Paul Frère (1917 - 2008)

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Paul Frère (1917 - 2008)
Paul Frere
Life is all about "the dash" - the period between the year of your birth and the final curtain. Paul Frère certainly had a long dash, and achieved so much during his life. Brilliant as a race driver, engineer and journalist, he was one of the most widely respected drivers of all time. Having lived to the age of 91, most would assume Frere passed quietly at home - they would be wrong.

Paul Frère was a rare combination of racing driver, engineer and journalist. Over the years there have been a handful of drivers who have become successful journalists, a few journalists who have become successful drivers and several engineers who have become successful drivers, but very few managed to combine all three talents with any effect.

Born on the 30th January, 1917 at Le Havre (France), Frère spent his formative years living in Berlin and Vienna, spending only occasional holidays in Belgium, his home country, On some of his trips to Belgium, an uncle took him to the motor racing at the Spa-Francorchamps road circuit. This kindled his interest and his first competition event was in his mother's Amilcar, which he used to win a gymkhana in Austria.

World War 2 postponed any plans that Frère might have nursed, but he spent most of the war in France working in a garage, gaining a great deal of mechanical knowledge. After the war, he returned to Belgium and began racing motor cycles with some success, even capturing some world speed records in the 125cc class. He turned to motor racing in 1948 when a friend, Jacques Swaters, asked him to co-drive his 1936 MG PB in the Spa 24 Hour race.

The car ran almost faultlessly to capture fourth place in its class and rekindle Frère's enthusiasm for racing. He had begun to make a name for himself in motoring journalism and, through the contacts he made while carrying out road tests and describing new cars, he was able to arrange various drives in saloon-car races. But between 1948 and 1951, he took part in only a few races, driving cars like the Dyna-Panhard and Jowett Javelin and his racing career seemed to stagnate.

In 1952 he won the production-car race at Spa in an Oldsmobile and was later invited to drive one of the British HWM Formula Two single seaters at Chimay. Despite never having driven a single seater before, he picked his way through the field on the wet track and won in an exciting finish. He followed this with a fifth place in the European Grand Prix at Spa, in the same car, and then went to the German Grand Prix, again in an HWM, where he retired. The season ended with a drive in the Dutch GP in a Simca-Gordini, where he again retired.

In 1953, he won his class in the Mille Miglia, driving a Chrysler, following up with a win in the Spa production-car race in another Chrysler. He drove an HWM at the Eifelrennen on the Nurburgring, taking second place, and then finished second in class at Le Mans driving a Porsche. He drove HWMs in the Belgian GP and the Reims 12-hour sports car race with no success, but he was now competing regularly and was given a trial by Mercedes for their 1954 Grand Prix team, just failing to gain a place. He started 1954 with a class win-once again in the Spa production-car race - in an Alfa Romeo, and drove an Aston Martin at Le Mans, where he was forced to retire.

Frère also drove for the Gordini Formula One team on occasions, but the cars were unreliable. Aston Martin signed Frère for sports-car racing in 1955, and he also drove the Super Squalo Formula One Ferrari at Monaco and Spa, finishing eighth at Monaco and fourth in the Belgian GP. In the Aston Martin, he co-drove with Peter Coliins to second place in the 1955 Le Mans race, but he crashed a Monza Ferrari during practice for the Swedish Grand Prix and broke a leg, which kept him out of racing for the rest of 1955.

For 1956 Jaguar signed Frère to drive the all-conquering Jaguar D-type and Z.4 saloon, and he started off with victory in the Z.4 in the Spa production-car race, as well as winning his class in the sports-car race, driving a Ferrari. Ferrari also invited him to drive a Lancia-Ferrari V8 in the Belgian Grand Prix and, although he was reluctant to return to Formula One racing, he agreed and ended up by taking second place, to the great delight of his countrymen. He co-drove a D-type Jaguar with Mike Hawthorn to take second place in the Reims 12-hour race, but crashed on his second lap in Le Mans, putting both himself and team mate Fairman out of the race. He finished the season with sixth place on the Tour de France in an Alfa Romeo and third place in the Rome Grand Prix in a Ferrari.

At the end of the 1956 season, Frère decided that he would give up serious racing and concentrate on his journalistic career, but he continued to take part in occasional events when the opportunity occurred. In 1957 and 1958, he won the Reims 12-hour race with his countryman Olivier Gendebien and in 1959 he was invited to return to the Aston Martin team. His second place at Le Mans with Trintignant, and fourth place in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, helped Aston Martin win the World Sports Car Championship.

His final season was in 1960, during which he showed that at the age of 43 he had lost little of his touch even though he raced only occasionally, for he won the Spa sports-car race in a Porsche RS60 and, driving a single seater for the last time, he went to South Africa and won the South African Grand Prix in a Cooper-Climax, beating Stirling Moss, in a Cooper Borgward, into second place. The seal was set on his career when he won the 1960 Le Mans race co-driving a V12 Ferrari with Olivier Gendebien.

He retired for good after Le Mans, to concentrate on his journalistic career, although he was often invited to test racing cars, In 1977, aged 60, he had the appearance of a man of 40 and such was his skill, that whenever journalists gathered for a test session on some' new model there was always a rush to fill the spare seats in 'the car Frère chose. His 1963 book, Sports Car and Competition Driving is still a standard reference in the field. It influenced the development of competition driving schools, such as those founded by Jim Russell, Bob Bondurant, and many others.

Frère was the European Editor for Road & Track magazine, and was also an expert on Porsche cars, in particular the Porsche 911, writing the definitive book on this series, The Porsche 911 Story. He maintained a close relationship with Porsche over the years. He was also considered an advisor and expert on the 911 by Alois Ruf, a respected Porsche tuner and manufacturer as head of Ruf Automobile, who consulted Frère during the development of Ruf's RGT8 Model.

Only weeks before his 90th birthday in January 2007, Frère was badly injured in an accident near the Nurburgring, and was hospitalized for 14 days in intensive care. Paul Frère died on 23 February 2008 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence (France). Turn 15 at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, formerly the first part of the Stavelot corner, has been renamed in his honour.
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