Jo Schlesser

Full Name:
Joseph Theodule Schlesser
Born:
18th May 1928
Liouville, Lorraine
Died:
7th July 1968 (Aged 40)
Rouen-les-Essarts, Normandy, French GP
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The abiding image of Jo Schlesser’s racing career sadly was of his death – killed during the 1968 French Grand Prix. Brought up in Madagascar, this Frenchman excelled in sports cars, rallying and in single-seaters. And yet his full Formula 1 debut was not until he was 40 years old and it ended in disaster.

From his first race in 1952 to that fateful day at Rouen, Schlesser was passionate about the sport and its various strands. Second in the 1957 Liège-Rome-Liège Rally was his first result of note although Schlesser proved error prone. He broke an arm and leg in an accident during the Le Mans test weekend in 1961.

His single-seater career gained momentum once he had recovered – driving a Brabham BT2-Ford to Formula Junior success in 1962 and 1963. Also successful in sports cars despite not winning a world championship race, he was second in the 1964 Paris 1000Kms at Montlhéry and Daytona 24 Hours a year later. He also showed his versatility by driving Bondy Long’s Ford in the 1964 Daytona 500.

He was a works Formula 2 driver for Matra in 1966 and made his GP debut in Germany that year – finishing third in the F2 class. He retired from the race a year later but Schlesser won the non-championship 1967 Reims 12 Hours sharing a Ford GT40 Mk2 with old friend Guy Ligier and he was third in a minor F2 race at Brands Hatch.

For 1968 Schlesser was offered a combination of a works Porsche drive in sports cars (third at Daytona and second at Spa-Francorchamps his best results) and F2 driving an Ecurie Intersport McLaren M4A (the team he founded with Ligier).

He also received an invitation to drive the unproven air-cooled Honda RA302 in that year’s French GP – his first true F1 race. Team leader John Surtees decided not to race the magnesium bodied machine but Schlesser accepted with glee. However he crashed at the fearsome Virage des Six Frères on the third lap and the car burst into flames with the Frenchman dying in the inferno.

Guy Ligier entered F1 eight years later and his cars were designated "JS" in honour of his fallen friend.