Former junior open-wheel racer Richard Philippe has died at 28.
The Formula BMW USA, Champ Car Atlantic, and Indy Lights driver was killed last week in the Dominican Republic in a helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of four others. According to reports, the helicopter was traveling from a hotel in Rio San Juan to the town of Casa de Campo, where Philippe owned a home, when authorities lost contact with it 24 miles short of its destination.
The Frenchman, whose older brother Nelson competed in Champ Car and the IndyCar Series, saw his career shadow that of Australia’s James Davison, who spoke fondly of his late friend.
“I first met Richard at the Formula BMW scholarship shootout in Valencia at the end of 2004 along with Robert Wickens, and from there, we all raced together in the States the next year in the series,” Davison told RACER. “I befriended Richard and Nelson, and was invited to their place in Key Biscayne, Florida, and really enjoyed being with them. I then moved up to Atlantics, and to be honest, he did much better than I did.
“He finished second at Cleveland, which was such a challenging track, and that was as a 16-year-old. It was incredible. There was a field of about 25 cars and you knew he was a special talent. Then we raced together again in Indy Lights in 2009, and it was more impressive results by him with smaller teams. For sure, had Richard had the opportunity to chase an IndyCar career, he would have been a race winner.”
Davison hoped to race with Philippe once again in the near future.
“I’m thankful that I was able to catch up with him in Miami three months ago, and it was very clear how much he loved his family, loved his kids, and how much he missed racing,” he said. “He wanted to return and do some sports car racing. I was planning to visit him in the Dominican Republic soon to talk about it. It’s so sad now that he’s gone, and while so young.”
Philippe’s Forsythe Racing Atlantic teammate James Hinchcliffe was equally moved by the loss.
“When Richard and I were teammates, we were just kids,” he said. “It was one of the best times in my life. We were racing cars and traveling the world, our whole lives in front of us.
“And no one had more panache and love of life than Richard! He was three years younger than I but already knew so much, had done so much and shared so much. We always had a good laugh together, at the track or away from it. I learned a lot from him about enjoying life – lessons I cherish and employ every day I can. He has been out of the racing community for some time, but anyone that came across him, and his whole family, are the richer for it.”
Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Robert Wickens also shared his thoughts on the former racing phenom.
“I first met Richard in 2001 in karting,” Wickens said. “I remembered seeing this kid around the paddock with very bold glasses. I later saw him parked up right beside me after qualifying and I finally put the two together! We went on to race against each other until 2005 and did our first year of cars together in Formula BMW USA where he’d go on to win the championship in a finale that went down to the wire between him, myself, and Kevin Lacroix. I later used his pee-smelling car (true story) in the 2005 FBMW World Finals since he was busy testing for his upcoming Champ Car Atlantic season in 2006.
“He was always a very kind person off track. Always helpful and honest but a fierce competitor. It’s unfortunate that he was taken far too soon. My deepest condolences to his family in this tragic time.”
RACER extends its condolences to the Philippe family.