Allan Simonsen: 1978 – 2013
This is going to be personal, and very long. You’ll soon see why it must be both. It’s the equivalent of Allan spending hours practising his Porsche gear changes…
Le Mans was both his favourite race and his favourite track: how cruel those 13 kilometres can be. How circumstances combine to bring about the most ghastly state of affairs sometimes. All those miles he’s raced, on all those tracks – and he wasn’t even at a particularly fast part of the circuit. Le Mans held no fears for Allan Simonsen, he was a master of his own destiny, as far as circumstances allowed. But for the accident to happen there, so early in the race? While he led the GT-Am Class?
You see, this writer has huge admiration for all you racers who are willing and able to go out there and put your lives on the line, on any circuit, but particularly at the world’s greatest race. I’ve enjoyed some great associations with a good many of you, each one different. With Allan, it was different again. And it was personal for myself and a good many others too.
Thruxton, British GTs, 2002. Allan raced a Ferrari 360, for Veloqx Motorsport – but that wasn’t a happy team at the time, with all sorts of unpleasant ‘stuff’ flying about, which a few of you might know about. I wondered who this blond Dane was, but didn’t introduce myself. Veloqx was in some turmoil, and Allan didn’t stay long.
But I knew he was racing in Australia in 2003, and it was there that our paths really crossed for the first time, at the Bathurst 24 Hours. Allan Simonsen (pronounce it Simon-sen, as in Simon, the Christian name) was racing the Team Lamborghini Australia Diablo, and I’d already been in touch with co-entrant Mark Coffey. Bloody hell was this guy Simonsen impressive. That Diablo was overweight, and kept blowing tyres, but that didn’t deter the Dane. Years later, he told me he only stayed on the track at the end of the Conrod Straight “because when a tyre blew under braking, I used an Escort to stop me flying off into the wall”.
Some text from my race report at Bathurst…
03.00 Hours: ‘Luke Youlden got a round of applause for a great double stint. Youlden was into the 2:19s. Amazing stuff. Simonsen threw him out of the Diablo – very forcibly…. Simonsen a 2:18.985, no one else under 2:20. He’s less than two laps behind the 24 Cirtek Porsche…. Peter Hackett was doing a single stint, with Simonsen planning to go back into the car “for the fast times as the sun comes up.” He’s rather special, this guy.’
Indeed he was. Of course it was no surprise, many years later, in the 12 Hours, to discover that Allan Simonsen set (and still holds) the fastest ever GT lap around the Mountain.
In 2004, Hector Lester introduced Allan to the British GT Championship – and it was here that ‘Simmo’s’ connection with the DSC crew really began. As myself, Graham Goodwin and Mark Howson poured out the words, so David Lord and then later Doris Downes snapped away at the red Ferrari. “Aye up, Simmo,” would come the greeting from Doris. Allan enjoyed the banter: he was, as Tom Kristensen would point out on June 23 “a humble guy”.
But a loyal one too. Simonsen and Lester were racing together in 2013 for the tenth year. Can you remember a partnership quite like that? With one British GT year exception, when the lure of the FIA GT3 Championship sucked Lester in, in ’06, this unlikely pair stayed together in BGT, Allan forever grateful that the Northern Irishman gave him a chance to shine in Europe. There were other reasons though, for Allan to carry on in Hector’s Ferraris.
Cracknell, Goodwin and Howson marvelled at the wizardry of the flying Dane. This guy was special, and he did remarkable things on the British tracks.
Mark Howson saw more Viking exploits than any of us: “I can’t count the number of occasions when I’d be beavering away in a press room at some circuit or other round the world and there’d be a tap on the shoulder or a nudge, followed by a “Hey, buddy”, and there would be Allan, with a hand held out and a smile on his face.
“Whatever he raced, wherever he raced, and whenever he raced, he was quick – bloody quick! And he never crashed – not that any of the DSC crew could recall as we reminisced after this terrible weekend – which makes the manner of his leaving all the more heart-breaking.
“He enjoyed his successes, of which there were many, and was hacked-off when things didn’t go so well; but he never made a big thing out of either situation – he just went back out and gave it his all, every time.
“I’ll never forget my final meeting with the Great Dane,” says Mark. “It was on Thursday afternoon last week, and he was threading his way through the crowds on his scooter behind the Le Mans paddock. As usual, he’d seen me first and came over to say hello. You could tell by his face that he was loving the event and he’d set provisional pole in GTE-Am the night before. “Is that enough?” I asked. “Not if it stays dry,” came the reply. “I had to wring everything out of the car to get that time so I doubt we can go any quicker.” He then went out and knocked another second off. Genius.”
So why did you bring him all the way from Australia, Hector Lester (I asked the Belfast man in late ’04)? “Allan is extremely quick, he’s very good at setting the car up, he sets it up in a way that I like too, he doesn’t damage the car, and I couldn’t ask for more from a driver. He’s very much an unrecognised talent.” Not here, Hector.
With Hector’s help, we can at last explain how it was that a Dane, who’d grabbed (created) a chance to race in Australia, met a Northern Irishman and raced with him for virtually ten years.
“I was racing in the Australian Nations Cup, at the support race to the Australian GP at Albert Park, which must have been in 2002. A guy called Andrew Turner was involved, and he’d also been involved in Sam Li’s Veloqx Motorsport – as had Allan. This guy Simonsen turned up to race for Mark Coffey’s Maranello team, the same team as me. He was clearly very good.
“There was a party afterwards at someone’s swanky house in Melbourne, and I told Allan that I’d give him a run in British GTs. That adventure began at Brands in 2003, and it became permanent, if you like, from 2004.
“Allan made the whole thing work. He was forceful in getting things done, brilliant at setting up the car – and we needed and welcomed all that.
“We became like a family and we never had a written contract. You know, my greatest fear was that I would ruin his career, but the opposite happened: I’m sure we promoted his reputation. I used to joke that Allan had to give me a lap’s lead, and sometimes he did. He had patience with me, and never an angry word. With British GTs as a Pro-Am series, it all fell into place: he was the best, he was so quick. And he never fell out with anyone. Such a big spirit.”
But if it suited Hector to race with the best, it also suited Allan to race the best (Ferrari). Hector again: “Allan’s rapport with John Buchan, my crew chief, was like a nut and a bolt. Whatever Allan asked for, John provided. John had his own tricks, and when they discussed set-up, it was rapid fire stuff. Allan knew that John could deliver a car that was just what he wanted, and ultra reliable. If people knew what our budget was, they would laugh!”
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that we never tested ,” said John Buchan. “The car stayed here in Scotland between races and the guys would only meet up at the circuits; and there wasn’t a great deal of communication between us from meeting to meeting. That meant that the only opportunity to set the car up would come in practice and qualifying and we’d just concentrate on getting sorted as best we could.
“But Allan was just a real professional every time and his feedback was just brilliant. In my opinion, we have lost one of the best GT drivers in the world.”
Not long after we spoke, John received a text message from a former team member. It read, “Just heard the very sad news of Allan. It was a pleasure to work with such a professional person who also had much time for everyone, regardless of who they were. The team and racing as a whole will not be the same without him. I am sure all our present and former team members would agree.”
“Allan knew what he’d got and he got what he wanted,” continued Hector. “When it came time to get a 458, he and I raced one. But I always let him put his pro career first: if we missed a race, so be it.
“The curtain has come down prematurely – all I’ve done since Saturday is keep working, to keep my mind busy. My 15 year old son is destroyed by what’s happened. We’d never had a team photograph, but my son organized one at Snetterton recently – and now this… I can’t think about the future now, but I know I couldn’t be at a British GT event right now.
“You know, he’d made it with Aston Martin, but he was on the verge of something else. Just recently, he had offers coming in from all over the place…”
Hector picked out one event to illustrate Allan Simonsen at his remarkable best – but there were so many, of course. That one race was the first ever FIA GT3 60-minuter, at Silverstone in 2006.
Hector said then that “I’ve never started from the front of the grid before so that’s something I’d quite like to do again. It was a fun race apart from the nudge from the Tech 9 car on Lap 1 but I managed to make up some ground and Allan got back out on slicks in about 32nd place and did what he always does!”
He took the chequered flag first. We DSC’ers were like kids that day, hooting with laughter, the sheer joy of watching a man in his element.
It was then that I spoke to D Panoz Jr. about A.Simonsen (see below)
2005 was personal in British GTs – between Allan and Piers Masarati, for the British GT3 title. I think that honour meant more to Piers than to Allan…
Piers Masarati: “Allan and I didn’t see eye to eye in ’05, we really didn’t like each other – but we became friends the following year, and have been since.
“My Tech 9 Porsche was the better car, but Allan was the better driver. If he’d been in the Porsche, he’d have been half a second or a second quicker. The guy was special, he’s been the benchmark for years.
“Part of the reason I retired after ’05 was that once you find that you’re not as talented as someone else, there’s no real reason to carry on. Adam Wilcox used to say that Allan walked around the paddock like a king – and he was! Allan hit me up the back at Knockhill, and when I confronted him, he told me I was too slow! He said the same to Adam Wilcox a couple of years later… and there was no answer to that.
“My four year old, Luca, idolized Allan. I can’t tell him what’s happened. After the accident on Saturday, I switched the TV off…”
A more recent racing rival, Matt Griffin, also shares his thoughts:
“While I did consider Allan a friend, I was not very close friends with him as it’s difficult to be so with someone who is a fierce rival.
“We raced against each other in the British GT Championship – as well as other races across the world – every year since 2008, both driving Ferraris. I had a huge amount of respect for Allan as a person and a professional driver, I think this was mutual.
“It really showed when we raced each other very closely. Two instances come to mind. The first is the opening round of the British GT championship in 2012. In the second race we raced very close and touched a number of times. On this occasion, we both pitted on the same lap – he in P2 and me in P3. We immediately met each other in the pitlane, clapped hands and said ‘great race’. The second was in the final round of the British GT last year. We had a titanic battle where we swapped places four or five times in a single lap, absolutely on the limit but giving each other just enough space. This is respect of the highest level.
“Allan was a true professional and always a benchmark. If you were as fast or close to his pace you knew you were going very well.
“We always spoke when we met each other at tracks all over the world and when we were racing against each other there was always the tongue in cheek comment like “nice lap” or “does your car not have a 6th gear?” said by Allan with a cheeky grin.
“Allan and I were very similar; we go around the world getting paid to do something we love, and we both have young families. We all know the danger involved in what we do, but driving a racing car for guys like us is not what we do, it is what we are.
“His death is something that I have not come to terms with yet and I think it will take a long time. I Hope that this tragedy will be taken as an opportunity to raise the safety bar, instead of just saying “motorsport is dangerous”.
“My thoughts and condolences are with his wife, daughter and family. Sportscar and GT racing lost a brother last weekend and I will very much miss driving with him.”
Allan wasn’t arrogant – confident in his own ability, but never arrogant. But in his 27th year (’05), shouldn’t a man with this talent be further up the ladder? He wasn’t bitter, but he was frustrated. And then my ‘phone rang, on the Monday before the Silverstone 1000 Kms.
Paul Daniels: “Malcolm, have you got so-and-so’s ‘phone number, I need a partner for Silverstone this weekend?”
Cracknell’s brain instantly kicked into top gear – and I very quickly and convincingly persuaded Paul that he didn’t want ‘so-and-so’, he wanted Simmo. I read out Allan’s ‘phone number – and kept my fingers crossed that Paul’s Porsche would have a certain Dane at the wheel when practice began on Friday.
It did. Allan’s face lit up when he saw me – now he was on the big stage, in Europe. The James Watt / Paul Daniels Porsche wasn’t the fastest or most up to date, but Allan had his first chance to shine in front of men who mattered.
Paul Daniels is a shrewd operator though. He didn’t take my word for Allan’s skill level, he rang (at Allan’s suggestion) none other than Tom Kristensen.
“You will not regret putting him in your car,” was TK’s opinion.
And Paul didn’t. “It was mid-season, and my idea was to put a quick guy in the car, to raise our profile. We couldn’t afford an experienced driver, but we needed someone quick. Allan, it turned out, fitted the bill perfectly.
“We’d seen Allan win at Bahrain, in the Cooper’s Ferrari, but we didn’t know how good he really was. But we found that we’d signed an all-round pro, he was quick, intelligent, he was aware of the financial side, and he was a very safe pair of hands.
“Until he drove it, we thought our car, a 2002 996RS, with an H-pattern ‘box, was a number of seconds off the pace. It wasn’t. In atrocious conditions, Allan was as quick as anyone, and we were heading for a podium – until the heated ‘screen failed. He made perfect calls on tyres as the conditions changed, and with 10 minutes to go, he set the fastest lap. Phenomenal. Gary Watkins actually entered our garage to ask who was in the car…
“At the next race, at the Nürburgring, he was equally brilliant. I got hit so we didn’t get a result, but with Allan in the car, we felt we always had a chance of a result.”
At that ‘Ring event, I was sitting working in the press room at the Nürburgring when Allan ambled in – with that lovely rolling gait of his, feet splayed out.
“Here mate, this is for you.” He handed me a bag of duty-frees – I smiled, I laughed. I really appreciated that. It was personal, you see.
Years later, Allan was talking to Graham Goodwin, at the Autosport Show, with his brother Benny. “I always felt I should have said thanks to Malcolm: he got behind me when nobody else gave a shit. It made a big difference in me getting some early breaks.”
It really was personal, you see. And I didn’t stop there. I knew how much talent this guy had. In the meantime, Allan and Rob Bell entered the press room after another ‘Ring 1000 Kms – stinking of champagne, as they mopped up the GT Class of the Le Mans Series, in Jim McWhirter’s Virgo Ferrari (2007). Allan Simonsen was on the move.
“That was my first year as a true pro, possibly Allan’s too in terms of a full-season, international drive,” explains Rob Bell. “In that Virgo Ferrari, we had one of the top cars, among the best tyres and we were the best pairing. I knew Allan anyway, because we were both instructors at Jonathan Palmer’s. We got on well, we felt the same in the car.”
Bell / Simonsen were dominant that year, no more so than at that Nürburgring event. “But Allan had an Australian commitment, so he dropped out of Silverstone – but we all know that really we were both champions.
“The thing I liked most about Allan was his brutal honesty at all times. If he didn’t like something, he’d say “No, that’s shit mate.” At scrutineering this year at Le Mans, he told your guys what he thought of the new DSC web site… That was Allan. But he had a great sense of humour, an awful sense of style in shoes – and that swagger of his… when he set pole, he had his pole position swagger….”
50 pole positions, 50 pole position swaggers…
Chris Warne team managed the championship-winning Virgo Ferrari in ’07, and he tells two very good Simmo stories: the first relates to that epic 2005 BGT season.
“I’ve known Hector for 20 years, and at Silverstone in ’05 (I was running Jim McWhirter and Dan Eagling in the Ferrari Challenge), Hector asked if he could share our awning. On Sunday morning, Hector was involved with his Christians in Motorsport thing – and Allan made himself scarce. Hector got knocked into the gravel early on and lost at least a lap, but Allan clawed it all back. He was on slicks, and he ended up taking 13 seconds out of Piers on the last lap: Piers was on wets. Allan took the place by one thousandth of a second!
“Allan finished on slicks that had most of the canvas showing through. I pointed out that he might have made himself scarce in the morning, but with the state of those tyres, he had a co-driver with him in the afternoon….”
During that successful 2007 Le Mans Series campaign, with Rob Bell, Chris relates that “at Valencia, Allan was being held up by Jack Leconte’s GT1 Aston Martin. Allan was calling the driver everything under the sun over the radio! I walked down to ask Jack if his man could let Allan through, because on that track, he just couldn’t get past. Jack was surprised when I told him our car was a GT2 Ferrari. Then the same thing happened at the next race: I just walked down and looked at Jack – and he knew what was needed.
“Allan had started at the ‘Ring, and he pulled out a massive gap in the first stint. He drove the wheels off the car. Then we turned the fuel map back, and Rob and Allan maintained the gap – and even pulled out a bit more. Allan was top of my list, he never damaged the car.”
Allan was of course entitled to seem cocky around the paddock – but he never forgot people who’d given him a chance. Paul Daniels again: “Allan always popped into the James Watt transporter in later years – and he put good drivers with budgets our way, such as the Australians Jack Elsgood and Bryce Washington. Allan became a mate.
“And then he drove for us in Brazil at the end of ’07, where we had to make a good impression, to make sure we received an invitation to Le Mans the following summer. I had my overalls on but I probably wasn’t going to race – because we had Allan and Richard Westbrook. Richard was fourth overall in the wet warm-up, Allan led the class at the start – but a hub broke.”
That H-pattern ‘box in the Daniels/Watt Porsche led to some remarkable traces on the speed curve, with Simmo at the wheel. The data engineer couldn’t find Allan’s gearchange points. Paul Daniels: “Allan told me that he spent many hours sitting in a Porsche, changing gears so automatically that it became a reflex action. He was so fast, you couldn’t see where he changed ratios.”
I tried to give Allan a ‘leg-up’ on two other occasions – but with less success. I found myself talking to none other than Danny Panoz, son of Don, after another Silverstone meeting, and boy did I sing the virtues of this Danish chap. That didn’t lead to anything, because sometimes talent isn’t enough – but my next ‘cunning plan’ involved a team where talent was/is enough. Irony of ironies, that was Aston Martin Racing.
The team was testing potential talent to race the GT1s, but my quiet word in an important ear naturally didn’t carry enough weight. Why should anyone listen to me? How I chuckled when Allan got his chance in the Gigawave GT1 Aston Martin (’08). How I roared with delight when he became an official Aston Martin driver in the GTE car last year, and this.
There were many other drives between Gigawave GT1 and Aston Martin GTE – the Farnbacher / Hankook cars for example, with Dominik Farnbacher.
“I first met Allan when we drove together in 2008 for Tafel at Sebring. He was immediately a very friendly guy, and quick too, he had a lot of talent, very impressive so when my dad was working on the Hankook deal and was looking for new drivers I suggested that he test Allan – he did, and Allan was the quickest of all of them at the test.
“We first shared a car at Le Mans in 2009 and while that was not a good race for us, we got on very well and raced together again later that same year at Okayama for the Asian Le Mans Series double header. We won that race and partied hard in celebration afterwards. That really laid the foundation to a real friendship and a good driving partnership which lasted for two years afterwards, with the Le Mans Series, Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
“But even apart from that we worked together – being a professional driver is a very tough job, there are so few opportunities and so many guys trying to get them. Allan worked hard to get me opportunities in Australia, and I worked hard to get him into cars in the USA, at Daytona, Sebring etc. Not every other driver would do that, whether a friend or not. We drove a Ferrari together at Bathurst, one of my big ambitions. It wouldn’t have happened without him.
Allan had hoped that the Farnbacher / Hankook connection would lead to a prototype effort – but the tyre company took its products to the DTM – so Allan’s only prototype drive was in the Kruse Lola at Le Mans in 2008.
Sam Smith was Lola’s press man at the time: “Coming back from the Place Des Jacobins scrutineering jamboree, Allan and I talked about his inquisitiveness about driving ‘a downforce’ car – and he was so much looking forward to it, that he could barely keep still. I distinctly recall that he could not remember the exact designation of the car (Lola B07/40) so he just called it ‘the thing’!
“In the press room, a couple of days later. I watch in abject horror as his team mate Hideki Noda barrel rolls ‘the thing’ – ‘Allan’s thing’ – to destruction approaching the first corner. I got up from my desk and ran down to the pit. The first person I saw when I got there was Allan, and he looked absolutely gutted.
“At this stage I wasn’t even aware if Hideki was OK or not and the conversation went like this:
Me: “How’s it looking”
AS: “It’s f******”
Me: “And Hideki?”
AS: “He’s OK thank God. But he’d better have a good excuse, otherwise he’s f****** as well.”
“It does Allan massive credit that he broke in to a laugh a few seconds after he said that. The man held no serious malice to anyone, yet he had the grace to shroud his real disappointment in humour. He even helped the chief mechanic Martyn Gilbert and I sweep up some of the wreckage that forlornly fell off the flat-bed truck, when they brought some of the medium-sized chunks back to the pits!
“The other important memory I have is that very same year when we were looking after the recently widowed Jane Leslie at Le Mans. It was only a couple of months since she lost her wonderful husband, David.
“Allan didn’t know David Leslie yet he still had time to look over David’s Mk1 Lola at the parade on the Friday. On the Saturday morning I spent some time telling him about David and what a great guy he was, on so many levels. Allan was intrigued and said he was sorry he had never got to know him properly. This week there will be millions of fans saying the very same about him.”
How ironic that it was a works drive that led to the events of June 22. How ironic that, despite his speed, his flair, he just didn’t have accidents. But he did have one accident, last Saturday. Not even a particularly high speed one. But, like Xavier Pompidou, he hit a tree. How can that be, on a ‘modern’ circuit?
Tom Kristensen: “If you want it to be personal, we lost somebody who shared the same dream, an absolutely humble and nice guy. My father died in March and he said I would win Le Mans this year. I hope I can win another one and dedicate it to my dad, because this year is for Allan Simonsen.”
I won’t be able to go to Allan’s final event, at Odense in Denmark, on July 2, because, irony of ironies, I’ll be travelling through Le Mans on Thursday of this week, to a week’s vacation in the Loire Valley. That means I’ll be paying my respects at Tertre Rouge – not with flowers (there are many there already), but with words and thoughts. I’ll kick that bloody tree, I’ll shed tears – and feel relieved that although I can’t go to Allan’s funeral, the DSC crew will be represented. A lot of people did give a shit, Allan.
To your immediate family, your brother, your parents, your dog, your many Danish fans, your mate Jon Hart, your many friends in motorsport, and to your supporters worldwide, we’ll always remember you. A humble guy, a funny guy, a professional racing driver just oozing talent – how far could you have gone?
Asian Le Mans GT2 Champion
Australian GT Champion
Bathurst 1000 Podium
Bathurst Outright Lap Record Holder (Cars)
2 x 24 Hours of Le Mans Podium (GT2)
24 Hours of Nürburgring Outright Runner-Up
24 Hours of Spa Outright 3rd
3 x Outright Tarmac Rally Winner
4 x Autosport “GT Driver of the Year” Award Winner
Race Statistics (2003-2012)
Lap Records: 32
Fastest Laps: 91
Pole Positions: 50
We’ll post a separate item relating to Allan’s exploits in Australia, and doubtless there will be other tributes too.