Jo Siffert, first Swiss pole position
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Jo Siffert, first Swiss pole position

Neel Jani's pole position at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans brought to mind Jo Siffert (1936-1971), the first Swiss driver to score the pole at Le Mans. A tribute to him this Swiss national holiday weekend.

What is the common denominator between Neel Jani and Jo Siffert? Not only are they the only Swiss drivers to have clinched pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they also both did so at the wheel of a Porsche prototype.

Nearly a half century ago, Siffert discovered the 24 Hours at the wheel of a Maserati Tipo 65. The following year, the driver nicknamed "Seppi" joined Porsche's ranks which he would not leave until his death. His arrival coincided with the German manufacturer's transition to prototypes. He reached two consecutive top 5s at the wheel of a 906 then a 907 (fourth in 1966, fifth in 1967). 1968 marked the arrival of the 908, which became - thanks to Siffert - the first Porsche to score pole position at Le Mans (3:35:4 at an average of 225 km/h). Siffert would never again reach the finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but the arrival of the 917 paradoxically marked the climax of his endurance career. In 1970 and '71, he delivered at the wheel a few legendary duels with his teammate (and favourite opponent!) Mexican driver Pedro Rodriguez, namely at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, in the famous sky blue and orange Gulf oil company livery.

In tandem with his success in endurance, Siffert competed in 96 Formula 1 Grand Prix. He won his first victory at the Grand Prix of Great Britian in a private Lotus in 1968, two months before his pole position at Le Mans. Then, like Pedro Rodriguez, he drove for BRM, with whom he won his second victory, at the 1971 Grand Prix of Austria. Considered one of the fastest and aggressive drivers of his time, "Seppi" passed away on October 24, 1971 during a non-championship Formula 1 race at the Brands Hatch circuit.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - Translation by Nikki Ehrhardt / ACO 

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY & SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 29-30 1968. Thanks to Jo Siffert, the 908 was the first Porsche to start from pole position at the 24 Hours. In 1968, his teammate was none other than Hans Herrmann, who gave the German manufacturer its first win two years later.