TeamsWilhelm 'Willi' Heeks: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Ever since he came onto the scene in 1952, Heeks had proven himself to be a very competitive and competent racing driver. Many good results in sportscars were a tribute to his talent. In many ways Heeks represented the country on a whole. He had talent but didn't have the resources to truly take on the might of Europe. However, he would be one of the few that would break the political and economical chains and would actually venture outside of the borders of West and East Germany.
Born in Moorlage in 1922, Heeks was just 17 years old when German tanks rolled through Poland and then turned westward. As a result, Heeks wouldn't begin his racing career until after the war. Wanting to make up for lost time, Heeks would be immediately successful when he began racing at upper levels in 1949. The same would be true when Heeks ventured into single-seat grand prix racing. While he would have some difficult races he would also enjoy some success. And so, Heeks headed into the 1953 season with some very important experience.
In spite of the experience, there were a couple of very important aspects that were going to come into play during the 1953 season. For one thing, the costs of racing continued to remain high. This meant the number of races in which he would be able to take part would be limited. Costs also affected the second part of the equation, which was reliability.
Most all of the chassis available for German racers at the time were rather old and stretched beyond their limits. At a time when reliability was most important to provide the best possible chance at a good result to offset costs there was very little sense of assurance.
During the 1952 season Heeks had used an AFM chassis. Heading into the 1953 season there were some real issues with the AFM. AFM had already gone bust by the start of the 1952 season. Therefore, he would switch to a straight-six 2.0-liter Veritas-powered Veritas Meteor. While Veritas was still in existence, slightly, the switch offered little hope of increased reliability, as he would soon find out.
Although 1953 would be the first time the World Championship would be a truly global affair, like most every other German racer, Willi Heeks would not venture across the Atlantic to take part in the first round of the World Championship. Instead, he would wait until the grand prix season kicked-off in his native West Germany.
The first race of the season for Heeks would be across the new border in East Germany. On the 3rd of May, Heeks would join a number of East German racers to take part in a 16 lap race around the Karl-Marx-Stadt in Chemnitz in the 1st Strassen-Rennen Karl-Marx-Stadt.
Taking place on a 3.10 mile circuit utilizing the autobahn to the northwest of the city's center, the route consisted of nothing more than relatively flat terrain with fast sections of the autobahn interrupted by very sharp hairpin turns. This race, as part of the East German Formula 2 Championship, would take the place of the Rostock venue used the season previous.
Heeks would arrive as the only West German in the field. And while West Germany certainly had advantages when it came to access of newer technologies, East Germany still had their own strong challengers, none of which would be stronger than Edgar Barth.
Heading into the previous season Paul Greifzu was the hero of East German motor racing. In 1951, he had gone to the Avusrennen and defeated all of the West German cars to claim the victory. This made Greifzu a hero for the new nation. His tragic death at Dessau in 1952 would seemingly leave a hole in East German motor racing. However, almost as soon as Greifzu departed this world, Barth would step in. Throughout the remainder of the 1952 he would be dominant. Heading into the 1953, Barth would certainly be a favorite once again.
None of this really mattered to Heeks as his results wouldn't count since he was a West German. However, the presence of Barth would certainly impact Heeks and his chances of a good starting position and result.
Sure enough, Barth would end up claiming the pole for the 16 lap race. And although Heeks wouldn't start on the pole, the field wouldn't be too deep as to likely prohibit him from earning a good result, that is, if his car could make the entire distance.
Helmut Zimmer wouldn't even be able to make it to the starting grid with his BMW Eigenbau. Mechanical ailments would prevent him from being able to take part. He wouldn't be alone for too long though.
Right from the start, Barth was fast, but so was Rudolf Krause in his Reif-BMW. Heeks would also get away from the grid and would look to be the spoiler to the East German party. However, it would not be.
In the first race of his season, the clutch would fail on Heeks' Meteor thereby ending his race. The race would be further thrown wide open when, with just six laps remaining, the favorite, Edgar Barth, retired from the race with magneto failure. This left the door wide open to the other cars still running in the race.
Krause seemed the most likely to take advantage. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would look steady and consistent around the circuit. Averaging 69 mph throughout the 16 laps, Krause would go on to take the victory. He would complete the distance in just forty-three minutes and five seconds and would enjoy the victory over Karl Weber in 2nd and Heinz Melkus finishing in 3rd place. There would have been seven out of the ten that would have made it to the end. However, Ernst Klodwig would drop out on the very last lap of the race with troubles of his own.
In spite of the small field, Heeks couldn't take advantage to earn a good result. The mechanical maladies that hindered just about ever German racer had brought his first race of the season to an early and disappointing end. However, he had suffered a couple of retirements the season before and still managed to earn some good results. Although the season started out bad it didn't have to continue being bad. Therefore, Heeks would head to his next race looking to overcome and build confidence.
The season before saw Heeks take part in a couple of races outside of Germany. One of the races was the grand prix held at Cadours in France. One of the others was a grand prix that had been around for a very long time. And one year later, on the 24th of May, Heeks would return. The race was the 23rd Grand Prix des Frontieres and it took place on a public road course near Chimay, Belgium.
A small, sleepy town in the south and west of Belgium, Chimay was known for two things: its Chimay Brewery and Belgium's second jewel in motorsports, the Chimay circuit. Other than Spa-Francorchamps there was perhaps no other circuit in Belgium known as well as Chimay.
While generally flat, the Chimay circuit was a true road course. Utilizing public roads traversing the countryside, the circuit featured just about anything a driver would want. It boasted of some long, fast straights, incredibly brave, fast sweeping curves and some technically challenging esses and tight turns. In many ways, a lap around the 6.71 mile circuit was something of a motor racing clinic. This made the circuit challenging and a delight at the same time. Surprisingly, and unfortunately, the Grand Prix des Frontieres seemed to be always scheduled at the same time as some other more well-known races, and therefore, the size of the field always remained rather small compared to what it could have been.
The year before, when Heeks appeared with his AFM, he started from the middle of the front row between the two Belgians Johnny Claes and Roger Laurent. It seemed the race may have fallen into his hands when Claes and Laurent crashed on the very first lap of the race. However, not even Heeks could hold onto the lead in the race when an oil pump failed in his car thereby ending his day.
One year later, Claes would again start on the front row, but not on pole, and Heeks would not even start from the first couple of rows in the field. Maurice Trintignant would prove to be the man to beat in qualifying. He would take the pole with a lap time of four minutes and eleven seconds. Claes would complete the two-wide front row having set a time some four seconds slower. Heeks would have a much worse practice than Claes. In fact, Heeks wouldn't even be found in the first four rows of the starting grid. However, after the problems he faced in his first race, starting position was the least of his worries. This concern would be well-justified.
As the field roared away, Trintignant continued to hold onto the lead. Cleas and Laurent would be nice to each other this time and would give chase of the Frenchman. Three cars would break right there on the grid and wouldn't hardly move. Two more cars would make it just two laps of the 6.71 mile circuit before mechanical problems ended their race. At 20 laps in length, the race's high attrition rate was surely concerning and posed a threat if it continued at the rate in which it had been.
Prince Bira wouldn't help matters when he would make a simple mistake and would crash out of the race after just 3 laps. It seemed everyone was doomed.
Trintignant was certainly doing his best to avoid the attrition. He would quickly come out and turn the fastest lap of the race with a time of four minutes and eleven seconds, the very same time he had set to take the pole. And yet, while Trintignant seemed to be fast enough to run away from trouble, trouble just continued to be on the prowl looking to prey upon the weakest of the bunch.
Heeks, with his Veritas Meteor, would be the most logical next target. Sure enough, after 5 laps, mechanical trouble would again visit Heeks and bring to an end an important race in which he could have used to get his confidence going. Instead, he would get to watch the remaining 15 laps from the side of the road.
The retirements just kept on coming. By the time the race was heading into the final lap there were only six cars still running in the race. Fourteen of the twenty cars that started the race had fallen out to accidents or mechanical failures. But against Trintignant's pace, there really were only about two other cars still in the race.
Trintignant would average nearly 94 mph over the course of the 20 lap race. Taking advantage of his fastest lap, Trintignant would pull out an advantage and would cruise to the victory. It would take him just one hour, twenty-five minutes and fifty-nine seconds to complete the distance. And at the line, Trintignant would celebrate a one minute and ten second advantage over Laurent in 2nd place. Fred Wacker would surprise many as he would bring his Gordini T16 home in 3rd place about two and a half minutes behind Trintignant.
Two races, two retirements. This certainly was not what Heeks had in mind for the 1953 season. Unfortunately, he knew the season would not get any easier. However, if he could put together a good result, especially at the next race, there would be reason to be optimistic.
Heeks' next race would take place at a purpose-built road circuit, but it was one of the purest, most demanding and arduous road circuits in all the world. May had become a busy month for Heeks. And on the 31st of May, Heeks' prepared to complete it at one of the toughest circuits ever to be devised. On the 31st of May, Heeks prepared to take part in the 17th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen, which took place on the 14 mile long Nordschleife at the Nurburgring.
Lurking amongst the heavily-wooded Eifel mountains, a trip around the Nurburgring was more akin to a fantastical journey than a mere lap. Fully expecting to see trolls and other ominous opponents, drivers routinely face the circuit's own form of devilry. Filled with danger at every twist and turn, each lap becomes a battle against the elements, the senses and especially concentration and focus.
For the Germans in the field intended upon taking part in the German Grand Prix in August, the Eifelrennen would be just the first time they would have to face the lamentable circuit. But the German racers wouldn't be alone. Just as the switch to Formula 2 for the 1952 and 1953 seasons opened the door to German racers to take part in the World Championship for the first time, it would also open the door to a number of foreign entries coming and taking part in the race precisely because it offered an opportunity to get used to the circuit. As with the 1952 running, the field for the '53 edition would include a number of foreign entries.
One of those foreign entries went on to win the Eifelrennen in 1952. And in 1953, the team would be back to defend its victory. However, there would be some changes. Instead of Rudolf Fischer being behind the wheel, it would be Kurt Adolff. Adolff had earned the job after Fischer decided to retire from the racing side of things, and instead, just focus on the running of the team.
In practice, it would be proven that Ecurie Espadon's Ferrari 500 didn't really care who was behind its wheel. It was determined to start from the pole. Therefore, Adolff would start from the pole. He would be joined on the front row by Belgian Paul Frere, German Hans Klenk and Briton Stirling Moss. Once again, Heeks struggled during practice. His best time would only enable him to start the race from 18th on the grid. This put him down on the fifth row of the grid.
Heeks would have a chance going into the race. Rain had come to the circuit and this certainly would affect the pace of the race. And if he could do well in the rain, he would have a shot.
Someone who seemed quite comfortable in the rain was the Swiss Baron, de Graffenried. Although he started from the third row of the grid, he would make an incredible start and would be chasing Adolff throughout the first part of the first lap. At 7 laps in length, de Graffenried would have plenty of time to stalk Adolff, and possibly, take over the lead of the race.
Another that would seemingly enjoy the wet conditions would be Paul Frere. This would be of little surprise considering he was Belgian and used to the weather around the Ardennes. He too would make a great start and would be right there behind de Graffenried and Adolff.
One of those that didn't fare well in the wet stuff was the pole-sitter. Very quickly he would lose his lead of the race and de Graffenried would have it. Not too long afterward, Frere would also get by and take over 2nd place.
The Nurburgring was one of those circuits that was dangerous enough in the dry, let alone the wet. Therefore, in the wet, it was incredibly easy to make a mistake and throw away a race. Unfortunately, this is what Heeks would do.
Heeks had started cautiously, but well, at the back of the grid. He would manage to navigate and negotiate the circuit over the course of the first lap. However, heading around on the second lap of the race, he would just make the slightest of missteps and would suffer an accident. While most everyone would forgive his mistake under the circumstances, the mountains and trees would not be so forgiving. As a result, he was out of the running after just one lap.
Those most comfortable in wet conditions rose to the top, and very quickly. In fact, the best battles on the circuit would come to be between those at the front of the field. Over the course of the 7 lap race, de Graffenried would come under fire from Paul Frere while Peter Collins would follow just about ten seconds, or so, behind in 3rd place.
Despite being 14 miles in length, the wet conditions kept the racing tight at the front, even heading around on the final lap of the race. Baron de Graffenried was busy doing everything he could to hold off Frere. Frere had been under threat from Collins, but by the final lap of the race, there was a larger gap between the two. This enabled Frere to give everything he had to overtaking de Graffenried.
After basically 100 miles, the race would come down to the wire. And at the wire it would be de Graffenried by less than two seconds over Frere. A little less than fifteen seconds further behind would come Collins in 3rd place. Amazingly, considering the length of the circuit and the weather conditions, the top eleven remained on the lead lap along with de Graffenried.
Heeks, however, was facing a nightmare. While it was only his third race of the season it was still another retirement, three in a row. Costs were high and the number of races in which he knew he could really afford to be a part of were rapidly dwindling. He knew things needed to turn around fast, but would they?
Against such tough 'foreign' entries Heeks knew his chances at good results were remote. Therefore, it would behoove him to find a race in which he knew he could be competitive. Therefore, while the best teams, cars and drivers in the world were up the road in Zandvoort, Netherlands for the third round of the World Championship, Heeks would head back into East Germany to take part in another round of the East German Formula 2 Championship. The next stop for him would be a couple hours north of Chemnitz, and past Leipzig. On the 7th of June, Heeks would be in Dessau, East Germany. He was readying to take part in the 1st Paul Greifzu Gedachtnisrennen.
One year previous, Paul Greifzu, East Germany's grand prix hero, was rolling out to take part in practice. Heading down a portion of the circuit utilizing the autobahn the transmission would seize sending Greifzu into a wild spin that would ultimately end with him crashing off to the side of the road and dying just a little while later. In honor of the great champion, the race on the 7th of June would be named in his honor. It would be a 16 lap, 50 mile race around the 3.1 mile Dessau circuit.
Home to the Junkers aircraft manufacturer, Dessau had always been a city of industry and advancement. Because of the aircraft industry, the city would be practically destroyed during bombing raids during World War II. Then in the immediate years after the war, the East German government would rebuild the town and turn it once again in a major industrial center.
Besides its industry the area was quite well known for its almost constant flooding as the city is situated in a floodplain between the Mulde and Elbe rivers. Almost as result of the flooding, the area around the city is filled with lush, dark-green heavily-wooded forests. The Dessau circuit would be an amalgamation of natural and industrial as it would utilize both the modern autobahn and the tranquil heavily-wooded forests just to the south of the city.
Fourteen would take the start of the 16 lap race. While Heeks had been the only West German in the field in the Karl-Marx-Stadt race, he would be joined by three other West Germans in the field for the race in Dessau. Looking for a change, Heeks would turn back to his old AFM 50 for the race. After three-straight retirements with the Meteor Heeks decided to go back to a car he knew he had finished at least one race with in the past.
Right from the start, Edgar Barth would be fast. He would be joined up at the front by Hans Stuck in his AFM. Behind them, Rudolf Krause, the winner of the first round of the East German Formula 2 Championship would give chase.
Over the course of the race attrition would come to play a big part. And this was something that Heeks feared and wanted to avoid at all costs. A number of Eigenbaus, or 'self-built', chassis would drop out of the running. Despite switching back to his old AFM 50 trouble would come looking for Heeks as well. Mechanical ailments would end yet another race very early on. This was the fourth straight race in which Heeks would not make it to the finish.
Another AFM 50 in the field looking as if it would make it to the finish would be the AFM of Hans Stuck. He continued to look good but was still trailing behind Barth. Barth had come to help his cause when he set the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and seven seconds.
The fastest lap and consistency would prove to be enough as Barth would cruise to victory. Despite everything he tried, Stuck would end the race in 2nd place. Rudolf Krause would follow up his victory in the Karl-Marx-Stadt with a solid 3rd place result. Overall there would only be five cars that would remain running at the end of the race, such was the level of attrition.
Another race, another disappointment for Heeks. By this point in time all goals coming into the season had to be thrown out. The unreliability of Heeks' cars was so bad that certainly his only goal had to have become just to finish a race. Unfortunately, the next race in which Heeks would take part would not be very easy.
The Nurburgring was certainly one of the most important circuits in all of Germany. Another of the important circuits was located on the west side of Berlin. The circuit was Avus. Originally a 12 mile monster of a circuit that was all about speed, the circuit would end up being shortened before the Second World War, but would still be a circuit where speed was of utmost importance. And on the 12th of July, Heeks would be at the circuit preparing for the famous Avusrennen.
In 1953, it was the 9th Internationales Avusrennen and it would take place on the shortened 5.14 mile circuit. The race would be a 25 lap affair that would see average speeds of over a 120 mph possible.
Originally built as a race course and proving grounds, the circuit would open in September of 1921. The circuit had a very simple layout. The circuit consisted of just two very long straights with tear-drop banked turns at both the north and south ends. Straights, each measuring nearly 6 miles in length, would allow for some truly incredible average speeds that would not be reached by other places, like Indianapolis, for decades. One such example was Hermann Lang's average speed of around 160 mph in 1937.
Although shortened in 1938 as a result of Bernd Rosemeyer's death, the circuit would still be fast, but it could not reach the average speeds readily seen during the 1930s. The new layout's design, the one that would be also used in 1953, would consist of two long straights with a slow, tight hairpin turn at the south end and a fast banked turn at the north end. Nicknamed the 'Wall of Death', the banked north turn was an incredible sight to behold and a dangerous turn to navigate.
As with the Eifelrennen and the Nurburgring, the Avus circuit was so popular that it too would attract a number of foreign entries. Drawn because of the high average speeds that suited the cars from Italy, Jacques Swaters would be present in the field with his Ferrari 500. Prince Bira would also be among the starters and he would come with a Maserati A6GCM. The defending champion Ecurie Espadon team would also be present. They would have Kurt Adolff again behind the wheel of its Ferrari 500.
Perhaps unsure of either car, Heeks would bring the Veritas Meteor to the race. It certainly wouldn't help him start from the front row of the grid. In fact, there wouldn't be a single German on the front row after practice. Swaters would take the pole in his Ferrari 500. Alan Brown would be impressive in a Cooper-Bristol T23 as he would start in 2nd place. And the row would be complete with Rodney Nuckey taking the 3rd place starting position in another Cooper-Bristol T23.
The race would see a lot of happenings very early on. Swaters held onto the lead and was sure to pull away. The question became about Brown and Nuckey. Could they keep up? Brown would give his answer. Within the first couple of laps he would make a mistake and would be out of the running. Nuckey would make it through the first few laps just fine but it was clear he didn't have the pace to really compete for the top positions, and therefore, started to fall down the running order. One other driver in which Swaters may have had to contend was Adolff in another Ferrari 500. However, on the very first lap of the race he too would make a mistake and would crash out of the race.
After the season Heeks had been suffering through, chasing the leaders wasn't exactly the first thing on his mind for sure. Although twenty-six would start the race, attrition had already come into play and would really go after the field. Big swaths of the field would be taken out at times throughout the 25 lap race. While Swaters continued to lead unabated at the front, behind the field was being decimated.
This was not good news for Heeks. He could tell the field was being thinned-down and he had had four-straight races without a finish. The fears would be well justified as his race would also come to an early end yet again.
Although it would be foreigners that would occupy the front row at the start of the race it would be Germans that would be the ones giving chase of Swaters during it. And although Swaters was driving the all-conquering Ferrari 500 it would be Theo Helfrich that would end up setting the fastest lap of the race in a Veritas RS. Averaging nearly 122 mph, Helfrich would complete the 5.14 miles in two minutes and thirty-one seconds.
In spite of setting the fastest lap of the race Helfrich would not be the one lying in 2nd place behind Swaters. That would go to Hans Klenk in a Veritas Meteor. Whereas Heeks just could not get his Meteor to last, Klenk was looking good in his.
Unfortunately, there was little either one could really do with Swaters and his Ferrari. Consistently putting up fast laps, Swaters pulled away from the field as most expected would happen. However, he would not pull off the gap Rudolf Fischer enjoyed in the Avusrennen the previous year. After one hour, five minutes and three seconds, Swaters would cross the line to take the victory. He had averaged more than 115 mph over the course of the 25 laps and would enjoy a margin of victory of more than two and a half minutes over Klenk in 2nd place. Only about fourteen seconds would separate Klenk and Helfrich in 3rd place. In all, there would be nine cars that would complete the distance. Only the top three would be on the lead lap. Others, like front row starter Nuckey, would find themselves at least one lap down by the end.
Heeks would have loved to have been just a lap down. He would have loved just to be one of those that were not classified in the results but that had made it to the end. Making it to the end of a race was akin to a victory for Heeks after the way his season had been going.
After yet another disappointing early retirement, Heeks would again try and see if his season could turn around. He would leave Berlin and two weeks later would make his way to Dresden. He had made his way to Dresden to take part in the 1st Dresden Autobahn-spinne on the 26th of July.
Dresden was the fourth round of the East German Formula 2 Championship. After the first round in which mechanical woes forced Barth to retire from the race, every other round had gone to Barth. However, Barth wasn't without competition. Rudolf Krause had come to gain use of Paul Greifzu's old Greifzu-BMW and immediately Krause improved. For Dresden, Barth would also have to take on Theo Helfrich in his Veritas RS. Helfrich had set the fastest lap of the race during the Avusrennen and finished in 3rd place. Therefore, Barth was not going to have an easy time of things.
And after all of the troubles Heeks had been suffering through throughout the season it was almost a given that Heeks would also not have an easy time of things as well.
Situated almost due north of the city, the Dresden circuit was yet another in East Germany that made use of the autobahn as part of its layout. In the case of the Dresden circuit, all of its layout would be comprised of the highway and its on and off ramps. This made for a rather feature-less circuit filled with numerous short blasts interrupted by very tight turns and hairpins. Measuring 3.99 miles in length, the Dresden circuit was nothing but seemingly endless maze retracing and wrapping all over itself.
Without the foreign presence Barth was certainly the favorite coming into the race. And this would be proven during the 15 lap event. Barth would be fast right from the very start and would actually begin to pull out a lead over the rest of the field without too much effort.
As with many other rounds of the East German Formula 2 Championship, the starting grid would be rather small with just nine starters. Motor racing was becoming less and less important in the new nation, and therefore, there would only be a couple of true challengers in the field for the race.
Desperate to try anything, Heeks would again revert back to his old AFM 50 for the race. It really wouldn't matter as Heeks would end up being one of the first out of the race. Mechanical problems once again brought about an early end to his race. This meant six-straight retirements. But out of the small field of nine, there would be more problems.
Two more cars, including Krause in the Greifzu-BMW, would retire from the race after just two laps. Adolff Lang would retire a lap later in his Veritas RS. Before it would be over, two more would be out of the running. This meant the last half or less of the race would come down to a challenge between two drivers.
Barth continued on in the lead and seemed to have no trouble whatsoever. The only one that would be left to give chase would be Kurt Straubel in his own BMW Eigenbau. Unfortunately, Straubel would not be able to come close to matching Barth's pace. Helped by setting the fastest lap of the race, Barth would cruise to an easy victory.
Over the course of Barth's fastest lap he would average a speed of more than 75 mph. However, because of the attrition that decimated the field and left just Straubel to give chase, Barth would back off his pace. Over the course of the 60 mile race, Barth would average just a little more than 70 mph. Obviously he knew he had the race in control, which would be confirmed by the margin of victory. After Barth crossed the line to take the win it would be nearly two minutes before Straubel would come across the line to take 2nd place.
Although almost the entire field failed to finish the race, such knowledge would do little to comfort Heeks after his sixth-straight retirement. It was the end of July. For most of the German racers their one and only chance to take part in a World Championship race was rapidly approaching. For Heeks, the race would certainly become a 'do or die' situation.
Just one week after yet another failure, Heeks would put his entire season basically on the line. Once again he would take part in a race at one of the toughest venues in the world. He had come back to the Nurburgring on the 2nd of August to take part in the seventh round of the World Championship, the German Grand Prix. If he could perform well in this race, against the best teams, cars and drivers in the world, what had been a season from hell possibly could receive some vindication. If it continued to go bad it would pretty much spell the end of the season for him.
As for many of the German drivers vying to make it into the field, this would be the last opportunity they would have to take part in the World Championship. The switch in the regulations to Formula 2 had opened the door for a brief moment in time and at the end of the season it would shut again. The new Formula One regulations were set to come online for the 1954 season. This meant pretty much all of the German drivers racing their own Eigenbaus would be either unable to meet the new regulations, or, they would be so uncompetitive that it wouldn't be worth the time. So in many ways, this race would be a swan-song, and Heeks hoped it meant a fairytale finish for him.
While in many ways a farewell race for the German entrants, the event was the possible climax race of the season. Scuderia Ferrari's Alberto Ascari was within reach of his second World Championship. If he could do it he would be the first double World Championship and first-ever back-to-back World Champion. However, a lot of things would have to go right. And around the Nurburgring, there would be plenty of opportunities for things to go very wrong.
To help his cause, Ascari would set the pace in practice with some incredible times. Not since the final year of the old Formula One cars had anyone set a lap time around the 14 mile circuit in under ten minutes. However, Ascari would do it. He would set an incredible time of nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. In fact, he would be within just two-tenths of a second of ten minutes flat.
While Ascari would push hard and would overcome the ten minute barrier, the rest of those that would join him on the front row would try hard just to get to the ten minute barrier. Juan Manuel Fangio would qualify 2nd in his Maserati. However, his best time around the circuit would end up being four seconds slower than Ascari's. Giuseppe Farina, Ascari's Ferrari teammate, would end up four-tenths slower than Fangio and would start 3rd. Mike Hawthorn, in what was his first attempt around the Nurburgring in a World Championship car, would end up thirteen seconds slower but would still start on the front row in 4th place.
Only the first five or six cars on the grid were really flirting with the low-ten minute mark. The rest of the field, including Heeks, would be fighting for the eleven or twelve minute lap times.
In spite of all the trouble Heeks had been experiencing throughout the year his effort in practice would be impressive. Resorting to the Meteor once again, Heeks would prove to be quite fast. In fact, among the German racers in the field, Heeks would end up the second-fastest in the field. His time of eleven minutes and eighteen seconds would be fast enough to start the race 18th, which was the outside of the fifth row. This was a rather good sign. He had the pace over the majority of the rest of the field. He could take it easy, make it to the end of the race, and still have enough pace to ensure a good result. This was all possible. It actually happening was another matter entirely.
The day of the race would break with sunny skies and dry conditions, an absolutely great day for racing in the Eifel mountains. The field took to the grid in preparation for the 18 lap, 255 mile race. All things considered, this would be a very concerning race for Heeks. His car had failed on him during the Eifelrennen, which was only a 7 lap race. Here the distance more than doubled and the pace would also certainly increase. Besides the circuit itself, these two characteristics spelled disaster.
As the field powered away, disaster would strike a couple of the competitors. Hans Stuck and Ernst Loof would break right there off of the starting grid and would travel no further. The field of thirty-four cars had already begun to dwindle and one lap hadn't even been completed.
Fangio would get the best start off the line and would lead early on. However, before too long, Ascari would make his way by and would actually lead the first lap. Once in the lead, Ascari began to edge away from the rest of the field.
Heeks would get off to a good start and would look good early on. He would try to quickly settle into a pace and a rhythm in order to be fast, and yet, most delicate with the fragile car. It was working. Lap after lap, Heeks continued to circulate and move up as misfortune struck others in the field.
At the end of the 5th lap of the race, Ascari continued in the lead with a sizable margin over Fangio, Hawthorn and Farina. While Ascari and those at the front of the field were having good days, there were eight that had not. A total of six German racers would be out of the race before the completion of the 5th lap of the race. Nearly half of all the Germans that had started the race since departed. Thankfully for Heeks, he was still in the running.
Heading into the 8th lap of the race, Ascari continued to lead and was enjoying a good size lead over Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio. However, all of a sudden, the red Ferrari was quickly coming into view. The three would flash by Ascari and his stricken car. A wheel had broken and fallen off the car. Ascari was doing everything he could just to make it back to the pits to have the problem fixed.
Ascari would make it back to the pits and the crew would descend upon the car to make repairs. However, this would take time and Ascari's championship seemed to be slipping through his fingers. Ascari would need some kind of intervention.
While the crowd was distracted with the action on the track and in the pits, another German would exit the race. Lamentably, it would be Heeks. For the seventh-straight race mechanical problems would bring about the end of a race. Heeks had looked good throughout the early going. However, on the 8th lap, mechanical ailments would again rear their ugly head and bring his race to an end. And while Ascari could rely upon his team to repair his car in order to get him back into the race, Heeks didn't have such a luxury and would just have to face the bitter disappointment of yet another early retirement.
Ascari would also have the luxury of teammates. The intervention he would need would come via his friend and mentor Luigi Villoresi. Villoresi would pull in behind Ascari's ailing car and would hand his over to Ascari for the remainder of the race. While Villoresi waited for the repairs to be made to Ascari's car, Alberto would roar back into the race and would immediately put together one of the most impressive performances ever seen.
While Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio were figuring out who would take over the lead, Ascari was putting together some incredible laps. Very quickly he would be turning laps right at his qualifying effort, which was truly amazing. But then, on the 12th lap of the race, Ascari would complete an incredible lap of the Nordschleife. He would complete the 14 miles in nine minutes and fifty-six seconds in a Ferrari 500 Formula 2 car! This was truly incredible! He had blown away his own qualifying time and had almost eclipsed his own fastest lap time in a Ferrari 375 Formula One car back in 1951. He and the car were truly one at that moment. The two were working in unison and the result was truly stupendous. Unfortunately, it couldn't last.
Ascari had asked for everything the car could give. And with just three laps remaining in the race, the car had given it all. After one of the most impressive performances ever seen, it would all come to naught when the engine would let go in the Ferrari. From this moment on Ascari would have to hope and pray the World Championship would still be his.
Heading into the final lap of the race, Ascari would receive the help he needed. Farina's smooth driving style had earned him the lead of the race and a minute advantage over Fangio. All that Farina needed to do was hold on through the final miles and the victory would be his. Amazingly, Ascari's engine failure would be the last retirement in the race. Out of the thirty-four that had started the event, there were still sixteen still circulating out on track.
Not known to make many mistakes, Farina would look like the former World Champion that he was and would cruise home to victory. He would end up being the oldest driver to win a World Championship race on his own and he would do so with over a minute advantage on Fangio in 2nd place. Mike Hawthorn would complete the top three as he would finish in 3rd some thirty-nine seconds further behind Fangio. By the way, Luigi Villoresi would also complete the race in Ascari's car. He would end up a lap down in 8th place.
The ruin of Heeks' season had come to be complete. Seven-straight retirements had certainly taken their toll on Heeks' confidence and willingness to go racing. This was a tremendous shame considering the level of talent the driver had exhibited in the past.
The bitter disappointment of the season had taken too much of a toll. The season had been hemorrhaging for a while. It was time to finally stop the bleeding. One month later, Heeks was entered to take part in the 5th Sachsenringrennen just miles away from Karl-Marx-Stadt, the location of what had been the first race of the season. However, it had been at the Karl-Marx-Stadt that the bleeding had begun. He didn't need to head back that direction in order to have the bleeding possibly continue. Therefore, Heeks would call his season quits. After seven-straight retirements, Heeks would finally walk away from a race on his terms.
After such a difficult season, and after spending so much money with very little return, Heeks would step away from major racing for a while. Though he would not take part in another World Championship race, he would continue to take part in sportscar races like the Nurburgring 1000km. Unfortunately, the majority of his successes would be behind him. He would be yet another racer impacted by the duration of the Second World War. Instead of perhaps a good German driver winning races and racing all over Europe, Heeks' career was consist of little success and very few races outside of Germany.
Despite hillclimbs and some other national events, not a whole lot would be heard from Heeks. He would make one final appearance on a larger stage in 1962 before slipping away into relative obscurity. He would end up passing away in August of 1996 in Bocholt, Germany. He had lived through a World War based upon global domination, he raced during a period of great isolation and division and would end up living long enough to see it all brought back together again before he passed. He had witnessed a lot of world history and ended up playing a role, a rather small role, in grand prix history despite the borders and the hindrances. In many ways, Heeks was one who led the way for the nation to follow.