By Nancy Knapp Schilke
Over the past years, one man has stood out like a giant in our industry for those of us at Motorsport.com who have had the honor of meeting him. Paul Frиre was indeed a remarkable man, a racer and a journalist, he delighted us with his stories at the La Sarthe circuit in Le Mans, France.
We will miss him.
It is with sad news that we learned through our friends at endurance-info.com, based in France that Paul Frиre has passed away. The gentleman racer/journalist recently celebrated his 91st birthday at a hospital. After an accident at the Nurburgring just prior to turning 90, his health took a downward turn even though he still attending many events last year.
Born on January 30, 1917 in Le Havre, France of Belgian ancestry. His racing career started on motorcycles in 1946 but he made the switch to four-wheels just two years later.
In 1952, Frиre made his Formula One debut in Belgium for Hersham and Walton Motors (HVM) under the banner Ecurie Belge. He ran three races that year with a best finish of 5th in his home race. Frиre never ran a full season, running 11 F1 races over the his five years competing in the pinacle series of open-wheel racing.
His best two finishes were in a Ferrari at his home event, the Belgian GP, where he landed fourth in 1955 and second for a podium finish in '56. Back in those days, there were several non-points events in F1 that he participated in while also running endurance races and in 1960, driving a Cooper, he won the South African non-championship grand prix.
At the Italian Mille Miglia endurance, Frиre took first in class in 1953. That same year, in a Porsche 550, he teamed with Richard Von Frankenberg for Porsche KG to earn 15th overall and the 1101-1500 class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Frиre visited La Sarthe eight times as a competitor, scoring the overall victory in 1960 driving a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa 59/60 with Olivier Gendebien for Scuderia Ferrari. Their average speed 48 years ago was 175.75 km/h and they started 49th! That same year, he won at Spa showing his long-endurance racing skills.
It was not his first time on the overall podium at Le Mans, racing for Aston Martin Cars Ltd, he ended up second overall in 1955 with Peter Collins in an Aston Martin DB3S. Frиre repeated the podium finish four years later, again in an Aston Martin for David Brown Racing. His co-driver was Maurice Trintignant in the DBR1.
In a Equipe Nationale Belge Jaguar D Type and with a fellow Belgian, Freddy Rousselle, he finished fourth overall in 1957 and one year later, he repeated the position but this time with Porsche KG and Edgar Barth driving the Porsche 718 RSK for the 1101-1500 class win.
His career at Le Mans was the highlight of his racing, he only had two retirements over the eight events. And he loved to remind many of us "newbies" of the way the track was back then, including mentioning once about getting lost in the trees during qualifying!
Frиre was not just a great racer, he was also a top-notch reporter in the automotive arena, it was his second passion. As a contributor to Road & Track, many current auto racing journalist have read his articles, many on Japanese manufacturers.
The published author has several books on the market on sports cars and Porsche. His books include: Sports Car and Competition Driving, Porsche Boxster Story: The Entire Development History and My Life Full of Cars: Behind the Wheel With the World's Top Motoring Journalist. He shared a book on Ferrari with Ken Gross, Phil Hill, Pete Lyons and Doug Nye titled Rosso Ferrari, Celebrating 50 Years Of Ferrari.
His accident at Nurburgring in late 2006 was in a Honda Civic, just taking a drive around the famous track which many do including current race drivers. He was seriously injured and spent two weeks in intensive care with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He recovered and returned to the paddock at several venues in 2007 including Le Mans.
He will indeed be missed by many in the motor sports business including journalist, photographers and racers alike. One of our fondest memories of him was at Le Mans in 2003 when he had the pleasure of piloting the Audi R8.
Paul Frиre, motor sports will not be the same without you! Your smile, teasing manner, expertise and kind assistance will be missed. We are lucky to have your great articles and books as memories and we will always remember you and your wonderful personal racing adventure stories!