Both Briggs Cunningham and John Simone, the two biggest Maserati importers in the early sixties, firmly believed that the Maserati Tipo151 was a real opportunity to achieve a Maserati victory at Le Mans, given the 4-liter GT/Prototype class newly created by the FIA / ACO. Three cars were produced, to be entered in the 1962 Le Mans race (two by Briggs Cunningham and the third one by John Simone). Not a big success, the three cars had to give up prematurely due to an anormally fast wear of tires and suspension failure. Some more work was obviously required. Simone's car was sent back to the Maserati factory in Modena, where it received a number of substantial modifications (aerodynamics, suspensions, 4,9-liter engine). Now referred to as Maserati Tipo 151/2, it will be the only Maserati to participate in the 1963 Le Mans race (Briggs Cunningham having switched to E type Jaguars).
Colonel John Simone was quite an outstanding personage, one of the youngest French aviation colonels of WWII, a real car enthusiast, who was partnering with the French Maserati importer in Paris, in charge of racing Maseratis. For the Le Mans race, his car, in a gorgeous overall red livery with blue and white stripes, looked absolutely superb. It was to be driven by Lloyd "Lucky" Casner and André Simon, two fast drivers, both experienced with sportscars, especially Maseratis. During practice, André Simon was the fastest in Mulsanne straight and achieved the 5th chrono overall, confirming that the 430 bhp of the 4,9-liter engine were really there. Quite promising, although the handicap of being somewhat isolated to face 11 Ferraris.
On race day, the start is still the traditional spectacular Le Mans type start, with drivers lined up along the opposite side of the track having to run to their cars. It's a very hot day, and the Maserati has spent long hours on the pit lane, right in the sun. At 3:55 pm, all the drivers are ready in the white circles painted on the track. When the French flag goes down, André Simon is amongst the first drivers to reach their car. He catches the door but impossible to open it ! André tries again, two times, five times… nothing ! Meanwhile, his main rivals have made off and disappear. The sun and heat have got the aluminium door stuck on the rubber joins, mechanics having not put talc on them. André gets nervous, pulls again the door very rageously and … gets it right in the face ! Aïe ! Despite a burst nose and blood pouring down his face, he jumps into the car, shoots off immediately and, making full use of the power of his 5-liter engine, driving at breakneck speed, he overtakes and overtakes again. In the Mulsanne straight, he swallows Mike Parkes, Jo Schlesser, Dan Gurney, Lorenzo Bandini, Bruce McLaren and Pedro Rodriguez ! At Mulsanne corner, he is already in third position, with only John Surtees and Phil Hill ahead of him. He will overtake them before Maison Blanche, taking the lead of the race. Needless to say that when he passes along the grandstands for the first time, he receives a fantastic ovation from spectators, rather astonished ! A memorable first lap, indeed !
Two hours (14 laps) later, André is still leading the race, resisting the attacks of the pack of Ferraris chasing him, quite confident in the car, and gets ready for refuelling. At the pitstop, Lucky then takes the wheel. He is a bit slower than André, but nevertheless keeps the head of the race. Unfortunately, an hour later, while reaching Mulsanne corner, he changes down from 5th to second gear (*), a mistake which will be fatal to the Maserati #2. A really missed opportunity for Maserati to write a glorious page.
(*) This is the André Simon's version, while Colonel Simone told he had nothing to reproach to Lucky.
PS : Lucky Cassner got killed in the crash of his 151/4 at Le Mans, during the April 1965 preliminary practice sessions, on a wet track, the same year André Simon ended his racing career (he died in 2012).