Philippe Favre died on Friday 5th December after a skiing accident at Val Thorens in France. It was just a week before his 52nd birthday.
Although I watched him race many times in F3 and F3000 in the late 1980s, I only really got to know Philippe in the last 12 months while working on various writing projects.
He was a genuinely lovely man. Devoid of pretence or rambling self-opinion that you so often get with ex-racers, he always had time to talk about the topic of which he had the most passion – racing.
In tribute here is the ‘Race of My Life’ I did earlier this year. It was a wry, humorous and delightful take on his fearsome scrap with his mate Roland Ratzenbeger at the 1986 Formula Ford Festival.
Farewell Philippe. We will always remember you as a great racing driver but more importantly an even greater human being.
Favre was runner up in the 1986 RAC FF1600 Championship. He then took in British F3 in 1987 with a single win at Donington Park. After a further season of F3 in 1988 he embarked upon a cash-strapped year of FIA International F3000 in 1989 before a brief switch stateside in 1992 saw a handful of Indy Lights outings. Favre (51) still races sporadically in GTs and also runs his own events company based in Geneva.
Race of My Life – Philippe Favre
Formula Ford Festival – 26th October 1986
I look back very fondly at the Formula Ford Festival final in 1986 not only because it was a great race but because it also started a special friendship with my big rival that day – Roland Ratzenberger.
We had clearly been the quickest drivers all weekend and lined up on the front row with Roland just getting pole. It was very tense of course but on the grid my mechanics and I decided to brighten things up a little, trying desperately to distract Roland. God knows where we got it from but one of our guys produced a bra from nowhere and just before the one-minute board went up he handed it to me and I threw it across to Roland. It landed in his cockpit but he didn’t flinch and just ignored it. As if it was the most normal thing in the world, he just tossed it to one of his mechanics and flicked his visor down. He was obviously in the zone!
So we headed off towards Paddock Hill Bend with me tucked right behind his red Van Diemen. It went pretty much like this for the whole 20 laps. I was right with him and looking for a way through absolutely everywhere but he was very clever in placing his car just in the right place at the right time. I was definitely quicker but there just was not a way through.
I remember we were completely on the limit but I was confident I could find a way through at some stage. As the laps to the chequered flag reduced Roland got even more defensive and we touched wheels many times. It was clear to me that it was all going to come down to the last lap.
And so it did, because like many previous attempts I took the classic wide line in to Paddock and then looked for the cut back up to Druids. Again Roland had things covered even though we were both braking super late and he was sliding the car a lot. It was classic FF1600 action and although it was very competitive and hard racing, it was also very fair.
Perhaps I was too polite, I don’t know but I had a small chance at the very last corner. Roland went very defensive and I thought ‘well here is my big chance’. I got up the inside on the exit and we ran to the flag side-by-side, almost banging wheels again. It was a classic finish and he just got over the line ahead of me by less than half a second. I was so close I could almost smell the champagne!
On the slowing down lap we both looked across at each other and gave the thumbs up. There was a nice level of respect between us and it had been a tremendous battle with both us giving absolutely everything.
After the podium I was in the paddock with all my family, friends and team celebrating. I noticed that Roland was sat there outside his pit garage all alone with the trophy and garland. It turned out that he had nobody there watching ‘his’ big race because he had told his family he was in the UK just learning to be a mechanic, all because his parents didn’t like him racing. Amazing!
So I said to him, ‘Look Roland you have to come out with us tonight and celebrate.’ So he did and we had a wonderful night, drinking and having a laugh. We even laughed about the ‘bra incident’ on the grid. Later I found out he took a shine to one of my cousins who was over from Switzerland. She was there supporting me and lets just say I think he may have been successful in more ways than one that day. Typical Roland!
From that weekend on we became very good friends and socialised a lot together right up until he died at Imola. He was such a lovely guy and memories like the Festival in 1986 are what life is all about. I miss him, even now.