Tag Archives: Hans Herrmann

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Echoes from Mulsanne

It does not take long in this business to spot those who are on the pace, on track or off, with or without a stopwatch. Thirty plus years ago I first met Alan Lis, a writer who was, and is, definitely in the “on the pace” camp. A while back Alan conducted interviews with some of those involved at the heart of the dramatic 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours. 50 years have passed since that famous race but those who witnessed it either on track or via the television or media still recall the excitement of the finish. A once in a lifetime experience. Alan has generously shared his work with us here, Merci beaucoup!

The 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans marks the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous finish in the history of the Grand Prix d’Endurance. Against the odds, the JW Automotive Engineering team Ford GT40 driven by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won by a narrow margin of just over 100 metres (or 1.5 seconds). Ickx having fought out a frenetic duel for victory with the sole surviving works entered Porsche 908 driven by Hans Herrmann for the final three hours of the race. 

John Horsman – Chief Engineer – JWA Automotive Engineering

“The GT40s started thirteenth and fourteenth on the grid, which was a very lowly position for us. The times were set in the first practice on the Wednesday and we did not go to Thursday’s practice; there was no point. The car was not going to go any faster and there was no interest in improving our grid position. The car knew its own way around the circuit, so we had two days to prepare, we were nicely rested and ready for the race on Saturday.”

“Of course, Jacky Ickx made his famous walk across the road, which he hadn’t told us about so that was a surprise. Hobbs got away to a very good start and got through the John Woolfe accident before it happened, Jacky was at the back of the field and had to thread his way through but had plenty of warning. So, both our cars got through that first lap problem unscathed.“

“The Hobbs/Hailwood car led the Ickx/Oliver car for at least half the race until they had a problem with a brake caliper. A wheel weight had been improperly placed, hit the bridge pipe on the caliper and broke it. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the problem at the first stop so the car had to stop again when the problem was fixed but that dropped number 7 back behind number 6. Otherwise Hobbs and Hailwood would have almost certainly have won the race. They should have won because they were about half a lap ahead at that time.”

“Early in the race the Porsches were dominant but as time progressed, we found ourselves in better and better positions eventually third and fourth. The 917s fell out and two 908s collided on the straight, which was very convenient for us. At the end there was just the Larrousse/Herrmann 908, which had been delayed by a wheel bearing failure early on, and was catching us fairly quickly.”

“In fact, they caught us a little quicker than expected but our team manager David Yorke was very calm and collected and made a very good move at our second to last pit stop when we were still in the lead. He instructed the mechanics to lift the tail, go over everything, check the oil, check the water; we put new brake pads in even though they were not actually required at that time.”

“David could see a big battle coming up and wanted to give the drivers the best tool they could have for the oncoming battle. Normally we got through a pit stop as fast as possible to save time but David decided to take an extra thirty seconds to have good look over the car and check everything, do a ‘fifteen-thousand-mile service’ on it and off we went again. By which time of course the Porsche was much closer. But then the race was won on brakes and we had the equipment to do it. The Porsche had a warning light coming on but it proved to be a false warning. Of course, there’s a difference in hurtling down to Mulsanne corner with a warning light on not knowing whether you are going to have brakes or not. That was very definitely our finest hour with the GT40.”

David Hobbs – Driver JWA Automotive Engineering Ford GT 40 Car number 7

“Le Mans 1969 was the most unfortunate and biggest near miss of my career. I made a terrific start and Ickx did his famous slow walk. I rocketed off and got through White House before the accident. That put me an instant lap up on Ickx and Oliver and that was how we stayed until about five o’clock the next morning.”

“In fact, neither of us were doing terribly well, we had qualified well down and we were all running along at about the same speed. With David Yorke managing the team we were stuck on a fixed lap time. The Porsches were well ahead of us but in the middle of the night – at about 3am – two 908s overtook me on the straight and pulled away. It was pitch dark and I saw these four tail lights disappear around the kink followed by an immediate flash of white headlight and almost instantly after that a huge glow of gold and red fire. Obviously, I put the brakes on but by then I was right in the kink myself. As I went through I found the road completely blocked with flames and smoke and dust and crap everywhere. There was no point in swerving, where the hell are you going to swerve to? I burst through this lot and out the other side and there’s half a Porsche tumbling end over end down the middle of the track. Then out of the Porsche pops the driver and he tumbles down the road. I didn’t know whether to run over the driver or the car but in fact I didn’t touch either in the end.”

“It happened to be my in lap, so I came into the pits and said to Mike, “Jesus there’s been a shunt, the road’s all f**ked up and some bloke’s been killed …” What had happened was that Udo Schutz and Larrousse had touched, Schutz car had spun into the inside of the kink, hit the guard rail and broken in half, leaving the engine and gearbox blazing attached to the rail as him and the cockpit had bounced down the road also on fire and had finally come to rest about two or three hundred yards further down the road. He apparently bounced out and was absolutely fine. He always was a bit overweight which had perhaps made it easier for him to bounce down the road.”  

“On my next stint came the real killer for our hopes, we were still leading our sister car and as I approached Mulsanne corner the brake pedal went to the floor. I did some rapid pumping but it was all too late and I shot down the escape road. I had do a three-point turn and drive slowly back to the pits. When the door was opened, David Yorke was there and I said “The brakes have gone completely”. He said, “It’s the pads. You’re about due for a change so it must be the pads”. I said, ” No, it’s more than pads” but he wasn’t having it.  “No, its the pads. You drive I’ll team manage…”. So, they changed all the pads put the fuel in and sent me off. When I got to the end of the pit, I nearly ran over the marshal with the flag because the car wouldn’t stop. So now I’m committed to an 8½ mile slow lap… When I came back in, they took the bodywork off and all the wheels off. On those Girling calipers there was a bridge pipe from one side of the caliper to the other and the Firestone tyre fitters had put wheel weights on the inside of the rims as opposed to the outside. The JW people knew there was very little clearance between the wheel and the caliper and the Firestone engineers had been warned about it but it had happened anyway. One of the wheel weights had chipped a little hole in this brake pipe and the fluid had drained away. The pipe was changed the pipe, the system was bled and everything was put back together and off we went again but now of course it’s the other way around and Ickx is ahead.”

“Towards the end of the race of course it comes down to him and Hans Herrmann who are having this incredible duke out for first and second and Mike and I are bowling along in third. If it hadn’t been for that bloody wheel weight, we would have been rolling along in first and these two blokes would have still have had their titanic battle but it would have been for second.”

Jacky Ickx – Driver JWA Automotive Engineering Ford GT 40 Car number 6

“As far as the spectators were concerned the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours was the most famous race. The race was very exciting, especially the last three hours. Just by luck the two leading cars were running exactly the same speed at the same time for the last three hours. We were making pitstops for fuel and tyres more or less on the same lap. So, we were able to run close together for three hours. One a little bit in front, but neither able to pull away from the other. The more that time passed the more we knew that the race was going to be decided either by a mechanical problem or on the last lap.”

“It was at a time when drivers were realising that it was nice to go motor racing but also that you needed to survive. Life is too short to die in a racing car. In the fifties and sixties there were so many bad accidents, fatal accidents, that it appeared that we were doing things sometimes that were completely stupid. For many years in the sixties we drove without seatbelts. They only began to appear around that time. It only became mandatory later. There was still a legend saying that it was better to be thrown out rather than trapped in the car. If you say that today you would get a giant laugh because everybody knows that it’s not the case. The problem of Le Mans in those days was that you had to run and jump into the car. To be the first one into the first corner you had to forget about the seatbelts until you got to the straight and then you had to try to put the belts on while you were accelerating on the Mulsanne. That was why I started the race by walking to my car but for the last few metres I had to hurry up because the other cars were starting and so I had to run a little bit.”

“At the end of the race Porsche chose to put Herrmann in for the last stint because he had more experience but I think he was maybe too cautious. I have always thought that maybe it would have been more difficult if Larrousse had stayed in the car.

“There was a lot of strategy, I remember, especially on the last two laps. We knew that the flag came down at four o’clock, so on what we thought was going to be the last lap he started down the straight first and I over took him by slipstreaming by as late as I could going into Mulsanne corner and I knew that he could not overtake me after that. But unfortunately, when we reached the clock at the finish line there was still thirty seconds to go so, we had to do another lap. The extra lap was pushing both me and him to the limit of fuel so we had no guarantee to finish.”

“Of course, having done the trick on Mulsanne on the previous lap he knew that he didn’t want to start the straight in front of me. So, I was first and he wouldn’t pass of course. I had to slow down and down until I was going at maybe only one hundred kilometres an hour before we got to the restaurant. I think I got so slow that maybe he felt that I was running out of fuel. As we got to the restaurant he must have thought “That’s it now I go”. I was watching in the mirror and suddenly he went past me. I jumped into his slipstream and stayed there. We both increased speed and after the kink I used the slipstream and passed him on the inside.”

“It was a time when fairness when you were driving a racing car meant something. He wouldn’t have done anything like the things you see today. That didn’t exist. It was very important for me to pass at the end of the straight because he was faster down the straight but slower on braking. On lap times we were equal but I knew from the experience of the last three hours that I had to be in front of him at that point because he could not overtake anymore after Mulsanne corner.” 

“When we reached the finish, I was very happy and the team were frantic, Oliver and everyone in the pit was very, very excited, it was unbelievable. The race was very well covered on TV and people were able to see the last three hours and especially the last hour live. I think maybe it was one of the first years that they used aeroplane with a TV camera onboard. It was a transport plane and they opened the rear door and pointed the camera down at the track. That plane was following the cars round the circuit and it was the first time that people watching the TV were able to see the race so completely. I think that is why so many people remember it so well.”

JWA team principal John Wyer was unable to attend to race, in the evening Ickx received a telegram from him bearing a single word: “Manifique!”

Alan Lis, July 2019

85 and Rising

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It is rare that a racing driver is the subject of a press release from a major manufacturer, to have two of the giants writing about you is almost unprecedented. However perhaps in Hans Herrmann’s case it is less surprising. He hits 85 today, so Happy Birthday, Hans.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Hans back in 2010 at Sebring where he triumphed in the 12 Hours some 50 years before. Somewhere in the confusion that is my office is an interview with the great man, most of the recording was drowned out by a crappy Trans-Am race that was unfolding outside so my masterpiece makes little sense, lesson one learned.

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His career was an extensive one with spells at Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Arbarth, Maserati and Borgward. His crowning achievement was winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1970 with Richard Attwood in a Porsche 917. He could also point to having competed at long gone events like the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and Carrera Panamericana. It is said that you are judged by the company you keep, so you could think yourself just slightly special if among your team mates you could list Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. I could go on and on, there were many others.

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But I will have to make do with the releases from Porsche and Mercedes-Benz and some evocative photos. Once again Happy Birthday Hans.

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Porsche congratulates Hans Herrmann

Stuttgart. Hans Herrmann, one of the most successful and best known works racing drivers at Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, will celebrate his 85th birthday on 23 February 2013. Born in Stuttgart in 1928, this long-distance specialist was considered one of the most successful and dependable racing drivers of his era. His motorsports career lasted from 1952 to 1970, during which Hans Herrmann won over 80 overall and class victories.

Hans Herrmann started his racing career in early 1952, piloting a privately-owned Porsche 356 1500 in mountain races, rallies, and endurance races. A year later he and Richard von Frankenberg took overall fifth place in the Lyon-Charbonnieres rally. Porsche racing chief Huschke von Hanstein thereupon hired him for the Porsche Works team. Herrmann drove the 550 Spyder at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans, and together with Helmut Glöckler came in first in the 1.5 litre displacement category right off the bat.

In 1953, at the age of 26 Herrmann won the title of German Sportscar Champion and got the attention of legendary Mercedes-Benz racing chief Alfred Neubauer, who hired him for his works team. Hans Herrmann piloted the Mercedes W 196 Silver Arrow in the premier category of motorsports, teaming with top drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. Parallel to that, in 1954 he continued to drive for Porsche in the smaller displacement categories. In the 550 Spyder he won widely noted class victories in the Mille Miglia and Carrera Panamericana.

When Daimler-Benz pulled out of racing in 1955, Herrmann went on to drive Formula 1 races for Maserati and BRM, as well as other races as a Borgward works driver. In 1957 he became European Vice “Bergmeister” – Mountan Champion – before returning to the Porsche works team in 1959. Together with Joakim Bonnier, in 1960 Herrmann took the overall victory at the Targa Florio in a Porsche 718 RS60 Spyder, and the Formula 2 championship in a Porsche 718/2. He also won the 12 Hours of Sebring with Olivier Gendebien. In 1963 he left Porsche KG and joined Carlo Abarth’s racing team.

In 1966 Herrmann returned to the Porsche works team, not only driving in all the major long-distance races and European Mountain Championship races, but also doing countless test drives in Weissach. With pilots Hans Herrmann, Jo Siffert, Vic Elford and Rolf Stommelen, in 1969 the team took the World Sports Prototype Championship for the first time. In 1970, at his eleventh Le Mans race Herrmann capped off his career with a bang, winning the first overall victory for Zuffenhausen in a Porsche 917 KH. He took this motorsports achievement as a suitable time to retire from active racing, after 42 years on the track. Since then Hans Herrmann has lived with his wife Magdalena near Stuttgart, successfully operating his company “Hans Herrmann Autotechnik.” As a pilot of historic racecars, he also takes part in many vintage car events for the Porsche Museum.

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Hans Herrmann celebrates 85th birthday

Legendary racing driver Hans Herrmann celebrates his 85th birthday on 23 February 2013. Born in Stuttgart, Herrmann gained international recognition during his time as a works driver for Mercedes-Benz in the years 1954 and 1955. The cars he drove for the brand back then were the post-war “Silver Arrows”, the W 196 R Grand Prix racing car and the 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing sports car.

 

These days Hans Herrmann is regularly to be found behind the wheel of historical Mercedes-Benz competition vehicles, as a guest at any one of a variety of classic events, where he is able to convey to visitors the fascination of an important period in motor racing. “Our congratulations to our brand ambassador Hans Herrmann, who has been a good friend of Mercedes-Benz for almost 60 years now,” commented Michael Bock, Head of Mercedes-Benz Classic, expressing his thanks to Herrmann for his contribution to keeping the brand’s heritage alive.
The legendary Alfred Neubauer, Head of the Mercedes-Benz racing department in the 1930s and again in the 1950s, discovered Herrmann as an up-and-coming talent and brought him into the works team, alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling, for Mercedes-Benz’s re-entry to Grand Prix racing after the Second World War. For the 1955 season, the team was then joined by Stirling Moss.
In the very first race of the new Silver Arrows at the French Grand Prix of 1954 in Reims, Herrmann drove the fastest lap time, 2:32.9 minutes – corresponding to an average speed of 195.463 km/h. Over the course of the season he took two Grand Prix podium places, in the 1954 Swiss Grand Prix and the 1954 Avus race, in each case coming 3rd. In 1955, Herrmann was seriously injured in an accident during practice in Monaco and was no longer able to start during that season.
Even after his Grand Prix racing career with Mercedes-Benz had come to an end, “Lucky Hans”, as his friends know him, retained close links with the brand. In 1961, for example, he entered the “Gran Premio Argentina” road race in a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE (W 111), finishing in 2nd place behind Walter Schock, also in a 220 SE, to deliver a double victory.

After training originally as a pastry chef, Hans Herrmann began his career in motor racing in the Hessen Winter Rally of 1952 in a private Porsche 356. That same year he took a class win in the “Deutschlandfahrt” (Tour of Germany). In both 1953 and 1954, Herrmann then took class victory for Porsche in the legendary 1000-mile “Mille Miglia” race in Italy.
Through his participation in Formula 1 as well as Formula 2 Grand Prix races, sports car races and rallies, Stuttgart-born Herrmann proved himself to be an exceptionally versatile motor racing driver. Apart from the cars he drove for Mercedes-Benz, he competed above all in Porsche racing and sports cars. He also took the wheel at various times for B.R.M., Cooper, Maserati and Veritas.
Hermann achieved his greatest successes in sports car endurance racing. Among his wins were overall victories in the Targa Florio (1960), the 24 Hours of Daytona (1968), and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1970). In honour of the grand total of eight Targa Florio races in which he had driven, Hans Herrmann was presented with a special award by the Sicilian town of Collesano in October 2012. “Noblesse oblige”: the one-time works driver arrived at the award ceremony in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
After capping his success in motor racing with the Le Mans victory of 1970, Herrmann withdrew from active motor racing that same year, at the height of his career. From then on he would devote himself above all to his automotive accessories business. But our “birthday boy” has retained close links with the world of motor sport to this day – above all as a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz Classic.