd place result following the other two 300SLR sister cars home in a dramatic one-two-three finish in the Tourist Trophy race held at Dundrod.
Unfortunately, like his grand prix career, the majority of Simon's endurance sportscar racing career would be filled DNFs. Still, his talents were undeniable. It was just that the cars could not last at the pace Simon usually wanted. But though the majority of his endurance career would be filled with early retirements, he would still come away with some fantastic results; the greatest of these results coming in May of 1960.
Simon needed to find the right car to fit his talents, and when he began driving the Ferrari 250GT he would find a car in which he could truly reach the potential he had shown in his earliest days of motor racing.
In 1960, Simon would enter the Prix de Paris held at the Circuit de Montlhery. The race would be held on the 15th of May and would feature a number of different types of cars from Ferrari 250GTs to ACs, to Porsche 356s and even a lonely Lola Mk. 1.
Driving his own Ferrari 250GT, Simon would finally breakthrough to earn his first victory in sportscar racing. Averaging a little more than 75 mph over the course of the race, Simon would take the victory by nearly twenty-one seconds over Wolfgang Seidel. Finally, Simon had done it! He had won a sportscar race some twelve years after his first one.
Simon would follow the victory in the Prix de Paris up with a 3rd place result partnering with Jo Schlesser in his Ferrrai 250GT in the Paris 1000km, also held at Montlhery.
Every driver has one, two or more circuits in which they really feel at home and perform well at no matter whether it is their first, or last, race at the circuit. Simon had a couple of places at which he really performed well and would come away with some good results. One of those circuits would be Silverstone, another would be Monza. But then there would Montlhery.
Simon would earn his first ever victory in any kind of motor racing at Montlhery in 1948 driving a Talbot-Lago. Then, when he decided to make the switch to top sportscars he would go on to earn victory at the same circuit in 1960. It would be his first major sportscar win. After that first victory in sportscars in 1960, Simon would follow that up with a 3rd in the Paris 1000km. Then, in 1961, Simon would return to the circuit to defend his victory in the Prix de Paris. Once again driving a Ferrari 250GT, Simon would successfully defend his victory making it two-straight.
Then, in 1962, Simon would take 3rd place in the Trophee d'Auvergne in a Ferrari 250GT. This race, which would take place at the Circuit de la Charade would be filled with Ferrari 250GTs, Porsche 718s and even Aston Martin DB4s. Still, Simon would come through to finish a fantastic 3rd behind the Ferrari 250GTO of Carlo Mario Abate and the Lotus 23 of Essex Racing Team's Alan Rees.
Simon would follow this 3rd place up in fine fashion. Taking part in the 1962 Tour de France, Simon would drive his Ferrari 250GT to victory over the Ferraro 250GTO of Jo Schlesser and Henri Oreiller.
Though he would go on to score a number of top five and top three finishes the Tour de France victory would be the last time of his career in which he would emerge triumphant. Still, Simon's career would not end for another five years.
The last race of Andre Simon's career would come in the later-part of May in 1965. Co-driving a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe again with Jo Schlesser, the pair would take part in the Nurburgring 1000km on the 23rd of May. Driving for Ford France, the pairing of Simon and Schlesser would finish a rather distant 12th.
It was clear Simon's best years were well behind him now. Still, heading into the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, Simon would be listed as a driver for two possible cars. He would be listed as a possible driver for the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe in the GT category, but he would also be listed as a possible driver for the GT40 in the P5.0 category.
But although he would take to the wheel of the GT40 in the preliminary session leading up to the 24 hour race, Simon would not take part in the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans. Simon's racing career had finally come to an end. And so much promise had unfortunately passed having never been fulfilled.
One of the many testaments to the talents of Andre Simon unfortunately cannot be easily understood merely by perusing statistics. No, the pure genius of this driver, in most cases, can only be realized in the many anecdotal stories surrounding his life and career. And perhaps none could better give insight into the talent and ability of this driver than during the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1963, the then forty-three year old Simon would be entered in the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Maserati Tipo 151 along with Lloyd Casner. The two would be driving for Maserati France/Johnny Simone in one first races for the Maserati 151.
Simon would lead-off the race and would be lined up across the track from the car. As he sprinted across the track and attempted to climb into the car he would find the door locked, unable to be budged. Simon would try and try with the other cars roaring away starting their 24 hour races. Simon would pull and pull until the door would come loose in such a manner that it would strike Simon in the nose. Bleeding from the impact, Simon would climb into the car and would set off after the field. A long way behind when he finally got going, Simon would be on an absolute tear and would eventually come though at the end of the first lap not just in the top ten, but in the lead! He and Casner would hold onto the lead throughout the first two hours of the race but would have it all come falling apart around the fourth hour.
Upon leaving motor racing, with all of its dangers and constant threats, Simon would nearly die in a road car accident. Waking from a two week coma, Andre would return to his garage business and would manage that until the mid-80s. Leaving the garage, Simon would retire into relative obscurity but he would retire as one of the rare few to have ever taken part in Formula One, endurance sportscars and rally racing. But although he would take part in so many disciplines of motor racing in a career spanning more than 15 years, Providence would never allow Simon to experience the level of success which he certainly could have, and should have, earned. Still, the fact that he drove with some of the best drivers and had the opportunity to drive for some of the best teams in the best cars will certainly cause many to stop and ponder who exactly he was.
And though he would never achieve the kind of records of some of his former teammates, Simon's greatest achievement would be that he was one of the few to make it through some of the most dangerous eras in motor sport. He would be one of the fortunate ones not to be immortalized posthumously. Simon would pass away on the 11th of July in 2012 at the age of 92. He would not only have the honor of taking part in one of the golden eras of motor racing beside some of the most famous men in racing history, but he would have the opportunity to see it evolve into what it is today. And in no small way, he would be a part of those formative years that would provide the fame Formula One and Le Mans enjoy today.Sources:
Paolozzi, Remi. 'The Relay Runner', (http://8w.forix.com/simon.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://8w.forix.com/simon.html. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
Saward, Joe. 'Andre Simon', (http://joesaward.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/andre-simon/). Joe Saward Blogs about the World of F1. http://joesaward.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/andre-simon/. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
'Driver: Andre Simon', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Andr%C3%A9-Simon-F.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Andr%C3%A9-Simon-F.html. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
'1952 Non-World Championship Grands Prix', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/nc/1952/1952.html). 1952 Non-World Championship Grands Prix. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/nc/1952/1952.html. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
'1952 World Drivers Championship', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1952/f152.html). 1952 World Drivers Championship. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1952/f152.html. Retrieved 24 July 2012.