ACHIEVEMENT AND TRAGEDY BERNDT ROSEMEYER KILLED ON THE FRANKFURT AUTOBAHN. CARACCIOLA’S AMAZING 271 M.P.H.
THE whole sporting fraternity has been struck with a sense of grievous loss by the sudden death of Berndt Rosemeyer, one of the three greatest road-racing drivers in the world.
The accident which cut off the champion Auto-Union driver in his prime occurred On the Frankfurt-liarmatadt Autobah n. scene of his triumphs during the record week last October. Earlier in the day Rosemeyer had seen his 253 m.p.h. records, which created such a sensation at -the, time, handsomely beaten by his friend and rival, Caracciola of MercedesBenz. It was in an attempt to regain the honours that he met his death.
Truly has it been said that the astonishing formula cars of 1933-37 have become almost too fast for any track. Rosemeyer’s own 253 m.p.h. records were hailed as an unparalleled achievement, set up as they were on a road designed for ordinary motor traffic, and not specially built for record breaking purposes. The Autobahnen, it must be remembered, are divided into two strips, each less than 30 feet wide. It was only a short time ago that a broad stretch of sand, several hundred yards wide, and many miles in length, was considered essential even for 200 m.p.h. Rosemeyer and his colleagues added 50 m.p.h. to this speed without turning a hair, on a road narrower than the Barnet By-pass. In the October record week there was an incident which might have resulted in disaster, when Caracciola’s car, under the terrific wind pressure, tried to lift at the nose. Many years ago, tragedy overtook Frank Lockhart at Daytona sands for the same reason. It was a treacherous gust of wind which brought Rosemeyer to his doom. The horrified :spectators, already thrilled by Caracciola’s breathtaking speeds in the early morning, saw the Auto-Union swerve, saw Rosemeyer
fighting madly for control. Then, like a flash, it was over. The super-streamlined silver car had given a vicious lurch, hit the stone parapet of a bridge over the A utobahn, and had leapt hurtling over the heads of the crowd, to lie a tangled mass of metal at the foot of an embankment. Ambulance men and doctors rushed forward, but Rosemeyer had been killed outright.
Rosemeyer was only twenty-nine years of age. He had had an astonishing rise to faille. The son of a garage proprietor at Lingen, he first took the wheel of a car at the age of nine, with special extensions bolted to the pedals. He started competitions as -a motor-cyclist,„,-find showed such promise that in 1934 he was engaged as a rider for the AutoUnion D.K.W. team. He was not satisfied with motorcycles, however, and at the close of the 1934 season managed to get a trial; in the Auto-Union racing-cars at the Niirburg Ring. At once it was evident that a new star had arisen, and Rosemeyer made his debut in the Avus races in 1935. Tyre trouble caused his retirement, and it was in the Eifelrermen of the same year that Rosemeyer first came into the limelight. After a stirring race, he lost to the already famous Caracciola by only 11 secs., after leading for the whole of the last lap till within a few hundred yards of the finish ! Later in 1935, Rosemeyer Won the Masaryk Grand Prig, against the full force of the Continental drivers. This paved the way for his greatest season, 19:46, when with his Auto-Union he carried all before him, and won the
title of European Champion. In this season he gained no fewer than seven victories, five of them in the biggest races of the year—the Eifelrennen, the German Grand Prix, the Coppa Acerb°, and the Swiss and Italian Grands Prix.
In 1937 lie was almost as successful, though Caracciola regained the championship of Europe. However, Rosemeyer won the Eifelrennen, thus scoring his third consecutive victory at the 1%.1iirburg Ring, the Vanderbilt Cup, in America, the Italian Grand Prix, and the Donington Grand Prix.. British spectators of this last race will always count themselves privileged to have witnessed his driving. In October of 1937 Rosemeyer accomplished perhaps his most sensational performance, setting up a record for the standing start mile at no less than 138.68 m.p.h. ! For the standing start kilometre he aver aged 117.24 in.p-.h., almost as
fast as the previous record for the mile. Over the flying mile he averaged 253.708 m.p.h., and over the flying kilometre 252.487 m.p.h.
Rosemeyer was married during 1936 to Eli Beinhorn, the well known German airwoman. His wife was not present at the time of the accident, but at most of his races was to be found in the pits, helping with a stop-watch. He leaves one little son, 21 months old. To his family, to the Auto-Union team (which was robbed of another fine driver last July when Ernst von Delius was killed during the German Grand Prix), and to German motor sport as a whole, we extend our deepest condolences. A great driver has entered into Valhalla.
The tragedy followed one of the most startling performances ever made by a car and driver. Early that morning, at 5 a.m., the Mercede&-Benz equipe had been active, and as dawn broke over the Autobahn, Caracciola took his seat in the long silver car. The engine size was only 5.66-litres, or slightly smaller than that used last October, and the i3hape of the aerodynamic body had been Modified to prevent the trouble of the noae lifting. The weather was splendid, and at this time in the morning the air Wks still.
After a short run, Caracciola expressed himself satisfied, and the attempt began, .to regain for Mercedes-Benz the honours -of the fastest speed on the road. On the lirs,t run, so steady was the car that spectators thought that Caracciola was having another practice spin, in order to Warm up the engine. , The engine, however, had already been warmed up to some purpose, for a gasp of astonishment went bp when the speeds were announced-266.099 m.p.h. for the flying kilometre, And 268M86 m.p.h. for the flying mile. At the far end of the record stretch Dietrich, the Reifenmeister, or Continental tyre expert, was waiting. Mechanics set to work, and tyres were changed as a precaution. Then the silver projectile began its return run. The engine note rose shriller and shriller. This time it was obvious that the Mercedes was travelling faster than ever before. There was an expectant hush while the timekeepers worked out the speeds. Neubauer, the Mercedes manager, could contain himself no longer, and hurried to the box. Then a great cheer went up-271.311
m.p.h. for the kilometre, and 268.893 m.p.h. for the mile ! 1 he full times and speeds for these amazing runs, which, subject to official confirmation, rank as International records in Class B. for cars up to 8-litres, were ,
, Flying Kilometre :
outward: 8.40 sees. 266.099 m.p.h. lionimard : 5.24 seee. 271.311 m.p.h.
Mean Speed 265.712 m.p.h.
Flying Mite :
Outward : see;:. 26$.056 m.p.h. Homeward : sees. 268.593
Mean Speed 268.•196 111.1).h. Caracciola said after the records that the road-holding of the car was marvellous, and that he never had a moment’s uncertainty. He was not, however, able to take full advantage of the power of the engine, which was reaching its maximum r.p.m. too quickly, owing to the gear ratio fitted. Immediate arrange
ments were made to take the car back to Unterturkheim for a higher gear to be fitted, but in view of the subsequent accident to Rosemeyer, it may well be that Mercedes-Benz will rest on their laurels.
In any ca.se, Caracciola was of the opinion that speeds much in excess of 270 m.p.h. were impracticable on this particular stretch of road, owing to a bend which had to be negotiated. For higher speeds they would have to await the completion of the special road to be built for records near Dessau.
Letters from Readers, July 1981
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