Racer, author, survivor

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Hans Ruesch won scores of pre-war races and then turned to authorship

Hans Ruesch is about the last of the pre-war racers who is still with us. He was born in Naples in 1913, his mother a Neapolitan-speaking Swiss, his father a German-born industrial archaeologist, so the boy spoke both languages, and later added two more. After five years at a Swiss boarding school Ruesch went to Zurich University to study Law. He had begun writing books when very young, a profession he perfected in later years. After university he went to live in Paris and then in America.

He took up motor racing in 1932 with an Alfa Romeo, in which he was third in the 1 1/2-litre class of the 308-mile Brno GP. After that Ruesch drove a series of Maseratis, in one of which he was ninth in the 1934 Italian Grand Prix, but in the 1934 German GP at Nürburg his Maserati was unplaced. In 1935 Ruesch was third in the GP of Norway on a frozen lake near Oslo.

In 1936 he acquired one of the Scuderia Ferrari’s powerful straight-eight 3800cc 8C-35 Alfa Romeos, alleged to have been the one which Nuvolari drove in that year’s Coppa Ciano. He took it to Shelsley Walsh for the September hillclimb and was second-fastest in the over-3000cc supercharged class, in 47.07sec, 0.2sec slower than Spikins’ Hudson Special.

He shared the big Alfa with Dick Seaman in the 307-mile 1936 Donington Grand Prix. Ruesch went first, and took the lead after three warming-up laps and led to the lap-60 pit stop, when Seaman took over, after refuelling in 65sec. They had such a big lead that Dick had merely to cruise round, mostly in top gear, which he found very dull. Charlie Martin in his 3.2 Alfa was second, more than three minutes in arrears. Ruesch set a new lap record of 69.23mph, and lapped every car except Martin’s. Neither driver had needed to go all-out; Ruesch had a mild contact with Bira’s 2.9 Maserati but recovered quickly. Ruesch’s friendship with Seaman was evident when Dick’s manager Donald Findlayson negotiated for Englebert to provide tyres for the Alfa after the Scuderia Ferrari had ceased to supply them.

English racegoers were in for an exciting time when Hans brought the Alfa, later raced by Dennis Poore, to Brooklands to drive in the Mountain Champion scratch race. He was beaten only by Raymond Mays’ 2-litre ERA. His protest that Mays had jumped the start wasn’t upheld.

The 1937 season started with a win in the Finnish GP from an SSK Mercedes-Benz and ERA R1A. This was followed by winning the GP des Frontieres in the 8C-35 Alfa Romeo and the Bucharest GP, an easy victory. Also in 1937, the German GP on the Nürburgring produced an eighth place, and Ruesch was similarly placed in the Milan GP.

Ruesch went on to win the Brooklands Mountain Championship race that year after a splendid drive to take the Kathleen Drogheda Trophy, presented by Kathleen, Countess of Drogheda, CBE. Beginning with an opening lap of 71.88mph he then pulled out three at 81.65mph and two at 81.95mph, with his final 10th circuit of a course with two odd corners with which he could not have been particularly well acquainted, at 82.92mph, an average of 80.41mph. Dennis Evans’ 2.9 Alfa was 22.8sec in arrears. On the record-breaking front Ruesch took a 3-litre single-seater Maserati to Montlhery in 1933 and set a standing-start kilometre figure of 88.33mph.

Between 1932 and 1937 Ruesch claimed 27 wins, three second and five third places.

The worsening political situation made Hans give up racing and he turned to authorship. His novel Top of the World sold a million copies and was later filmed as The Savage Innocents, with Anthony Quinn and Peter O’Toole, and his Racer of 1938 was filmed as The Racer, starring Kirk Douglas. In 1949 he married Maria Louise De La Feld and they had three children.

Ruesch made a brief return to racing in 1953 with a 4.1-litre Ferrari sportscar. but in the GP of Supercortemaggiore it spun into the onlookers. It was his last race.

In the 1970s Ruesch became involved in the anti-vivisection movement, and has since become a leading figure in the animal rights and natural medicine arenas, writing many books and papers on these subjects. He lives in Paris but keeps a chalet in Switzerland. At the age of 92 he still writes and lectures.

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