TeamsTheo Helfrich: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Theo Helfrich's career seemed incredibly bright as he began racing sportscars in the late 1940s and early 1950s. And yet, while he showed tremendous promise he would suffer from what just about every other German driver suffered from—alienation and isolation. Yet, behind the borders, Helfrich would be one of the German racers that would help bring Germany, and its automotive might, back to power.
About the only time any German car or driver had been seen outside of its borders would be for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Helfrich would be handed the opportunity of a lifetime in 1952 when he would be enlisted to drive one of the Mercedes-Benz 300SLs in the 24 hour race.
The 1952 season had been an amazing season for Helfrich. He would travel outside of Germany to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and would be rewarded with a 2nd place finish alongside Helmut Niedermayr. In addition to the great result at the great French classic, Helfrich also had the opportunity to take part in his first World Championship race. And while that would end up being a much less joyous affair it was still a sign that the borders were opening up.
Helfrich would notice this reality through his business as well. An automotive dealer, Helfrich would travel to nations like England and would begin to work with other companies throughout Europe.
Yet, as the 1953 season approached, the walls were threatening to close back in. As he prepared for the sportscar and grand prix racing season, Helfrich knew, as did the others, that this would be the final year for the World Championship under Formula 2 regulations. This meant a whole racing sphere would again become exclusive, most likely too exclusive for most German racers. Nonetheless, Helfrich looked to have a strong 1953 season and enjoy the opportunity to take part in the World Championship just one more time.
With the borders opening up more and more after 1950, the West German Formula 2 Championship would not be as exclusive of an affair as what the East German Championship would be. For the West German racers, however, the championship would be important. And after a couple of years experience under his belt, Helfrich would be one of the favored drivers heading in.
Due to the financial and other restrictions German racers like Helfrich faced, Theo would not concern himself with much of the news concerning the World Championship. For him, the season didn't start in Argentina in January. Helfrich's racing season wouldn't really start until early May, and even then it wouldn't really start.
On the 3rd of May ten East and West Germans descended upon Chemnitz for the Strassenrennen Karl-Marx-Stadt, the first round of the East German Formula 2 Championship. Helfrich had an entry in the race. However, he would not travel to the event and take part. Instead, he would wait until the next race on his calendar before he would make an appearance.
The next race on Helfrich's calendar, and one in which he would actually attend and participate, would certainly not be an easy one. Not only would the competition be very tough, but the circuit itself was very demanding and toughest circuits in the world. The race was the 17th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen and it would take place on the notorious 14 mile long Nordschleife which was part of the Nurburgring. The race would consist of 7 laps, or 99 miles, of the circuit and it would take place on the 31st of May.
Legends and stories abound about the mysterious Nurburg Castle and the Eifel mountains. Some of the more wild claims center on the castle having been a Roman fort and that it had actually been established by Nero himself. While Nurburg's, and its castle's, lineage are in doubt, there is no doubting the existence of one hellish circuit that winds its way through the mountains and around the town like impenetrable wall. Considered 'The Green Hell', the circuit has withstood and defeated a number of attackers throughout its existence ever since the spring of 1927. And while it has had a few conquerors, or Ringmeisters, the number has been few.
At the end of May, Helfrich, a number of other German racers and foreign entries would throw themselves into the fray in an attempt to subdue the mighty Nordschleife. The previous season had seen a foreign team claim the top honor. The Ecurie Espadon team would bring its Ferrari 500 to the circuit and would dominate the event. One year later, the team would be back with the same car, but a different driver. On top of having a new driver, the team would also face a more serious threat from other foreign entries like Emmanuel de Graffenried in his Maserati A6GCM and the HWM-Altas of Peter Collins and Paul Frere. If this would be tough competition for Espadon's driver Kurt Adolff, then Helfrich would really have a fight on his hands driving an aged 2.0-liter six-cylinder Veritas-powered Veritas RS.
Yet, in spite of the presence of some very strong foreign teams, Helfrich and a number of other German entries would look really good after practice. Kurt Adolff would take the pole for Ecurie Espadon. And Paul Frere would start alongside on the front row in 2nd place. However, Hans Klenk would also start from the front row in the 3rd position in his Veritas Meteor. Stirling Moss would complete the front row starting 4th.
The second row would be all Germans. East German hero Edgar Barth would start 5th. Helfirch would also look impressive in practice and would be able to start the race from the middle of the second row in 6th place. And Hans Stuck would round-out the second row starting 7th.
There were a couple of different goals amongst the competitors in the field. The foreign entries, like Moss, Frere, Collins and de Graffenried approached the race from the point of view that it would help provide some valuable experience for when the World Championship came to the Nurburgring in August. For the Germans, particularly the West Germans, in the field the race was important as it went toward the West German Formula 2 Championship.
No matter the point of view, the day of the race would see another challenge thrown in the direction of the competitors. Rain would fall on the circuit before the start of the 7 lap race. This would make an already demanding circuit even tougher with very little room for error. This element would separate the field. And it would become clear right from the start.
In the wet, Emmanuel de Graffenried would make an incredible start from the third row and would be all over Adolff up at the front of the field. Paul Frere would be a little slower off the line but would also be right there with the two. Helfrich would be pushed back down the order slightly when Peter Collins would also make a good start from the third row as well. Nonetheless, Helfrich would still head off on the first lap of the race within the top ten.
The conditions were not a favorite for Adolff and it would show. Although he had gotten away at the start of the race with the lead he would soon lose it. Emmanuel de Graffenried would take advantage of the struggling Adolff to take over the lead of the race. Adolff would then come under fire from the Belgian Frere.
Edgar Barth had made a good start and was in a tussle with Stirling Moss. Helfrich would also be right there with these two throughout most of the race. The wet weather would end up causing the field to remain rather close together out on the circuit. As a result, there would be a number of battles that would develop all throughout the field.
The wet conditions would also play havoc with the field. Nearly a half a dozen cars would be out after the first lap due to mechanical problems and accidents. The wet weather certainly took its toll on the field. Twenty-two cars would take the start of the race. And with the seven out of the race before the second lap, it meant one-third of the field had already fallen out of contention.
Helfrich remained in contention; at least throughout the first half of the race. He was following along behind Moss and Barth desperately trying to keep up to the two. Paul Frere would end up getting by Adolff and would try desperately to keep up with de Graffenried. The Belgian would show his comfort with the wet stuff and would challenge de Graffenried all throughout the remainder of the race.
Heading into the final lap of the race, there were still twelve cars still running and de Graffenried continued to hold onto the lead, but only just. All that de Graffenried would have to do was make one little mistake and Frere would have been in a position to take advantage and take over the lead of the race. Behind these two, the conditions and the circuit had begun to separate the field just a little bit. However, while the World Championship would normally see minutes between competitors, the wet weather was helping to keep a number of cars within seconds of each other.
Coming to the finish line, it seemed clear who would win, but there were still more than one opportunity for things to go bad. Aided by the fastest lap of the race, de Graffenried wouldn't put a wheel wrong throughout the 7 lap race and would take the victory over Frere. Baron de Graffenried would complete the distance in just one hour, twenty-four minutes and thirty-two seconds. His margin over Frere would be just under two seconds. There would only be fifteen seconds separating Frere from the 3rd place finisher which would be Peter Collins in another HWM-Alta.
The early battle between Barth, Moss and Helfrich would fizzle out as the race progressed. Barth would end up taking 5th place while Moss would come across the line in 6th place. Helfrich would run a solid race. He too would not put a wheel wrong and would come across the line nearly fifty seconds behind Moss in 7th place.
While he had lost position from where he started, Helfrich still had an impressive Eifelrennen. Considering the top three and five out of seven were foreign entries, Helfrich put together an impressive performance. This would be a good result for the West German Formula 2 Championship and a good confidence-builder heading into his next race of the season.
The number of Formula 2 races in West Germany was rather few and far between. However, the border into East Germany was still open. This opened up more opportunities for more races against competitors of the same level. The race at Karl-Marx-Stadt was one of these East German Formula 2 Championship races in which Helfrich had intended to take part in but decided against. He would not, however, decide against the second round of their championship.
One year previous, Theo Helfrich made his grand prix debut at a Formula 2 race at Dessau. While the event was darkened by the death of Paul Greifzu, Helfrich's debut would be nothing but bright as he would finish 2nd behind Fritz Riess. Longing for more of the same, or even better, Helfrich would be back at Dessau on the 7th of June for the 1st Paul Greifzu Gedachtnisrennen. This would be a 16 lap race around the 3.1 Dessau autobahn circuit and it would be in honor of Greifzu.
Greifzu's death would unfortunately take place along one of the most popular spectator spots throughout the whole of the circuit. Noted for its highway overpass being a popular spot for spectators, the public had an upfront view to Greifzu's car seizing while powering down the autobahn and then skidding out of control off the circuit. Had the accident taken place on the other half of the circuit it would have been a much more private affair as the circuit broke away from the highway and disappeared into the heavily-wooded Mosigkauer-Heide.
One year later, the memory of Greifzu's death was still fresh in many ways. The race would be named in his honor and there would be other reminders of his memory throughout. However, East Germany would have a new driver in which to put its hopes and to lean upon. Edgar Barth became the new king of motor racing in East Germany upon Greifzu's death, and it certainly wouldn't disappoint.
Coming into the race, there would be fourteen that would take to the grid in preparation of taking part in the 16 lap race. And amongst those fourteen that would take to the grid, Barth had to be considered the favorite.
As the field roared away, Barth would prove the odds correct. Soon he would be up to top speed and would be putting together some impressive lap times. While a medium-speed circuit, the race would take its toll on the field which was mostly made up of BMW-powered Eigenbaus that had suspect reliability.
Ernst Klodwig would be one of the first out of the race. However, he would be joined by Werner Jager in an EMW, and then, there would be four Eigenbaus that would fall out of the running.
The 1953 race would go quite a bit differently for Helfrich. The field would include a number of competitive entries like Hans Stuck and Rudolf Krause. They would prove to be too tough for Helfrich to overcome. Attrition would prove the ultimate unbeatable challenger, however.
For the first time on the season Helfrich would find himself short of race distance. With just a few laps remaining the Veritas RS would suffer and would not allow Helfrich carry on to the end of the race.
Barth continued on without suffering any kind of problem. He would even go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a lap time of two minutes and seven seconds. This would be too tough for those behind him.
After just thirty-five minutes and twenty-two seconds, Barth would cross the finish line for the final time and would take the victory over Hans Stuck. Averaging a little more than 84 mph, Barth's pace was just too strong for the rest of the field. While Stuck would come home a solid 2nd, Barth seemed in control throughout. Rudolf Krause would help his cause in the East German Formula 2 Championship by finishing in 3rd.
The good news for Helfrich was the fact this race only counted toward the East German Championship of which he could not challenge for the title. So if he was to have a failure anywhere the East German rounds would be best. Nonetheless, Helfrich would need to overcome the retirement just to keep his confidence up.
Thankfully for Helfrich, another round of the East German Formula 2 Championship followed his retirement at Dessau. This way, if the problems didn't quite get sorted it wouldn't hurt his position in the West German Championship. This 'shakedown' race would come at Halle. Located about two hours southwest of Berlin, the university town of Halle would host the 4th Strassen-Rennen Halle-Saale-Schleife, which was to be 20 lap race held on the 5th of July.
While the World Championship was preparing to take part in the epic French Grand Prix of 1953, Helfrich would be busy making final preparations and positioning his car on the starting grid in order to take part in what was the third round of the East German Formula 2 Championship.
Salt was the first real find around the area back in the centuries before the birth of Christ. In fact, the Celtic root from which Halle is derived comes from salt. The Saale River also shares the salt connection in that its name contains the Germanic root for the preservative and spice. However, over time, the city would become famous for religion and music. The city was the birthplace of George Friedrich Handel and Samuel Scheidt. George Mueller, noted for his work with orphanages, was also born in Halle. Halle would also be influential in establishing the Lutheran church in North America.
The city's west wide would serve as the basis for its grand prix circuit. Utilizing the Gimritzer Damm and Heideallee roads, the 3.25 mile circuit ran parallel to the Saale River and along backstreet roads that wound around Weinberg University and nearly down to the An der Magistrale bridge crossing over the river back into downtown Halle.
Throughout the previous couple of rounds of the East German Championship Edgar Barth had proven to be untouchable. Had it not been for an unfortunate failure in the Karl-Marx-Stadt he likely would have had two victories already. He would continue to show that the dominance was for real as he would go out and take the pole for the 20 lap race.
Barth would have some real competition in the race, however. For the first time, Rudolf Krause, the winner of the first round of the championship, had the use of Paul Geifzu's old car the Greifzu-BMW. And while he wouldn't start on the pole, he certainly would prove that he was fast.
Eleven cars would take the start of the race. Barth would lead the way. Hans Stuck would be right there in his AFM 50. In fact, the two would renew their battle from Dessau. Barth continued to hold onto the lead, but Stuch would be right there. Then there was Krause. Still getting used to the new car, Rudolf would follow along behind Stuck just a few car lengths away.
Theo Helfrich would also make a good start and would look good early on. He was looking to overcome the retirement in the last race, and therefore, would be fast but cautious. He would hope it would all work out in his favor.
The race would not work out in the favor of a number of other drivers. There would be a few drivers, out of the eleven, that would drop out rather early on. Of course with just eleven starters, two or more retirements would make a big impact on the field.
Krause was beginning to try his best to make an impact on the field, in particular Stuck and Barth ahead of him on the road. Utilizing the strengths of the Greifzu-BMW that had made Paul Greifzu famous, Krause would be able to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and forty-two seconds. While this would not enable Krause to reel in Barth it would help him keep incredible pressure on Stuck in 2nd place.
The pressure would end up getting to Helfrich's car once again. After running so well early on, his car would again fail before reaching the end. This would make two retirements in a row for Helfrich and was obviously not a good result heading into the remainder of the season.
Barth would go on to show his dominance once again. In spite of Krause's fastest lap, Barth would go on to complete the 20 laps in fifty-one minutes and twenty-eight seconds and take his second victory on the season in the East German Championship.
The real race would be for 2nd place. It would come down to Stuck and Krause. Despite incredible pressure from Krause, Stuck would fall upon his own considerable grand prix experience to keep his head and endure the onslaught. He would not put a wheel wrong throughout and would manage to hold on to finish 2nd by just a little more than two seconds over Krause.
The race would not work out as Helfrich would have liked. Halle would not provide confidence he was certainly looking for after the failure at Dessau. Now, Helfrich would have the second round of the West German Championship on the calendar. He would need everything to go right there if he had any hopes of winning the championship.
The most unfortunate thing Helfrich had to deal with leaving Halle would be the fact that there was only one week between Halle and the second round of the West German Championship. He would need to make corrections quickly and would have to be confident of those corrections. In spite of the pressure to get the car to proper working order, Helfrich would pull in to the Avus circuit in western Berlin on the 12th of July. He was there to take part in the second round of the West German Formula 2 Championship which happened to be the 9th edition of the ultra-fast Internationales Avusrennen.
Originally conceived as a road course and proving-grounds, the incredibly long Avus circuit would be first start construction in 1913. After some delays, the circuit would be finally completed in 1921. In an effort to maintain its claim as the fastest circuit in the world, two steeply backed curves would be built at both ends of the circuit. After the death of Bernd Rosemeyer in a land speed record attempt the circuit would be shortened to less than half of its original length. In addition to being shortened, the circuit also became part of a highway connecting Charlottenburg and Nikolassee.
In spite of being shortened, Avus would continue to draw a large field of cars for its races. And in 1953, the field would again include a number of foreign entries. Some of the same foreign entries that had been part of the Eifelrennen would also make their way to Berlin to be part of the Avusrennen. One of the reasons for this was rather simple. With average speeds in excess of 110 mph, Avus was one of the few ultra-fast circuits in Europe. In addition to being an ultra-fast circuit, the race was also not part of the World Championship, and therefore, offered a number of foreign entries the opportunity for glory without the presence of the top teams like Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati.
The foreign entries would dominate practice. Jacques Swaters would be fastest and would take the pole. He would be joined on the front row by a couple of British drivers. Alan Brown would start 2nd while Rodney Nuckey would complete the front row with a 3rd place start.
Although the front row would be occupied by all foreign entries, Helfrich, like many other German racers, would also be quite fast. Because of the speed shown in practice, if the reliability would be there, the foreign entries would have a tough fight on their hands.
The door for the German racers would open up right away as the field roared down the long straight at the start of the 25 lap race. While Swaters held onto the lead, the places behind him would be open for competition when Brown would crash on the first lap of the race. Another strong competitor, Ecurie Espadon, would also be out of the race on the first lap when Kurt Adolff retired from the race.
The door had opened. It would get even wider when Nuckey dropped off the pace. The German racers that would take advantage of the situation would be Hans Klenk and Theo Helfrich. After two races in a row in which Helfrich retired early, he was running and running well. He and Klenk would become embroiled in a battle amongst themselves all while trying to track down Swaters at the head of the field.
Attrition continued to strike at the field. Seven cars would fall out of the race before 5 laps would be completed. And with 20 laps still remaining in the race there would be plenty more opportunities for other cars to drop out of the running. This would not be good news for Helfrich who was busy fighting with Klenk and the ghost of twos-straight retirements.
As the race continued to go on, more cars continued to fall out. Over the course of the remaining 20 laps, another nine cars would drop out of the running. Surprisingly, especially considering the pace and the incredible strain of the event, Helfrich would not be one of them.
Swaters continued in the lead of the race. And yet, while Swaters was consistently fast each and every lap, he would not post the fastest lap of the race. Everything was clicking for Helfrich. After two-straight retirements, the car was running full-song. This would be attested to when Helfrich would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and thirty-one seconds at an average speed just shy of 122 mph. While such a pace would seem to be the death-knell, it would not. Helfrich continued on and would cling onto the lead lap.
Swaters knew he had the race won even before he headed around on the final lap of the race. All he needed to do was take it easy and stay out of trouble and the victory would be his. Actually, Swaters would be aware of this fact over the last couple of laps. Evidence of this would be the drop off of his lap times. As he headed around on the last lap of the race, he had Helfrich in his sights right in front of him. Therefore, he knew he had about a lap in hand over 2nd and 3rd. Swaters would follow Helfrich through the tight hairpin at the south end and would even seemingly slow up more heading into the dangerous Nordkurve. Swaters would streak around the banked Nordkurve and would cross the line to finish the race in 1st. He would complete the race in just one hour, five minutes and three seconds. It would then be a rather long wait for 2nd and 3rd.
In spite of Helfrich's fastest lap of the race, Hans Klenk would come through in 2nd place. He would finally come off the banking and over the line some two minutes and forty seconds behind Swaters. Another fourteen seconds would pass before Helfrich would come across the line in 3rd.
Considering what the last couple of races had been like for Helfrich, the Avusrennen would go exceedingly well. He had shown he had the pace to compete. While he didn't quite have the pace to compete against the foreign entries, he certainly had the pace to fight his fellow German rivals. Over the course of the two West German Championship events the reliability had been there. If it continued, he would be in good shape to take the championship.
After two tough West German Championship races in which Helfrich had to battle some of the better competitors from other European nations and had earned good results, he would head to yet another East German Formula 2 Championship race in hopes of overcoming his misfortune.
Over the course of the season, Helfrich had only experienced two early retirements in races and both of them would come in East German Championship races. On the 26th of July, two weeks after the Avusrennen, Helfrich would be in Dresden in East Germany to take part in the 1st Dresden Autobahn-Spinne, which was the fourth round of the East German Championship.
The 'Jewel Box' as it was known, Dresden was for centuries a city of cultural and artistic splendor. During World War II it would be the recipient of a pounding aerial bombardment campaign that would include a controversial bombing late in the war that killed thousands. In the days after World War II, Dresden would go through significant changes with the control of communist East Germany. One important aspect of the Third Reich that would also be important to the communist network of East Germany would be the autobahn.
Besides being used for transportation of goods and material, the autobahn would also become central to its motor racing scene in the years after World War II. With the exception of the Sachsenring, there would be very few road courses that wouldn't make use of the autobahn. The circuit utilized for the 1st Dresden Autobahn-Spinne, as the name would suggest, would use the autobahn navigating around the city.
The circuit would make use of the autobahn north of the city near the Dresden Airport that had opened in July of 1935. Like just about every other autobahn circuit, the layout would include the highway and the exit ramps. Therefore, the circuit would be a maze wrapping over and through itself. Despite measuring 3.99 miles, the circuit would only boast of short straights that would see competitors blast their way down a straight toward what was usually a very tight hairpin turn.
The field for the race would be again rather small. Only nine cars would start the race. Yet, despite being only nine starters, Helfrich would be just one of a few West Germans entered in the race. It wouldn't really matter the number of West Germans entered in the race as Edgar Barth would take the pole for the race and looked the favorite from the very start.
The race would be 60 miles, or 15 laps. And as the race got underway, it would become clear the race would be too long for a majority of the field. Willi Heeks would be out of the running right from the very start. He wouldn't be alone, however. Two more competitors would fall out of the race after just two laps. Another would drop out after three laps. At this rate, it seemed there would be no finishers.
But then there was Barth. He had led from the very start and was able to edge away from the rest of the field. Of course his escape would be aided by the retirements of drivers like Rudolf Krause in the Greifzu-BMW. But, his lead would also be the result of Barth himself. He would be fast. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would certainly seem untouchable as long as attrition didn't lay a hand on him.
When Ernst Klodwig departed the race in his rear-engine Klodwig Heck, there were just three cars still on the circuit circulating. One of those three was Helfrich. Helfrich had been steady throughout and was careful not to make a mistake. But instead of chasing Barth and Straubel at the head of the field, it seemed as though Helfrich was trying to outrun attrition.
Once again, Helfrich wouldn't be able to outrun his predator. Attrition and mechanical ailments would attack and overtake his Veritas RS. His departure meant there were only two cars still left in the race.
There really wasn't much of a race. While Straubel would be impressive, Barth would be in control. Barth would go on to take yet another victory. And while it was Helfrich's third-straight retirement in an East German Championship race, it was also Barth's third-straight victory. He would take the victory with a margin of nearly two minutes in hand over Kurt Straubel.
Helfrich remained perfect so far. In three East German Championship races he had suffered an early retirement in every single one. This was very strange. However, he would have little time to dwell upon the truly intriguing performances, he had to pack and leave. He needed to go and keep his streak of finishing performances in West German Championship races going.
The third, and final, round of the little-known West German Formula 2 Championship would also be the seventh round of the World Championship. It was the German Grand Prix. It would take place on the 2nd of August on a circuit Helfrich had already competed on before earlier in the season.
Helfrich was back at the Nurburgring. He would come back to the Nurburgring and would find himself in the midst of two championship title fights. While most of the German entrants in the German Grand Prix would be fighting for nothing more than best 'extra' honors, Helfrich would be fighting for the West German Formula 2 Championship title. But there was another title possibly to be determined at the German Grand Prix that year. Coming into the race, Alberto Ascari had already earned four victories. And while he had not maxed out the possible points by setting the fastest lap at each of the race in which he had scored his victories, if the German Grand Prix went the right way, he would again be World Champion.
As practice would show, Ascari would do everything within his power to ensure he was in the best position possible to repeat as World Champion. He would end up setting the fastest time in practice with a lap of nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. He would end up being the only one over the two year period in which the World Championship would be conducted according to Formula 2 regulations to break the ten minute barrier around the 14 mile Nurburgring circuit.
The rest of the front row would shape up to include Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati starting 2nd. Giuseppe Farina, a teammate of Ascari's at Ferrari, would start in 3rd place while Mike Hawthorn, another Ferrari driver, would complete the front row starting 4th.
For most of the German entries in the field, a twelve minute lap would be the barrier in which most would be trying to beat. Helfrich would be one of those that would beat the time, but only just. His best effort in practice would be a lap time of eleven minutes and fifty-six seconds. This time would have Helfrich starting the 18 lap race 28th and from the outside of the eighth row.
The cars would line up on the grid. Unlike the last time Helfrich, and many others had been at the circuit for a race, the day of the race would see sunny skies and dry weather. However, not unlike every other East or West German race, the first contest would be to make it off the starting grid at the start of the race. While Fangio would roar into the lead after a great start, there would be a couple that would break right there on the grid and would move mere feet before they would be out of the running. The car designer/building Ernst Loof would be one, Hans Stuck would be the other.
Helfrich's main competition for the West German Championship started right next to him. Kurt Adolff had earned the better result the last time at the Nurburgring. However, his first lap crash at the Avusrennen had put his championship hopes in serious doubt. But if he pulled off an incredible result, Helfrich would lose out. Therefore, Helfrich would have to push it, but also, remain careful so as not to overstress his car and ruin his chances. The only thing he would hope and pray for would be trouble to come visit Adolff.
One who would suffer little trouble would be Ascari. Although Fangio would lead into the first corner and for a little while afterward, Ascari would be unstoppable. And before the lap would be completed, Ascari would be in the lead and pulling away.
The difference in pace would be remarkable. The field would look like one big line snaking its way through the twisting circuit. However, at the end of just the first lap, there would be a large gap between the front-runners and the last half of the field, which would include Helfrich.
Ascari and attrition seemed to be working together. What Ascari's pace wouldn't put an end to, attrition seemed more than willing to come in and clean house. Although thirty-four cars would line up to start the race, two would drop out as the green flag would wave. Another six cars would end up out of the race before 4 laps would even be completed. Included in those eight already out of the race was Heflrich's main competition for the West German Championship, Kurt Adolff. Although he was certainly struggling with some kind of problem, Adolff's run from the rear of the grid was certainly uninspiring, and was the best indication Helfrich had a shot at taking the championship.
Cars continued to drop out and Ascari continued to lead. But all of a sudden, not even the leader of the race was without his issues. While leading the race with a large advantage over the rest of the field, a wheel would break away from Ascari's Ferrari. Able to limp around on three wheels, Ascari would do his best to bring his car to the pits. Unfortunately, he would lose the large lead he had built up. Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio would go ahead to the front of the field while Ascari waited for his crew to fix the car.
Ascari would receive a lifeline courtesy of a friend. Luigi Villoresi, another of Ferrari's drivers, would pull into the pits and would hand his car over to Ascari so that he could try and reel in the front-runners, and perhaps, save his World Championship hopes.
Armed with a second chance and a new hope, Ascari would roar back into the race. Immediately, he would begin to put together some truly awe-inspiring lap times. Seemingly capable of going as fast as he wanted whenever he wanted, Ascari would just get faster and faster with each lap. Then, on the 12th lap of the race, Ascari would pull off one of the most impressive lap times. His whole drive since getting into Villoresi's car had been something for the ages, something truly spectacular. However, the 12th lap would be the climax of the performance. He would end up crossing the line with the incredible lap time of nine minutes and fifty-six seconds. This would be nearly four seconds faster than his qualifying effort! What's more, the time was around a half a second slower than his fastest lap in a Ferrari 375 Formula One machine in 1951! The crowd of many thousands would have the honor of watching one of the best performances by a driver ever to be witnessed.
Helfrich would have loved to be able to go as fast as he wanted whenever he wanted. Unfortunately, his Veritas RS had already proven itself to be quite fragile. Therefore, he would have to go for a balance of speed and endurance, and it was working. About the same time Ascari was turning in his lap of the century, Helfrich was close to going two laps down to the front-runners. However, this was still a good performance for the man in just his second World Championship race.
While most would be in awe at Ascari's performance, it was obvious he was killing the car. The only question was just how quickly he was doing it? With three laps remaining in the race, the answer would become clear. All of a sudden, smoke would become visible from the car. Then, finally, the engine totally let go, and one of the best performances ever witnessed had come to an end. While frustrating for him, Ascari would not be bothered all that much. This was due to the way the cars still remaining in the race were running at the time. Farina was in the lead, and that was a good thing for Ascari. He just needed Farina to stay there.
Helfrich desired desperately to stay where he was as well. Of course he would have loved to move further up the order, but with all of the trouble he had been experiencing at East German races, he would gladly take what he had. Helfrich's nearest competition ahead of him, in the last few laps, would be Rodney Nuckey, whom he had faced at the Avusrennen. Unfortunately, Nuckey was a couple of minutes up the road and too far for Helfrich to haul in without help. Helfrich, however, had to watch out behind him. Kenneth McAlpine wasn't too far behind him heading into the final lap of the race. If Heflrich slowed too much, or made a mistake, McAlpine would have him.
Nobody was going to touch Farina. Noted for his smooth driving style, Farina would cruise to victory. He would complete the 255 miles in three hours, two minutes and twenty-five seconds. He would end up a little over a minute ahead of Fangio at the finish. Mike Hawthorn, who had led earlier, and was one of the main threats to Ascari, would end up finishing in 3rd place. As a result of Hawthorn's 3rd place, Ascari would go on to take the World Championship title.
Another championship would be celebrated at the end of the race as well. Theo Helfrich would keep his record of successful race finishes intact as he crossed the line nearly eight minutes, and two laps, behind Farina in 12th place. Helfrich would be the second-highest German in the final results. When combined with his other results in the Eifelrennen and at the Avusrennen, it was clear Helfrich was the West German Formula 2 Champion! This was truly impressive considering it was just his third year of Formula 2 racing.
Helfrich had achieved quite a bit during the 1953 season. He had come to be the West German Champion and had earned some good results while doing it. However, there was just one more goal he really had before the season would draw to a close, and it would have to do with one of the final Formula 2 races of the season.
The West German Formula 2 Championship was over. Helfrich had won that and looked in control throughout. However, there were a couple of races remaining within the German borders during the 1953 season. Both of those races would take place in East Germany. East Germany had remained the one place in which Helfrich had looked the least in control. Out of three different races on East German soil, Helfrich had managed to finish neither of them. A round of the East German Formula 2 Championship was proving to be more difficult that even going up against the might of Scuderia Ferrari and Alberto Ascari. A chance to right the ship would come on the 6th of September.
Over a month after celebrating winning the West German Formula 2 Championship, Theo Helfrich would again be on the road heading to a race. His destination was East Germany once again and the noted Sachsenring situated just miles away from the Karl-Marx-Stadt circuit. He was on his way to take part in the 5th Sachsenringrennen set to take place on the 6th of September.
The combined small towns of Hohenstein and Ernstthal became well known for the discovery of silver. Soon, silver mines would spring up around the area, but the small twin-towns would remain relatively rural and quaint. However, during the late 1920s the tranquil setting would be ravaged by the sound of motorcycle and grand prix racing taking place along a 5.41 mile stretch of public roads meandering through the forests and over the foothills.
One of the few circuits in East Germany to take place along public roads other than the autobahn, Sachsenring shared some similarities with circuits like the Nurburgring and other European road circuits. It was anything but flat. Numerous elevation changes awaited the driver over the course of a single lap, none of which were perhaps more spectacular than the climb out of Hohenstein-Ernstthal and then the quick descent into the quick left-hand bend at MTS Kurve, which was then immediately followed by a quick climb heading down the straight to Jugend Kurve. Filled with blind corners, quick straights and elevation changes, Sachsenring was challenging and a favorite with drivers and spectators.
The Sachsenringrennen was the fifth, and final, round of the East German Championship. Although he would retire from the first round, Edgar Barth would dominate each of the next three rounds. Scoring maximum points over the course of the last three races, Barth was already assured of the championship, but that didn't mean he didn't care.
Helfrich cared about the race. He was in search of at least one finish of an East German race. Out of three attempts he hadn't been successful. And considering the race meant little to him, except for his pride, he could even poke along to ensure a finish, but that really wouldn't be racing.
Since the circuit was 5.41 miles in length, the race would not be a long one. It would be just 12 laps, but for many of the nine starters, that would be about 10 too many. Nonetheless, the race would get underway. As with every other round of the championship, Barth would take to the front like a bird to flying—it was so natural. He would have Rudolf Krause, driving the Greifzu-BMW, right there with him. Hans Stuck would also be among those at the front.
One of the tactics Helfrich could have employed to ensure finishing would have been to poke along. He may have wanted to rethink that option when he would end up being the first one out of the race. After just three laps the car would be out of the race. It was complete. He had kept both of his streaks intact. It didn't fail to finish in a West German Championship race and he couldn't buy a finish in any of the East German Championship races.
Up among those at the front of the field, those that could finish an East German Championship race, the racing remained close. Barth continued to hold onto the lead but had managed to just edge further away over the course of two-thirds of the race. The battle between 2nd and 3rd, however, remained quite close. Although Krause held onto the position, Stuck remained right there on his tail just trying to force him into making a mistake.
Barth would try and force the others into a mistake when he posted the fastest lap of the race. His time of three minutes and fifty seconds would help him pull out even more of an advantage and it would keep the pressure on Krause and Stuck.
Heading into the final lap of the race, Barth continued his reign as an untouchable. While he wasn't blowing away the rest of the field, he was certainly in control of the proceedings and not concerned at all. Krause and Stuck remained rather close but would focus on their own battle for the most part.
Barth would take just forty-six minutes and seventeen seconds to complete the 12 laps. Over the course of the race he would average a little more than 84 mph, which would help him enjoy a margin of about twenty-two seconds over Krause in 2nd place. Over the course of the final couple of laps, Krause would manage to edge further away from Stuck, but he still needed to be mistake-free during that time. Krause would be just that. Confident in the Greifzu-BMW, Krause would power his way to yet another 2nd place finish. It would be his third 2nd on the season in the championship and he would cross the line about four seconds ahead of Stuck in 3rd.
After four attempts and four failures, Helfrich would call it an end to the season. The Formula 2 races in West Germany were over. East Germany still had another non-championship race on the calendar, but after the inability he had to finish a single race on East German soil, Helfrich rightfully packed up and headed home.
Although the 1953 season had drawn to a close, Helfrich still had a lot to look forward to in 1954. While the World Championship would be up in the air, his racing career would not.
Being an automotive dealer, Helfrich would have the opportunity to travel outside of Germany and deal with companies from other nations. And in 1954, Helfrich would be one of the first to take delivery of a Norton-powered Cooper MKVIII Cooper 500 Formula 3 car. This would be important since most of the Formula 2 races in Germany would be cancelled in 1954. And with the World Championship switching over to the new Formula One regulations, there really wouldn't be any competitive international racing left in Europe except in sportscars. However, in Formula 3, there would be a number of races held throughout Germany and Europe that would include a number of talented international drivers. Therefore, the Cooper chassis not only enabled Helfrich to continue racing, it would also make him a favorite at just about every race in which he would enter. Of course, one year after that, Mercedes-Benz would return to the World Championship and the rise of German automotive might had come to be complete.
Though outclassed by most every other nation and car in Europe, German drivers, like Helfrich, would help fill an important gap. Though they would end up the forgotten individuals in World Championship history, they would be important in Germany's history and ascendancy back into the ranks of grand prix racing. And as 1954 approached, and then with Mercedes-Benz's return in 1955, that would be the great honor that Helfrich would have. He was one of those that held the line. He helped to maintain a nation's passion for motor racing that continues to pass from generation to generation.