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1960s Book By Paul Frere Can Still Teach You How to Race

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

If you’re an aspiring race car driver (or sim racer; in this house, we don’t judge) who also happens to be struggling to grasp the core fundamentals of car handling and control, then you’re in luck. Sports Car and Competition Driving by Paul Frère from 1963 can tell you everything you need to know.

You might be wondering how, exactly, a book about sports car racing from 1963 has any relevance today — let alone a slim, 156-page book like Frère’s. After all, trying to explain modern sports car racing can be like trying to explain astrophysics to a group of kindergarteners, now that we have things like driver rankings, balance of power formulas, and rule after rule about proper on-track conduct — something that definitely cannot be encapsulated in a single book under 200 pages.

And if you’re coming at it from that angle, you’d be right. This book isn’t going to tell you how to compete in the 2023 IMSA season. Instead, it’s going to teach you the fundamentals of motorsport — the things you can apply just about anywhere, whether it’s in your trip to the grocery store, your first track day, or on your sim rig.

Frère includes a ton of photos, illustrations, and graphs to help you grasp the lessons he’s teaching on cornering, safety, changing gears, and even sitting down in the car for a race. You’ll get his “dos and don’ts” of driver etiquette alongside his advice on how to best utilize a practice session in order to prepare for qualifying and a race. He even offers some advice on how to drive in the rain, dark, and snow.

Of course, some of the advice is a little dated. You won’t need to know how to take on Le Mans start, nor will you really need to read about how to teach someone to time you with a stopwatch and lap chart. In fact, you’re also probably going to be able to ignore some of the track-specific driving tips, since the 1963 Watkins Glen layout, for example, is drastically different than it is today.

The book is, though, a great tool for visualizing things like proper cornering angles, camber, and understeer/oversteer — and it’s also a great history lesson. Yes, plenty of the racing basics can be applied to motorsport today, but it’s also really fun to note where things differ in order to see just how much has evolved in the sport.

And if you’re wondering about Paul Frère’s credentials? Well… don’t. He competed in the pinnacle of endurance racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he took four class wins and one overall win, and he also contested multiple Formula 1 Grands Prix, clocking a best finish of second. After he retired from active competition, he became Road & Track’s European editor and a formidable expert on Porsches. There’s even a corner of Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps named for him. You can trust that this man knows exactly what he’s talking about.

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