- May 18, 1928
- July 07, 1968
- Not Active
Joseph 'Jo' Schlesser (1928-1968) was a French racing driver who raced in the sports car competitions, rallies and formula races, including several starts in the Formula 1 World Championship.
Unfortunately, his participation in the 1968 French Grand Prix at the Rouen-Les-Essarts Circuit, his first race in a Formula 1 car, ended with a fatal accident. In his memory, Schlesser's friend and race car constructor Guy Ligier named all of his cars with letters JS.
Successful start of a career in rallying
Born in May 1928 in Liouville in northern France, as a son of a civil engineer, Joseph Schlesser started his racing career in rallying in the early 1950s. His first success was a victory at Rallye Lorraine-Alsace in 1952, at the wheel of Panhard Dyna.
In the following period, he participated in popular Monomill races, then taking a pause from racing between 1954 and 1957, spending that time working at Madagascar.
Le Mans 24h debut in 1957
In 1957, Schlesser returned to racing at the world's greatest endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was driving Panhard-powered DB HBR-4 Spyder in the smallest class S750, sharing a car with Jean-Claude Vidilles. They retired after 14 hours because of an accident.
In August 1957, Schlesser participated at Liege – Rome – Liege Rally, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with his wife Annie Schlesser as a navigator. They finished in the second place.
Buying a Ferrari 250 GT in 1959
After that, Schlesser saved enough money to purchase a Ferrari 250 GT LWB Interim, racing with that car in different road racing and sports car events. He and wife Annie were leading at 1959 Tour de France until they crashed.
In 1960, he raced with that car at Nurburgring 1000, finishing 11th together with Lucien Bianchi, and then at Rouen Grand Prix, finishing in the second place.
DNF at 1960 Le Mans, victory at Nurburgring
Schlesser returned to Le Mans in June 1960, joining North American Racing Team to drive the #20 Ferrari 250 GT California. His co-driver was Bill Sturgis. They were in the race for 22 hours, retiring after 253 laps with a broken engine.
In July, back in his car, Schlesser won the Rheinland-Pfalz Preis at Nürburgring Südschleife circuit, beating a bunch of Germans in Porsche 356 Carreras.
In the same year, he participated in the Formula 2 championship in Cooper T43-Climax but without notable results.
Skipping the 1961 Le Mans race after a bad practice crash
In 1961, Schlesser started a season with a class victory at Rallye International des Routes du Nord, driving a Lotus Elite, and then he was planning to race at Le Mans in a Ferrari.
Unfortunately, he crashed badly during April's test, breaking his arm and leg. He missed the race and the most of the season. He returned to racing in September, finishing fourth at Paris 1000 Km together with Pierre Dumay in a Ferrari 250 GT SWB.
Rallye Monte-Carlo debut in 1963
In 1962, Schlesser was combining Formula Junior races with rallies and road races. He won the VII Prix de Paris at Montlhery circuit in a Brabham BT2 and finished with that car second at Grand Prix des Frontieres. In rallying, he raced in a Renault Dauphine in a couple of events and then finished second at Tour de France in a Ferrari 250 GTO.
In January 1963, Schlesser made a debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo, driving a Ford Zodiac. He finished in the 25th place. Later that year he won Criterium des Cevennes in an AC Cobra and finished second at Tour de Corse in the same car.
1963 Le Mans attempt with Aston Martin
For the 1963 Le Mans race, Schlesser joined David Brown's Aston Martin factory team. They were running two Aston Martin DP214 cars.
Sharing the #7 car with William 'Bill' Kimberly, he was in a lead during the night but broken piston forced them to retire after completing 139 laps. Another car stopped much earlier, after 59 laps of racing.
Wide schedule of races in 1964, including stock cars
In 1964, with backing from Ford France, Jo Schlesser launched his Formula 2 programme with Brabham. He was pretty successful, winning a race at Vallelunga and scoring a podium at Montlhery.
During that year, Schlesser had a wide schedule of races in different disciplines, returning to Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Ford Falcon (11th), racing in sports car events with Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe and Ford GT40, and even making two starts in the NASCAR Grand National.
Fiery Le Mans attempt in a Ford GT40
Schlesser went to the US in February 1964 to race at Daytona 2000 with Shelby American. He was sharing the #15 Shelby Cobra Roadster with Jean Guichet, not finishing the race. While in Daytona, he made two starts in Daytona 500 qualifiers, driving a Ford.
Schlesser than drove a Shelby Cobra roadster at Sebring 12 Hours, finishing in the sixth place together with Phil Hill. Back in Europe, he made few more starts in a Shelby Cobra (Spa, Nurburgring) before driving factory-entered Ford GT40 at Le Mans 24 Hours. He was sharing the #12 car with Richard Attwood, not finishing the race after a car was caught by fire.
In October, Schlesser joined Pedro Rodriguez in NART's Ferrari 250 GTO at Paris 1000 Km, finishing in the second place.
Second place overall at Daytona, class win at Sebring 12h
In 1965, Schlesser continued to race in different disciplines, winning GT class at Rallye de Lorraine in AC Cobra, driving a Brabham BT10 in Formula 2 and competing in endurance races with Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.
He finished second overall at Daytona 2000 Km race, sharing a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe with Harold Keck and Bob Johnson. A month later, he was fourth overall and GT5.0 class winner at Sebring 12 Hours, sharing a car with Bob Bondurant. Back in Europe, he finished 12th at Nurburgring 1000 and retired at Le Mans 24 Hours. Then, he was fifth at Reims 12 Hours with Bob Bondurant.
Matra factory driver since 1966
In 1966, Schlesser was chosen to represent Matra in the Formula 2 Championship, next to the younger colleague Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Schlesser's best result was the second place at Albi.
In sports car races, he made one start with Ford France's Ford GT40 at Nurburgring 1000, sharing a car with Guy Ligier. Then, in June, he was driving the #42 Matra M620 at 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sharing a car with Alan Rees, he didn't finish the race because he had a crash during the night.
Formula 1 World Championship debut in 1966
In August, Schlesser made a debut in the Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix race. He was driving Matra MS5 F2 car in the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring Nordschleife, finishing tenth overall and third among F2 drivers.
He returned to F1 German Grand Prix a year later, driving again an F2 car. This time, he didn't finish the race, retiring after two laps with a broken engine.
Jo Schlesser and Guy Ligier raced together in 1967
Parallel to his F2 commitments with Matra, Schlesser spent the 1967 season with Guy Ligier in sports car races, driving a Ford GT40 for Ford France. They were sixth at Monza, tenth at Nurburgring, retired at Spa, Targa Florio and Le Mans 24h. At Circuit de la Sarthe, Schlesser crashed again during the night.
Two weeks later, Schlesser and Ligier managed to win Reims 12 Hours in a Ford GT40. In October, they were fourth at Paris 1000 Km. Driving alone, Schlesser won Coupes de Paris race.
Podiums at Daytona and Spa with Porsche
In 1969, Schlesser started a season with a podium at Daytona 24 Hours, driving the #51 Porsche 907 LH for Porsche Works Team. His co-driver was Joe Buzzetta and they shared a podium with teammates from two other Porsche cars.
In May, a week after his 40th birthday, Schlesser achieved one more great result with Porsche, finishing second at Spa 1000 Km together with Gerhard Mitter in the #4 Porsche 907.
Schlesser lost life in his first start with an F1 car
Outside sports car racing, Schlesser was further developing his Formula 2 career by driving a McLaren M4A-Cosworth in the European Championship. And then, in July, he finally secured a ride in a Formula 1 car at Formula 1 Grand Prix race, signing with Honda Racing.
On July 7, the 40-year-old rookie made his first F1 start in the French Grand Prix at the Rouen-Les-Essarts Circuit. Starting 16th on the grid in the #18 Honda RA302, he crashed on the third lap and the car went into flames. Schlesser had no chance to survive because a magnesium chassis contributed to the fire.
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