Those who are passionate about motorsports have probably heard about Jean-Pierre Wimille, a successful racer who competed in the 1930s and 1940s. This Frenchman was considered one of the best riders in the world in his day, but what very few know is that during World War II he was a spy for the French Resistance.
Wimille was born on February 26, 1908 in Paris. His father, Auguste Wimille, was a journalist who was in charge of covering the car races for the Petit Parisien newspaper. With Wimille Sr. talking all day about motors and racing, it was no wonder Jean-Pierre took a liking to speed.
As a teenager he bought a Morgan on three wheels and then swapped it for a Bugatti 37A with which he went thoroughly through the streets of Paris. At the age of 22, he entered the 1930 French Grand Prix. Although he left due to a mechanical problem, that experience was the starting point to continue linked to the world of racing.
In 1931 he finished second in the Monte Carlo Rally and in 1932 he achieved his first victories in the La Turbie climb and in the Oran and Lorraine GPs. The accident he had that same year at the French GP left him without action for a few weeks, but that did not stop his enthusiasm for motorsport.
Jean-Pierre returned with more force to the circuits and landed a contract with Bugatti to team up with Robert Benoist, who in those years was the most recognized French pilot. Despite the talent of this pair, Bugatti could do little in the Grand Prix of the European Championship in the face of the supremacy of the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz y Auto Union.
That is why the French brand founded by Ettore Bugatti changed his sports policy and decided to participate in competitions for Sports vehicles with the great goal of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Bugatti's debut in the endurance race was in 1937 and with victory included by the hand of his stellar partner. While in 1939 Wimille repeated victory, but in the company of Pierre Veyron. Two months after that success, World War II broke out and motorsport pitted for a long time.
Wimille enlisted in the French Air Force and fought until the fall of France on June 14, 1940. In 1942 he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an English spy agency. So did his wife Christiane de la Fressange, Robert Benoist himself and William Grover-Williams, another pilot.
The four participated in numerous missions that provided relevant data to the French Resistance and that were key to the subsequent liberation of France. Although they were stealthy in their movements, the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, discovered them and caught them all except Wimille, who managed to escape.
After a few months in captivity, de la Fressange and Benoist fled their captors, while Williams remained in prison and was shot in Sachsenhausen in February 1945. Benoist suffered the same fate a month earlier after being arrested a second time ...
After the war, the motors of the race cars roared again. And to celebrate it on September 9, 1945, in Bois de Boulogne, several races were held. There the Benoist Cup, the Liberation Cup and the Prisoners Cup, considered the most important of the day, were at stake. The winner of that test was Wimille himself.
Little by little the automobile activity normalized and Wimille continued his sports campaign in pursuit of his dream: to be a great Grand Prix driver.
He contested several races and achieved many victories. ANDn France raced for Simca-Gordini and in international competitions for Alfa Romeo. But he also had time for grand gestures, like when In the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix, the same one in which the Italian Achille Varzi was killed, he let his teammate Carlo Felice Trossi win, who had been detected a brain tumor.
After that attitude he prevailed in the GP's of France, Italy, Monza and Turin and everyone started talking about Jean-Pierre Wimille as the best driver of the moment.
Season 1949 began with a career in Buenos Aires, the Juan Domingo Perón General Grand Prize. Wimille, with all his fame lying down, appeared with a Simca-Gordini.
On January 28, during practice for this competition, the Frenchman got confused and hit his head against a tree. He suffered serious injuries that led to his death while being transferred to the hospital.
The funeral was held in Buenos Aires and his coffin was carried by several colleagues such as Alberto Ascari y Giuseppe Farina. Also by another Argentine runner to whom Wimille himself had predicted a future champion after seeing him run: Juan Manuel Fangio.
Jean-Pierre Wimille that pilot who had managed to be the best of his time and who, as a spy, had helped liberate his country was only 40 years old.