Jochen Mass: The Mass-ter BreakthroughBy: Jeremy McMullen
The city of Munich, Germany is one of the leading academic cities in the world hosting numerous, and famous, universities within its limits. It would be against this backdrop, in September of 1946, that Jochen Richard Mass would be born. Fittingly, he would become a true well-rounded and respected academic of the world of motor racing. But he needed that breakthrough that would define his career.
While the city would have its darker moments in history, there would be very little doubt as to Munich's impression on Europe and the world. Besides the important world events to take place within the city and the terrible destruction it would undergo throughout the Second World War, Munich also boasts of some truly significant works of architecture and engineering. The city also boasts of a very important and prominent player within the motoring world.
While Munich would serve as the home of Bavarian Motor Works, or BMW, it would also be in the city, during the beginning stages of its reconstruction after the war, that Jochen Richard Mass would be born.
In spite of the obvious destruction all throughout Munich and the rest of Germany, Jochen would earn a reputation for always seeing the world through half-full eyes. This friendly disposition would remain with him right up through the whole of his racing career and would endear him to many teams and fans throughout the years. It would also help this man, born of a city filled with universities and scholars, to become something of a tutor himself. He would certainly have the experience and talent to be an authority on the subject. Unfortunately, it would be a very dark and unfortunate day at Zolder in Belgium, in 1982, for which a part of his impressive career will be forever remembered.
Mass' career would be a highlight reel for most. In many respects, his career would be something of a hold-over from the past when drivers drove in many different disciplines and were judged for their ability to be successful behind the wheel of many different types of cars. But prior to his career in motorsports, Jochen would move to Mannheim and then would spend a period of three years serving as a merchant marine. Once back on land, he would turn his attentions to land cruising and would become an apprentice in an Alfa Romeo dealership in Mannheim.
Using his Alfa Romeo connection, he would start his career using an older Giulia entering sprints and hillclimbs in the late 1960s. He was little more than 20 years of age at the time, but he would be successful right from the start. This start would eventually lead to a career behind the wheel of a Ford Capri and Ford Escort in the European Touring Car Championship. Not only would he win the championship in 1972, but he would also take the victory in the Spa 24 Hour race along with co-driver Hans-Joachim Stuck. Victories in the Tourist Trophy and Jarama 4 Hours would help to seal the championship.
This success would lead Mass to drive in Formula 2 the following year. Jochen's first Formula 2 event, the Radio Luxembourg Formula 2 Trophy race at Mallory Park, would not have a fairytale start. In the two heat race, Mass' effort would last just 14 laps before oil pressure caused his day to come to an early end. Another that would find the road rough-going would be a future teammate, James Hunt.
Mass would start his next Formula 2 event from pole but would suffer a similar fate as that which befell him at Mallory Park. It would be disappointing given the race took place on home soil at the Hockenheimring.
Trouble continued to follow Mass, but then, at the Swedish Gold Cup race at Gotene, Sweden in late May of 1973, Mass would not only start from the pole, he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would eventually go on to take the victory by around 30 seconds from Patrick Depailler. This would prove to be a turning point in Mass' open-wheel career as he would follow the victory up with a 2nd place result at Nivelles and then took victory at Hockenheim in June of that year. Driving for Team Surtees FINA, Mass would continue to achieve strong results and remained in a close battle with Jean-Pierre Jarier for the title. A victory for Jarier at Estoril in late-October would ensure the Frenchman won the title over Mass.
In spite of losing out on the title, the fact he battled for it right up through the end of what was his first season in Formula 2 signaled to Surtees that this German was ready to make the jump to the pinnacle level of motorsport. Therefore, toward the end of the 1973 season Surtees would make one of its Cosworth-powered TS14A chassis available for Mass.
The debut for Mass would come at the British Grand Prix on the 14th of July at Silverstone. He would start the race from 14th on the grid. Unfortunately, an accident would bring about his early exit from the race. Nevertheless, on home soil in the German Grand Prix, less than a month later, he would come through to finish the race in 7th place. He would, in just his second Formula One race, barely miss out on a points-paying result.
In addition to his success in Formula 2 and his debut in Formula One, Mass would continue to take part in the Touring Car Championship driving a Ford Capri. He would lead up to his 7th place result in the German Grand Prix with a 2nd place finish in the Spa 24 Hours and the RAC Tourist Trophy.
Mass' career was just getting started. Unfortunately, the 1974 Formula One campaign would be a difficult one. Able to finish just two races out of ten starts for Team Surtees would prompt Jochen to move to Yardley McLaren at the end of the season. This would yield two finishes in a row, including a 7th place result in the United States Grand Prix matching his career best in Formula One.
The move to McLaren would prove to be a fruitful one as he would stand on the podium for the first time at the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix. This would be followed by another points-paying result in the South African Grand Prix.
While he was just getting established within Formula One, he would continue to take part in touring cars and endurance sportscars driving for the Gelo Racing Team in a Mirage GR7. In spite of starting a number of races from the front of the grid, making it to the end would prove the greater challenge. Nonetheless, Mass was proving his talents as a multi-faceted driver. He would end up proving more than that in the end of April in 1975.
Yardley would be gone from McLaren. The team was now known as Marlboro Team Texaco. This would prove to be a changing point for Mass and McLaren. A teammate to Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen was quickly proving himself. Then, at the Spanish Grand Prix, held at the serpentine Montjuic Park Circuit, Mass would find himself starting the race from a difficult 11th place on the grid. However, with the help of attrition and his own efforts to climb up through the field he would find himself locked in a battle with Jacky Ickx for the lead. On the 29th lap, Mass would go into the lead. Just before then, Rolf Stommelen would lose a wing and would end up crashing hard into the barriers. He would then end up being slingshot into the crowd killing more than a couple of people. The race would finally be stopped and only half points awarded. This 'half' a grand prix would be a tragic first victory for Mass and would seemingly mark his Formula One career from then on.
Following the victory in Spain, two more visits to the podium would be in store for Mass. He would end the season 8th in the championship standings but seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in Formula One.
The next season, Fittipaldi would be gone from McLaren. His place in the team would be replaced by the rapid James Hunt. Hunt's career, to that point in time, had been marked by great speed but numerous little mistakes that cost him great opportunities. The early part of the '76 season would be similar. He would earn a 2nd place in South Africa, and then a victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But, the early part of that year would be marked with four retirements. The last half of the season would be a stark contrast and it would be very tough on Mass.
Hunt would go on to win the World Championship in his first season with McLaren. This understandably put a bit more emphasis on Hunt's needs than Jochen's. To combat this, the German needed to compete, and beat, his teammate. Unfortunately, he would find it more and more difficult to keep pace with the Englishman, and this would bring about his disillusionment with McLaren and would cause this talent of the future seem as something of the past just as quickly.
Though just 31 years of age, Mass would leave the McLaren team after the 1977 season. His final highlight with the team, and really Formula One, would come with a 3rd place finish in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport in October of that year.
While his Formula One career seemed to now be heading in a downward trend, he would continue to have success in sportscars. Partnering with Jacky Ickx behind the wheel of a Porsche 935 in the 6 Hours of Mugello, Mass would help put together a dominant performance that would start with pole and would end with victory. This would be followed-up with a victory in the very next race, the Vallelunga 6 Hours. In that race he and Ickx would again start from pole and command the race throughout. The very next race would be the Monza 4 Hours and, while driving a Porsche 936 with Jacky Ickx, Mass would come through to earn his third straight endurance victory. While he struggled in Formula One, Mass would be nearly unbeatable in endurance sportscar racing throughout 1976. The same would be true in 1977.
Jochen wouldn't leave Formula One, at least not yet. The 1978 season would see the German behind the wheel of the ATS' ATS HS1. And, while he would earn some top ten results over the course of the year, it would still be void of any great result. This would lead to him leaving the team and joining Warsteiner Arrows for the next two seasons.
At the same time he made the move from McLaren, Mass would head back to Le Mans driving for the factory Porsche team along with Jacky Ickx and Henri Pescarolo. The return to Le Mans held a lot of promise as his 936 started from on pole. However, an accident during the race would take away any chance of a finish, let alone a victory.
Top ten results, and the occasional finish in the points, was about the best Jochen could hope for with the Arrows team throughout 1979 and 1980. In fact, the 1979 season would see him finish in the points just three times. One of those point-paying results would come at the Monaco Grand Prix. The following season Mass would have his best result in nearly three years finishing the Monaco Grand Prix in 4th place. Unfortunately, it would be one of just two finishes in the points he would earn over the course of the season. He was quickly losing his passion for Formula One.
It was clear Jochen was losing his taste for Formula One. The evidence for this fact would come with his year away from the sport in 1981. This time away from Formula One would enable Mass to focus on sportscar racing. Back behind the wheel of a Porsche 935 and 908 for Joest Racing, he would continue on his winning ways earning a number of podium finishes and a handful of victories. Success in Formula One was practically gone. Success in sportscar racing remained. It didn't seem as though it would be too long before he would make the switch to sportscar racing full-time.
Mass wasn't done with Formula One, or, he was done with it and he just didn't know it, for he would return in 1982 driving for March in their 821. This return to the pinnacle would prove to be filled with tragedy and not triumph.
The first of two poignant moments would come with less than ten minutes remaining in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix held at Zolder. While intending to head to the pits, Jochen would note a rapidly approaching Gilles Villeneuve. Approaching at speeds in excess of 150mph, there would be very little Villeneuve could do to recognize the fact Jochen was moving out of his way. The result would be one of the most horrific moments ever caught on camera in Formula One as the two cars would touch causing the Ferrari to flip and then disintegrate as it cart-wheeled a number of times before coming to rest in piece back on the track. During its violent flipping, Gilles would be thrown out of the car and into catch-fencing some 20 yards away. He would later die due to head and neck injuries.
The accident wouldn't affect Mass as terribly as it would his own family. Then, when he crashed violently during the French Grand Prix, it was clear his time in Formula One had come to an end.
Leaving Formula One, he would turn his focus squarely on endurance sportscars. Prior to his leaving Formula One, he would drive a Porsche 956 for the factory Porsche team at that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Starting 2nd on the grid, he and co-driver Vern Schuppan would come through to finish 2nd overall in a memorable one-two-three finish. This result would be followed by victory in the DRM Norisring, again driving the factory Porsche 956. The 1982 season would end with three-straight victories at the wheel of a Porsche 956. They would come in the Spa 1000 Kilometers, Fuji 6 Hours and the Kyalami 9 Hours, all while partnered with Ickx.
The pairing of Mass and Ickx seemed a dream pairing and it would lead to two more victories early in the 1983 season. However, Mass would be paired with the fast Stefan Bellof for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This would not be the pairing Porsche had hoped as they would fail to finish the race after starting from 3rd on the grid. But then, at the Spa 1000 Kilometers, Ickx and Mass would be back together and back to their winning ways starting from pole and winning the race. Wins and podium results greeted Jochen throughout the 1984 season.
When Porsche unveiled its new 962, Ickx and Mass would pick up right where they left off. They would earn victory in the Silverstone 1000 Kilometers. These two would finally be paired together at Le Mans for '85. There would be a lot of promise with their car starting from 2nd place on the grid. However, a 10th place result would be the best the two multi-disciplined drivers could do over the course of 24 hours. However, the two men would end the season with victory in the 800 Kilometers of Selangor in early December of that year.
Ickx would leave and Jochen would be partnered with Bob Wollek. Mass would also take part in a number of IMSA races in the United States. He would still be in familiar territory as he would be behind the wheel of a Porsche 962. Unfortunately, success at Le Mans continued to elude him as he would fail to finish the race again.
Co-driving with Bobby Rahal in a Porsche 962, Mass would come through to take victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He would then follow this up with a 3rd place in the ADAC Eifelrennen. After victory at Mid-Ohio, he would turn his attentions back to Le Mans. And, once again, the race would elude him as his Porsche failed to finish as a result of engine troubles. He was now 40 years of age. He showed little signs of slowing down, but, how much longer could he really keep going?
Mass was born in the city that serves as the home to one of Germany's automotive giants. But throughout his first couple of decades of racing he would never drive for the Bavarian Motor Works. Instead, he would find a home with its competitor from Stuttgart. After, racing for Porsche for many, many years he would then leave to drive for yet another German mark.
Mass would sign to drive for Team Sauber Mercedes. He would combine with Jean-Louis Schlesser and the man he collided with that ended his Formula One career, Mauro Baldi, to drive the new C9. His first race with the team would be fantastic as he would come away with victory in the Jerez 800 Kilometers. This would be followed by a 2nd place result in the Monza and Silverstone 1000 Kilometers. He had seemed to find a new lease on life.
However, upon making his next run at Le Mans, problems would be found with the Michelin tires and the team would withdraw from the race. Le Mans seemed out of touch for the German.
Jochen had won in Formula One. He had won just about everything else he had ever attempted, especially in endurance sportscar racing. He was, in many respects, similar to a well-respected researcher or professor that had carried on for years in small labs making small breakthroughs but never discovering that career-defining find. Le Mans was the find that continued to slip through Mass' fingers. He knew it existed. He knew its reality. He had come close to finding it before. Still, it was just beyond his reach. That is, until 1989.
The landmark moment in Mass' career would come on the 10th and 11th of June in 1989. The 1989 season had started out strongly with Jochen and Schlesser taking victory from pole at the Sandown 360 Kilometers. A 2nd and then another 2nd would follow at Suzuka and at Dijon. So Mass was on a roll heading to Le Mans in June. However, when qualifying came to an end, the number 63 Sauber C9 driven by Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens was all the way down to 11th place on the grid. This was not the strongest starting spot, but still, it was a 24 hour race.
Many years Mass had started the 24 Hours of Le Mans from either on the front row or very near it. In 1989, he would be a good ways behind, but this would prove to be the best position as the C9 would come through to take the victory giving Mass his first overall victory at Le Mans in his vastly experienced racing career. The German had finally done it. At the wheel of the car guiding it through the final few minutes, it was an opportunity to reflect upon the achievement and the career that would finally receive that exclamation mark it so deserved. It would be a fitting scene to see him greeted home by the thousands upon thousand of fans that had invaded the circuit at the stroke of 4pm in the afternoon. They would overwhelm the track to welcome home a truly deserving champion. Mass' name would now be found among a list where many believed it had belonged long beforehand.
Mass had come to Sauber-Mercedes to act as that experienced representative driver that could lead the team to greatness. The last time Mercedes had won in Le Mans it was back in 1952. It was a one-two finish. Thanks to Mass, Mercedes would win at Le mans in 1989. It would be another one-two finish.
The victory at Le Mans would lead to an incredible year in the World Sportscar Championship. Had it not been for the fact he was the third driver listed to the car for the race in Suzuka, Jochen would have ended the season tied with his fellow Mercedes teammate Schlesser for the lead in the championship. As it turned out, Mass would finish in 2nd place.
Having earned his Le Mans victory, Mass was certainly one of the sportscar masters and Sauber-Mercedes would see him as such from then on, pairing him with up and coming drivers. After ending the 1989 with victory in Mexico, Jochen would start the 1990 season partnered with the young guns. The first race of the season would come in the C9 with Karl Wendlinger as his co-driver. The two men would earn 2nd place results in the first two races of the season. They would then go on to earn victory at Spa in early June.
Then, toward the end of July, Jochen would be partnered with another young German. His name would be Michael Schumacher. After a failed race earlier in the year, these two Germans would partner to finish the race at Dijon in 2nd place. Another 2nd place would follow at the Nurburgring. Then, at Mexico, Mass and Schumacher would finally hit their stride as they would earn victory.
Throughout this period Mercedes would turn to Mass to impart his vast experience to these young drivers, providing them helpful hints to make them even more successful. As a result, it would seem Mass would have every reason to be proud of Schumacher's achievements in motor racing as he undoubtedly passed along things he had learned throughout his career.
Mass' career in sportscar would extend into the 1991 season where he and Schlesser would again successfully partner behind the wheel of the Mercedes C11 winning a number of class victories.
Jochen's final attempt at one more victory at Le Mans would come in 1995 at the wheel of the West Competition McLaren F1 GTR. Co-driving with John Nielsen and Thomas Bscher, Mass would start the race from 12th on the grid, very near where he had started when he won it back in 1989. However, an accident over the course of the race would put an end to a bid for a second victory. Jochen's attempts at Le Mans would come to an end.
Jochen would retire from professional racing but racing altogether. Often he can be found behind the wheel taking part in historic events. Often Jochen would be tipped to drive Mercedes-Benz's historic automobiles from their museum. This would include a monumental moment in 2004 when he had the opportunity to drive Stirling Moss' 300SLR. But he would not merely do a demonstration run in the car. He would actually take part in the Mille Miglia that year celebrating the victory achieved back in 1955. He would continue to be a notable presence in historic races taking part in the Carrera Panamericana in 2011, as well as, many other events throughout the world.
Besides a short career as a Formula One broadcaster for German Television during the 1990s, Mass remains an ambassador in motor racing, never far away from the action with his bright smile and infectious optimism. Living now in France with his wife Bettina and kids, Mass enjoys a quieter life still interrupted by the call of horsepower.
Many a year the man from Munich had carried on without his great discovery, great moment of achievement relying upon his optimism to keep him trying, searching. But, as a result of his breakthrough in 1989 and his many other achievements along the way, this German remains, and rightfully so, a well-regarded and celebrated champion of motor sport. His tenure is assured.
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