- August 31, 1906
- September 10, 1950
- Not Active
The French racing driver Raymond Sommer was one of the greatest stars of circuit racing in the pre-World War II era, scoring many notable victories at some famous races in Europe. He won two times at 24 hours of Le Mans (1932 and 1933), one time at 24 hours of Spa (1936) and many times in different Grand Prix races.
When the Formula One World Championship was inaugurated in 1950, Sommer participated in five races, with fourth place at Monaco Grand Prix as his best result. He lost his life on September 10, 1950, in an accident at Haute Garonne Grand Prix at Circuit de Cadours.
Born in a family of aviation pioneer
Raymond Sommer was born on August 31, 1906, in Mouzon in the French Ardennes. His father Roger Sommer was one of France's aviation pioneers, breaking the record for the longest flight in 1909. The Sommer family was wealthy, owning a successful carpet-making business. Raymond was hired to work in the family firm but his dream was to become a racer.
Dream became a true in 1931
His dream became a true in 1931 when he convinced his father to buy him a Chrysler Imperial. His first racing event was a road race between Paris and Nice in March 1931. Three months later, Sommer participated for the first time at 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing a car with Jean Delemer. They didn't finish the race due to a broken radiator. The next race was 24 Hours of Spa, where Sommer and Delemer finished third overall.
Sensational victory at 1932 Le Mans 24 Hours
In 1932, Sommer bought an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 LM. He was joined by Luigi Chinetti at Le Mans. Because of Chinetti's illness, Sommer was driving for twenty of 24 hours in the #8 Alfa Romeo, winning the race with a two-lap advantage over nearest rivals, who were driving Alfa Romeo too.
Later in the same year, Sommer retired at 24h Spa, finished third at the Nice Grand Prix and won the Grand Prix de Marseilles at Miramas.
Dramatic victory at 1933 Le Mans race
In 1933, Sommer returned to Le Mans with Alfa Romeo 8C 2300. This time, he was driving for a factory team and his co-driver was Tazio Nuvolari.
In the race, they built a two-lap advantage before a leaking fuel tank forced them to stop. The leak was plugged by chewing gum and they continued to race, stopping few more times for repairs. While driving, Nuvolari broke the lap record nine time. At the end, they won with just few hundred meters gap over another factory-entered Alfa Romeo.
Second at Spa in 1933, winner in 1936
Later that year, Sommer was also successful at Spa 24 Hours in an Alfa Romeo, finishing in the second place together with Henri Stoffel. He won at Spa in 1936, driving an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 together with Francesco Severi.
At 24h Le Mans, Sommer participated five more times between 1934 and 1939 with different Alfa Romeo cars and different co-drivers, recording five consecutive DNFs. His co-drivers were Pierre Felix, Raymond de Sauge Desttrez, Giovanni Battista Guidotti, Clemente Biondetti and Prince Bira.
French Grand Prix winner in 1936
During the 1930s, the AIACR European Championship was the main competition in circuit racing. In 1935, Sommer participated with privately-entered Alfa Romeo P3, finishing seventh in the championship and winning two non-championship races.
In 1936, he won the French Grand Prix in a Bugatti and finished fifth in the European Championship in an Alfa Romeo. In 1937, he joined Scuderia Ferrari to drive Alfa Romeo 12C in two championship races, finishing sixth in the points. In other races he was driving mostly Talbot-Lago T150C, winning French national title. He was the French champion again in 1939 before the war stopped all racing activities.
Driving for different manufacturers in the late 1940s
During the World War Two, Sommer was an active member of the French Resistance. A racing resumed immediately after the war and Sommer collected many victories during the late 1940s. Some of his wins were at 1946 Grand Prix de Marseilles, 1947 Turin Grand Prix or 1949 Madrid Grand Prix. He was driving for different manufacturers – Alfa Romeo, Talbot-Lago, Ferrari, Gordini or Maserati.
In 1948, when Ferrari entered Grand Prix racing, Sommer was the first non-Italian driver in a team. He remained with Ferrari for 1949 but halfway through the season, he left to become a private entrant with a Talbot Lago, finishing the year with a win at Montlhery.
Formula One Championship debut with Ferrari
In 1950, the inaugural season of the Formula 1 World Championship, Sommer made a debut in the Monaco Grand Prix. He was driving the #42 Ferrari 125. After starting ninth on the grid, he finished fourth, behind Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa Romeo), Alberto Ascari (Ferrari) and Louis Chiron (Maserati).
His next race was the Swiss Grand Prix, where he was driving the #20 Ferrari 166 F2 car, not finishing the race. Sommer then decided to run his own Talbot-Lago T26C in Belgium, retiring again. Later in the season, he recorded two more DNFs in a Talbot-Lago in the French Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix.
Final return to Le Mans in 1950
On June 25, 1950, Sommer returned to Le Mans. Luigi Chinetti hired him to drive the #25 Ferrari 195 S Berlinetta Touring along with Dorino Serafini. They retired after 82 laps due to electrical issues.
At the Silverstone International Trophy meeting in August 1950, Sommer participated in two races. He drove the new BRM P15 in the main race but the car broke at the start of his heat. In the sports car race, he drove Aston Martin DB2 to 4th-place finish.
In September, at Circuit de Cadours, he borrowed Cooper from Harry Schell to participated in the Haute Garonne Grand Prix. During the race, a steering failed and he was killed in an accident.