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The relay runner



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He was not as good as Fangio or Ascari but he was quick. In various occasions he demonstrated his talent but he never really exploited it because he rarely had the right car at the right moment. When he had it, he was often used by teams as a second-hand driver, a driver who had to hand the wheel over if necesary, a kind of relay runner. He was André Simon.

He was born on January 5th, 1920 in Paris. He speaks with the accent and the colourful words of Parisian slang. His father was a Mathis, a French car manufacturer before World War II – a garage owner in the Paris suburbs. Mr Simon died in 1929 and the young André was brought up by his uncle. Four years later he began to work in the family garage which he later inherited.

In 1948 he bought a Talbot-Lago and participated in a race in Montlhéry and won. Then he took the opportunity to drive a Delahaye 155 in Saint-Gaudens for the Comminges GP. He finished 7th.

In 1949 he drove a Gordini in the Circuit du Lac, a minor F2 race in the streets of Aix-les-Bains. He finished 4th in his series and was 7th in the final standings. Then, one week later, he drove a Delahaye 135 with Pierre Flahault in Le Mans. They were 2nd when they had to go to pits because of mechanical problems. Fortunately they could go on and turned it into a beautiful race by gaining places. Simon even took fastest lap but at the 19th hour they retired because of a broken track rod. After this performance Amédée Gordini decided to hire the Parisian. The other Gordini drivers were Behra, Manzon and Trintignant. The latter became one of his friends. Maurice Trintignant remembers André Simon as “very likable but a bit of a savage, a recluse”.

1950, the first season in the Gordini team, was quite satisfactory. Indeed, André Simon won a F2 race, the Circuit du Médoc in Lesparre-Médoc, ahead of Roger Loyer (Gordini) and Raymond Sommer (Ferrari) and he finished second six times (at Aix-les-Bains, Angoulême, Reims, Genève, Nürburgring and Périgueux). Some of these races were minor ones but others, like at the Nürburgring and at Reims, were quite significant. He also finished second behind Robert Manzon in the Mont-Ventoux hillclimb.

1951 was certainly less positive in terms of results but it is worth saying that the level of competition was a touch higher. Indeed, 1950 was mostly dedicated to minor races. This was due to Amédée’s wish to participate in a maximum number of races in order to receive participation premiums from the organizers to finance his team, whereas in 1951 Simon participated in the World Drivers Championship for the first time. His two first races (ACF GP and German GP) were certainly disappointing as he retired. The Italian GP was better: he was 6th. But in the 50s only the five first drivers scored 8 to 2 points. He finished the championship with a 9th in the Spanish GP.

These poor results were mainly due to the lack of competitiveness of the Gordinis. Indeed, both Manzon and Trintignant did not score any point: Robert Manzon was only 7th in Germany, Maurice Trintignant retired in each race and Jean Behra did not even took part in a championship GP. However, Simon scored some good results in F2 races, with victory at Les Sables-D’Olonne (ahead of Manzon, Behra and Trintignant), second at Mettet (behind Manzon), third in Aix-les-Bains behind Fischer (Ferrari) and Moss (HWM), and fastest lap at Erlen.

At the end of the day, these two full seasons were positive as they drew the attention of Enzo Ferrari who hired André Simon for the 1952 season. After the Temporada with Gordini, where his best result was a 5th in the Uruguayan GP at Piriapolis, he joined the famous Italian team. In fact Simon’s agreement with Enzo Ferrari was certainly not as good as we would think. Indeed his team mates were Ascari, Villoresi, Taruffi and Farina: all were great Italian drivers in a great Italian team, so it wasn’t easy as a Frenchie with only two victories in minor F2 races…

He ran six races with the Scuderia Ferrari, first retiring in Naples before he went to Bremgarten for the Swiss GP and took 4th on the grid (2’52”4), his best World Championship qualifying performance. Farina was on pole, with 2’47”5, followed by Taruffi (2’50”1) and Manzon (2’52”1). Simon made a good start and was fighting with Jean Behra for second. On lap 16 Farina retired. Then 6 laps later, Simon was asked to stop in order to be replaced by the 1950 World Champion… who retired 11 laps before the end of the race. In the Paris GP Simon finished second after sharing the wheel of his Ferrari with Nino Farina… He also finished 2nd at the Autodromo di Monza GP after a third place in the first heat and a second in the second one. But this time he was alone at the wheel of his car!

Then came the Comminges GP, in August. On lap 2 Ascari retired, after which Simon was asked to stop on lap 6 in order to hand over his Ferrari 500 to the Italian driver. Ascari won! Thus, officially, André Simon won a Grand Prix for the Scuderia Ferrari. One month later he participated to the Italian GP where, after gaining four places in the eight first laps, he finished 6th.

In 1952 some other races are worth mentioning: he finished 5th, with Lucien Vincent, in the 24 heures du Mans with Luigi Chinetti’s Ferrari 340 America. André Simon participated at Le Mans twelve times and he always retired - except that year! In the sport category he was also entered by the Scuderia in the Monaco GP but he could not race as the Ferrari 225S he should have driven had burnt during the Mille Miglia while Clemente Biondetti was at the wheel. The Italian driver remained uninjured.

At the beginning of 1953 André Simon had a big accident: he was badly injured by a garage fire. Consequently he was rarely seen starting races during this season. Instead, he had a troubled recovery.

In 1954 Simon signed for Gordini and had some good results in single-seater races: third in the International Trophy in Silverstone behind Gonzalez (Ferrari) and Behra (Gordini) and 4th in the Rome GP at Castel Fusano where, once again, he shared the wheel of his Gordini 16 with Jean Behra who initially retired on lap 15.

1955 was an interesting year for André Simon. He bought the Maserati 250F (chassis 2505) that was driven to victory in 1954 by Fangio in Argentina and Belgium, by Marimon at Castel Fusano and by Musso at Pescara. With this car Simon was 6th at Pau and retired in Bordeaux. Then he and the car were incorporated into the Louis Rosier Team. To inaugurate this new collaboration, the Parisian driver was 4th in the International Trophy.

Two weeks later he went to Monaco to take part in the famous Grand Prix. During practice Hans Herrmann, the third Mercedes driver, had an accident and was badly injured. Neubauer asked Simon to replace the German driver. This was an incredible opportunity for the Frenchman - to drive for the best F1 team of this time, as a team mate of Fangio and Moss! Thanks to a 1’45”5 lap he was tenth on the grid, starting on the same row as Maurice Trintignant (Ferrari – 1’44”4). Fangio was the poleman (1’41”1) in front of Ascari (Lancia – 1’41”1) and Moss (1’42”6). Surprinsingly the three Mercedes retired. The race lasted only 25 laps for Simon because of distribution problems with his Mercedes W196. Ascari had a spectacular accident as his car went down Monaco’s harbour. Trintignant profited from the situation and won the race.

This was surely a disappointment for André Simon but one week later he was took pole and fastest lap at Albi, before going on to win the F1 race at the wheel of his Maserati, while Louis Rosier was second!

Three weeks later, tragedy followed happiness. Simon drove an official Mercedes 300SL with Karl Kling in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Everybody knows what happened: Pierre Levegh, one of their team mates, had a bad crash into the crowd which killed 80 spectators… At 1:45am Alfred Neubauer decided to stop his drivers. Simon and Kling were 5th at that moment.

The French driver then participated in the British GP for Maserati. He was 8th on the grid but retired. Two months later he was asked by Neubauer to run the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod with a young German: Wolfang Von Trips. They were third.

For André Simon, 1956 and 1957 were the last years in F1 and F2. These seasons did not bring any good results, except maybe for Caen in 1956 where he was second with a Gordini 16 behind Harry Schell (Maserati 250F). Simon was the only one to finish on the same lap as the winner, at 1’09”7… the opposition was not so strong. He also took part at Le Mans, this time with Jean Behra at the wheel of a Maserati 450S. After two hours Behra was leading the race and stopped to let Simon take over. But after just one lap André retired because of transmission problems.

André Simon made a clean break until 1959. He then began a new chapter in his career. He bought a Ferrari 250 GT LWB (chassis 0973) from Bourillot. With this car he ran various GT races and rallies and in May 1960, he won the Paris GP at Montlhéry. He finished 6th in the Bordeaux Quest Rally with a co-driver who had his very first experience in racing. This guy was Jean Sage, who became later the Renault F1 team manager at the end of the 70s. Simon also finished third in the Paris 1000km at Montlhéry at the wheel of Jo Schlesser’s private Ferrari 250 GT.

André then bought a new 250 GT SWB (chassis 2165) which was delivered by the plant in September. He won the 1960 Bordeaux Rally and took various GT class wins. Unfortunately Tavano, with whom he was running the Auvergne 6 hours, had a big crash. The driver was OK but the car was sent back to Ferrari and sold to Bourely after repairs.

Then in September 1961 Simon bought a new 250 GT (chassis 2973). Once again he won GT classes in various races and rallies. In September 1962 he won what may be considered as the most important victory of his career: the Tour de France with Maurice Dupeyron as a co-driver. It is true that this victory partly came due to retirements or technical problems of some of the other competitors, such as Bianchi, Guichet or Tavano. Nevertheless, it is interesting to emphasize that Simon and his 250GT were ahead of the very new (and mythical) 250 GTOs: he and Dupeyron were followed by Oreille/Schlesser, Darville/Langlois and Piper/Margulies and their wonderful cars. Moreover, André Simon, unlike many others, did not benefit from official Ferrari support during the Tour de France as he did not have the money to pay the necessary 200,000 lira.

During these three seasons under the Ferrari 250 GT sign he also co-drove private Ferraris on occasion, owned by his friends Jo Schlesser (third in the Paris 1000km at Montlhéry in 1960) or Fernand Tavano.

The emphasis in the 1963-1965 years shifted towards the Maserati marque, as Simon was hired by Maserati France to drive the Tipo 151. Maserati France, formed by the American John Simone, the French Jean Thépenier and Philippe de Montaigu, put pressure on Maserati to design this car in order to comply to new GT rules. Three cars were manufactured: 151.002 went to France while 151.004 and 151.006 were delivered to Briggs Cunningham for US races.

The car had a great potential but because of a lack of funding it was not developed as it should have been. Thus, André Simon, who drove the car with Maurice Trintignant and even Camoradi founder Lloyd Casner in big events like Le Mans, the 12 heures de Reims or the 1000km de Paris never managed to complete a race with the 151. Nevertheless, Simon was 4th on a test weekend at Le Mans in 1963 and 5th on the grid two months later. This 1963 race was quite spectacular for Simon and Casner as, after the traditional sprint to the cars at the start of the race, the French driver could not open the door - it was locked! He finally managed to open it but did this in such a violent way that the door struck his nose. As he started the race a long way behind, his nose bleeding, his mishap did not stop him from leading the race after the first lap! The American-French team led the race during two hours but unfortunately they had to retire after four hours. It is worth recalling that Tipo 151.002's life ended tragically,as Lloyd Casner crashed it with fatal consequences at Le Mans on April 10th, 1965.

Before that, in 1964, André Simon also had a bad crash during a test at Monza with the Tipo 151. Fortunately, he did not suffer any injury and one month later he drove the same car at Le Mans, with Maurice Trintignant. This time Tipo 151 started the race with a big delay because of problems with the throttle cable. When the car finally started it drove its first hours at the back, far from the front-runners, but Trintignant/Simon were 3rd at 9:00pm! Unfortunately technical problems began at 10:00pm and the car retired at midnight.

But André Simon had more satisfaction as he finished 12th with Jo Schlesser, and 3rd in the GT class, at the wheel of an AC Cobra Daytona in the famous and significant Nürburgring 1000km. Not too bad for a man of 45…

His career ended late 1965 and ironically nearly died in a road accident the following year, after which he was in a coma for two weeks. He survived and went on to manage his garage until 1984 when he went into retirement. Now, he remains now one of the few witnesses and actors of a time long gone. He was considered a talent and was surely underrated but, at his own level, he wrote a beautiful page of racing, thanks to his victories and performances in F1, F2, sports cars or rallies. At this time eclectism was the rule and André Simon was a perfect example of this.