While single-seater grand prix racing focuses on the effort of an individual, sportscar racing demonstrates the necessity of being able to share and work together toward a common end. In the years following the end of World War II it would take a collective effort to help Germany rebuild from the ruin. This collective effort could no better be demonstrated than the partnership of Mercedes-Benz and sportscar racing and the driving combination of Karl Kling and Hans Klenk.
Hans Klenk was born in Kunzelsau, Germany in 1919. The First World War had only ended a year before Klenk's arrival in the world. He would thus arrive amidst a nation ravaged and in peril.
As the Third Reich came into power many of Germany's citizens either submitted themselves, or, were nudged into the service of their country. It is widely believed that when the Second World War began Klenk could be found in the cockpit, not of a racing car, but of Messerschmitts flying for the Luftwaffe.
At the conclusion of the Second World War, Klenk found himself amidst a nation in ruin. The nation was being divided and resources for rebuilding were scarce. But there was a hope for a new future. Every hope and dream; however, needs somebody that will come alongside, believing in the hope and dream, and willing to help see the dream come to fruition. Klenk had one important friend in his corner.
After the war, Klenk switched his focus to cars and would become an engineer in Stuttgart. But after having spent a war in the cockpit of fighters, Klenk wasn't so satisfied with preparing cars as much as in driving them.
As Klenk became interested in racing, his good friend and champion, Karl Kling, made an investment. Considered by some to be Karl Kling's 'twin', Hans Klenk would take over one of Kling's Veritas chassis. Klenk's first race would not be an easy one. His career would start at the Eifelrennen in 1951.
Klenk couldn't have started his career at a more difficult place on the planet. The Nurburgring's Nordschleife was notorious throughout Germany, Europe and the world. In spite of the threat the circuit posed, Klenk would overcome it all and would manage to finish 5th in his very first race. It seemed obvious Kling had made a good investment, despite being dealt a course of reality at the Avusrennen just a few weeks later. He would get back to the front at the Grenzlandringrennen when he would manage to finish 4th.
Coming into the 1952 season, there would be a number of changes and opportunities headed Hans Klenk's way. While his single-seater and racing career had just begun, he would be offered even greater opportunities as the result of his patron Karl Kling.
The 1952 season would offer Klenk more opportunities to take part in single-seater grand prix races, such as the Formula 2 races like the Eifelrennen and the Avusrennen. However, as the result of Karl Kling and Kling's relationship with Mercedes-Benz, Klenk would also have the opportunity to take part in some very important sportscar races as well.
1952 would throw Klenk another opportunity as well. The Formula One World Championship would see a number of changes being made to it heading into the 1952 season. Alfa Romeo had departed the series at the end of the 1951 season leaving no real competition to duel with Ferrari. In addition to the lacking competition, the costs of Formula One racing were reaching higher and higher. The costs threatened to push away any competition at all. The governing-body and race organizers had a real problem on their hands and they needed to take swift action in order to address them. The decision made would end up opening a door that had been shut even just a season before.
It was the decision of the governing-body and the race organizers to run the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations for 1952 and 1953. Formula 2 racing had proven to be less expensive and also had strong competitive numbers. This was exactly what the series needed until it could formulate some new regulations for the Formula One World Championship. While Formula 2 offered the World Championship organizers valuable time, it also provided a whole host of drivers and teams the opportunity to take part in a World Championship. This was never more true than in shell-shocked Germany.
Klenk's 1952 season would begin by taking part in one of the new opportunities presented to him. He and Karl Kling would head to Italy with Mercedes-Benz in order to take part in the Mille Miglia on the 4th of May.
The Mille Miglia had become a possibility for Mercedes-Benz as a result of being readmitted into the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile in 1951. Mercedes would bring three of their new 300SL sports cars to the race. As in the days of old, the Mercedes team would study the route and would carefully observe every portion of it and their competition. Every aspect of the race would be honed in on and practiced over and over to make sure everything would go right during the actual race.
The 1,000 mile race would get underway in the rain for the third-straight year. Throughout the first part of the race the Ferrari of Giovanni Bracco held the lead over Kling. Klenk, who was only in his second season of racing, realized that the race would fall upon Kling. Klenk had an important role helping with tire changes and certain other chores, but he would end up making a much more important contribution that would end up being adopted in other forms of long-distance racing.
Klenk realized that to remember a thousand miles of road was practically impossible. Keeping with true German preparedness, Klenk would devise a series of notes over the course of the time the team spent traveling the route. Using these 'pace notes', Klenk would help guide Kling into the lead and to a two minute advantage by the time the pair had made it to Florence.
The German team had done all the homework it could. The team had prepared the best it could. They worked to defy providence, or, fate. But Kling and Klenk would find out they couldn't overcome everything.
While seemingly en route to victory, one of the car's tires would suffer a puncture. The pair would work as feverishly as possible to change the tire. But it wouldn't be enough. The tire wouldn't come off as expected. The delay would end up costing them. Bracco would reassume the lead of the race with a relatively short distance remaining.
Bracco would win the race, completing the distance in a little under twelve hours and ten minutes. The delay with the wheel would end up costing Kling and Klenk the win and it would give the two a bitter taste on top of it all as they would finish in 2nd place four and a half minutes behind.
While Klenk was mostly a passenger over the course of 1,000 miles of Italian countryside and mountains, his next race would see him back at the controls. The results; therefore, would rest with him and not another driving for him.
Klenk's first race with him at the controls would be the site and actual race of his first-ever major race experience. On the 25th of May, Klenk was at the Nurburgring preparing to take part in the 16th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen.
Between 1925 and 1927 one of the most-feared and demanding purpose-built road circuits in the world was constructed. Originally, the entire circuit consisted of a couple of different circuits in one. There was a longer 'Whole Course' that measured over 17 miles in length. However, it would be its shorter brethren that would become the most famous and notorious.
Measuring 14 miles in length and consisting of 170 corners and a thousand feet of elevation changes, the Nordschleife was a never-ending circuit of heart-pounding speed and heart-stopping dangerous curves. Situated in the dark green Eifel mountains, the circuit was both picturesque and deadly. In similar fashion, it would become loved by some and hated by many. As a result, there would only be a few Ringmeisters.
At Klenk's first race in 1951, the Eifelrennen had attracted twenty entries. For the 1952 edition, the number would be a few less. In all, there would be sixteen that would start the race. As with the previous season, the starting field would include a number of foreign entries.
England would dispatch three entries. Included amongst the British contingent would be Stirling Moss, Ken Wharton and Duncan Hamilton. Besides the British entrants, one other nation would be represented in the race. Rudolf Fischer, a Swiss restaurant owner, would come to the race with his new Ferrari 500 F2 chassis.
By 1952, the German cars had far exceeded their useful life. Their pace was not compatible with that which was coming out of Italy, France and England at the time. This fact would become readily apparent during practice before the race. Stirling Moss and Rudolf Fischer would battle it out for the pole position. Moss would end up getting the better of Fischer and would start the race from the pole having set a time of eleven minutes and two seconds. During the race, the story would be quite different.
Twelve of the sixteen drivers were German. During the race, it seemed the foreigners would able to employ Blitzkrieg tactics to roll over its German hosts.
The race was 7 laps in length and would total 99 miles. Right from the start it would be quite obvious the German cars were fragile entities. Two German entries would be lost right away. Zdenko von Schonborn would be the first to fall out of contention when he would suffer from a clutch failure. Then, just a little later, the 1951 Eifelrennen winner, Paul Pietsch, would drop out of the race with an engine failure.
By contrast to the trouble overcoming the tail-end of the field, the race at the front was fast and furious. Moss and Fischer would battle throughout the first couple of laps. But then, Fischer would gain the upper hand and would begin to pull away.
While Moss and Fischer were full engaged in battle at the front of the field, another German entry would fall by the wayside. The previous season, Klenk had pulled off an impressive result in his first-ever race. He would come through the finish that race 5th. In his sophomore attempt; however, reality would set in. After about a half hour of running, Klenk's Veritas Meteor would decide it had had enough. There would be no follow-up to the fairy tale of the season before.
Klenk's presence well and truly meant little. Fischer was in a class all of his own. He would go on to turn the fastest lap of the race with a time of ten minutes and fifty-one seconds. This time was eleven seconds faster than the pole time set by Moss. Circulating the track at the speeds Fischer turning helped him to continue to increase his advantage over Moss and Wharton.
By the time Fischer was heading off on the last lap of the race there were only five cars still running. Out of the five, four would be foreign entries. In a truly dominant fashion, Fischer would cross the finish line in under one hour and seventeen minutes time. Stirling Moss would manage to hold onto 2nd place over Ken Wharton. He would end up finishing the race forty-one seconds behind. Wharton would finish the race 3rd a further minute and a half behind Moss.
The first grand prix race of the season had ended prematurely in another bitter disappointment. Thankfully for Klenk, Kling would come calling again to help lift him out of any despair. The two would have to prepare for one of the most important races in the world.
On the 15th of June, Karl Kling and Hans Klenk were preparing their number 22 Mercedes-Benz 300SL to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As with the Mille Miglia, Mercedes would come to the famous race with three entries and even were willing to enter a fourth. This was how focused the manufacturer was on winning the race.
Earning victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans would not be any easier than what it had been for the Mille Miglia. The entry list for the French classic would be filled with a number of Ferraris, Jaguars and a host of other sportscars that could make the going rough for the German team.
In practice, the Mercedes team would be bested and would only manage to start the race from 9th through 11th on the grid. The pairing of Kling and Klenk would end up being the ones to start the race from the 11th position.
Prior to the start of the race, many people thought the battle for the victory would come down to Mercedes, Ferrari and Jaguar. However, each would have to give way to a much lesser-expected front-runner.
Over the course of the first portion of the race Pierre Levegh held onto the race lead in his Talbot T26GC. While Levegh was surprising many, one of Mercedes' hopes would come to an early end. The pairing of Kling and Klenk would again face bitter disappointment as an electrical problem would drop them out of the race.
While most all of the major players continued to drop out, Pierre Levegh continued to run in the lead, and all by himself. In fact, for twenty-three hours Levegh would lead and would do so single-handedly as he would not allow his co-driver to take the wheel.
The race seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but a tired driver still left many things in doubt. Exhausted from twenty-three hours of driving, Levegh would make a mistake while shifting and would cause his engine to expire with the win in sight. The failure would end up handing Mercedes an incredible opportunity.
Despite Kling and Klenk's failure, Mercedes was still in a great position. Taking over from Levegh, Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess would end up crossing the line as the race's victor. They would be followed home by fellow Mercedes-Benz teammates Theo Helfrich and Helmut Niedermayr. While a lap behind, Helfrich and Niedermayr would manage to complete a Mercedes one-two.
While his Mercedes teammates were celebrating the Le Mans victory, Klenk had to face the reality of another missed opportunity. He was in a great car and with a great team, but it ended up being his misfortune that prevented him from being able to take advantage.
Like mulligans in golf, second chances kept presenting themselves to Klenk. After the failure at Le Mans, another big race would be next on the German's calendar. This opportunity presented itself back in Klenk's native Germany.
The 3rd of August broke with beautiful sunny skies and mild temperatures. Soon, the quiet Eifel mountains would be filled with the sounds of the best grand prix cars in the world. With them would come the best drivers. The race was the German Grand Prix and it was the sixth round of the World Championship.
The Nurburgring would be the site of the sixth round of the World Championship. It would also serve as the site of the second round of the West German Championship. It had also served as the site of the first round as well.
Back in May, the Nurburgring had hosted the first round of the West German Championship. The first round had been the Eifelrennen, which was won by Rudolf Fischer in his Ferrari 500. In May, Fischer brought the lone Ferrari 500 to the race. For the German Grand Prix, there would be four Ferrari 500s entered in the field. Three of those four were entered by the most potent team in the World Championship, Scuderia Ferrari.
An estimated crowd of more than a quarter of a million had assembled to watch the best in the world do battle on perhaps the toughest 14 miles of road course. The crowd had come to see their native German taking on the best in the world. 1952 would represent the first time in which the German Grand Prix would host more than one German in its home race.
Paul Pietsch had been contracted to drive for Alfa Romeo's Formula One team the season before, but his German Grand Prix ended in an incredible accident. 1952 would be a different story altogether. The switch to Formula 2 regulations had opened the door wide open for German drivers and teams to enter their home-built machines. The starting field would be a big one. Thirty-two cars would qualify to start the race. However, none would be faster than Ferrari's team leader Alberto Ascari.
Alberto Ascari was on the verge of earning his first World Championship. Were he to score the victory at the Nurburgring the title would be his. Therefore, he was clearly focused coming into the race. And in practice he would make everyone else know he was not going to be beaten.
Back in May, the fastest lap turned during the Eifelrennen would be posted by Rudolf Fischer. His time around the 14 miles would be ten minutes and fifty-one seconds. While quite fast for the Eifelrennen, it would be thoroughly out-classed when the World Championship came to the circuit in August.
During practice, Alberto Ascari would take his unbeaten Ferrari 500 and would complete a lap with a time of ten minutes and four seconds! This was over forty-five seconds faster than Fischer's best time back in May, also in a Ferrari 500. Ascari's lap had been an incredible achievement. The previous season, when the Formula One cars took part in the German Grand Prix, the pole was set by Ascari. His time around the circuit was nine minutes and fifty-five seconds. One year later, and with a car much shorter on power, Ascari would still lap within ten seconds of his time the previous season.
Ascari wouldn't be alone in impressive performances. Giuseppe Farina, the 1950 Formula One World Champion, would start on the front row in 2nd place. He had been able to turn a lap also within ten seconds of his own time the year prior.
While Ascari and Farina would be truly impressive in their Ferraris, they would not be joined by their third teammate and Swiss Grand Prix winner Piero Taruffi. He would end up starting on the second row of the grid. Instead, the rest of the front row would be occupied by Equipe Gordini teammates Maurice Trintignant and Robert Manzon. Though they would start on the front row with Farina and Ascari, neither of their times were any closer than fifteen seconds to Ascari. Obviously Ascari looked dominant heading into the race.
The best German starter would be the celebrated Paul Pietsch. Paul had driven for Auto Union before the start of World War II and had driven for Alfa Romeo in the German Grand Prix the season before. Though he would start the race from 7th on the grid, his time was more akin to the times turned during the Eifelrennen. In fact, his best time would be ten minutes and fifty-six seconds. Fifty-two seconds separated Ascari from the first German.
Although in only his first World Championship race, and with only a handful of grand prix races under his belt, Hans Klenk would show his talent in practice. He would rely upon his experience in the sportscar races and would use that to his advantage. He had competed against Ascari and Taruffi and had been in front of both of them. He knew he was capable. He just needed to use his confidence to his benefit. During practice, he would do just that. He would take his Veritas Meteor and would end up in the first position on the third row, which meant he would start the race and incredible 8th place! He was the second-fastest German in practice.
Thirty-two had managed to qualify for the 18 lap race. However, the attrition would start even before the race would. Before the green flag would wave the field would be reduced down to thirty. Before 1 lap had been completed the number would be reduced even more. Amazingly, Klenk would come about as close as he could to an early retirement but would escape.
Alberto Ascari had no such concerns up at the front of the field. When the green flag waved to start the race he roared into the lead and was pushing hard immediately. Behind him, the field would be bunched up. This was a dangerous situation on the twisty Nordschleife. Trouble immediately hit, not only the tail end of the field, but also, the front. Maurice Trintignant would crash his Gordini out of the race on the first lap. Felice Bonetto would spin his Maserati A6GCM right on the course. He would end up spinning right in front of Klenk. Klenk's reactions would take over. He would maneuver the best he could, and while he came almost to a stop right in the middle of the circuit, he would avoid Bonetto.
A number of cars would manage to get by Klenk due to Bonetto's spin. Unfortunately Hans had to battle some cars that would have otherwise been behind him. Bonetto would end up being disqualified after he would receive outside help getting him going again. Bonetto and Trintignant wouldn't be the only cars to fail on the first lap of the race. In all, eight would fall by the wayside.
Meanwhile, Ascari motored on, and was looking incredible tough doing so. It seemed that with each lap he continued to increase his pace. By the time he had completed 5 laps, there were only about eighteen cars still in the race. His margin over Farina was quite sizeable. Farina had been in a battle with Taruffi earlier but would break free to try and reel in Ascari. He would try in vain.
By the time 8 laps had been completed the field was further reduced to only twelve. Unlike the Eifelrennen, some of the German drivers, including Klenk, were still out on the circuit circulating. However, to make it the entire distance, many would slow their pace way down. This provided plenty of opportunities to watch Ascari as he would come by multiple times to put the competitors another lap down. Klenk was one that would slow down. Even while each lap took the better part of eleven minutes, Klenk would have Ascari come by him more than once over the course of the 18 lap race.
Even though he had a sizeable margin over Farina, Ascari continued to push, even when there were still at least 7 or 8 laps remaining. On the 10th lap, Ascari would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. Incredibly, he would lap the 14 mile circuit in ten minutes and five seconds. His time was less than a second slower than his qualifying effort!
The race, everyone had come to see, had seemed to come to and end without having even started. It seemed over after just a couple of laps. As Alberto continued to increase his pace, it seemed there was no chance for Farina, or anybody, to catch him. But the actual race was actually only just beginning.
While everybody considered the race over, it was starting to fall apart for Ascari. Most likely, his pace throughout the course of the race had taken its toll, and with just a couple of laps remaining, all was not well inside the number 101 Ferrari 500. At the very least, the race victory seemed to be in doubt unless Ascari pitted and had the car checked over. Having the lead that he did, stopping seemed like the logical choice.
Alberto would pull into the pits with just one lap remaining in the race. Suddenly, the large crowd would rise to its feet in wonder and anticipation. Finally, the race had begun. Time continued to tick by, so too did Alberto's lead. Then, it became clear, Farina came flashing by into the lead. Farina would continue to power his way with his smooth style perhaps believing he had the race well in hand. With Ascari out of the race, Farina could just focus on the road ahead as there was practically nobody behind him. The next closest competitor was Rudolf Fischer, the Eifelrennen victor, but he was well over seven minutes down. Nobody else, including Klenk and all of the German racers, was even on the same lap as Farina.
But Farina did have a threat coming up fast behind him of which he was totally not aware. Farina hadn't increased his pace heading into the final lap. It seemed he thought the race was well and truly over and he would end up being its victor if he could navigate just one more lap. All of a sudden, that theory would be proven wrong. Filling Farina's mirror was a red Ferrari 500 with the number '101' on it. Whether he looked back, or looked in his mirrors, both read the same thing: Ascari was back in the race and intent on taking back his lead.
Undoutedly, Farina was beaten psychologically. He knew he had the lead, thought he was lapping more than fast enough, and yet, here was Ascari right up his backside. Farina, despite his fierce reputation with back-markers, could not hold back Ascari. The championship was his, and no ill-feeling car or former World Champion was going to keep him from it.
So soundly beaten was Farina that Ascari would cross the finish line with a fourteen second advantage over Farina. Over seven minutes would separate Ascari and Fischer in 3rd.
At some races, to be down a few laps to the leader can mean merely a couple of minutes, even just seconds. Hans Klenk would end up 'Not Classified' at the German Grand Prix because he was too far behind Ascari at the finish. Klenk would finish, though not officially, in 11th. What did 11th place look like that day? Four laps down. Klenk wasn't merely seconds or minutes behind Ascari. He was, technically, about three quarters of an hour behind Ascari at the finish! The best German finisher was Fritz Riess, a fellow driver at Mercedes-Benz. Riess would end up about twenty-five minutes behind Ascari. Obviously, the German entries were soundly beaten in the German Grand Prix. But they weren't alone. Only the top three positions were still on the lead lap with Alberto, and even Fischer was two-thirds of a lap behind by the finish.
Klenk had a victory slip through his and Kling's fingers at the Mille Miglia. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an electrical problem some time during the night ended what could have been a top three result given the finishing positions of the other Mercedes cars. Klenk had taken part in a couple of big races in 1952. And while results, like in the Mille Miglia, were good, there was also a hint of a bitter taste in the mouth. Klenk's third important race of 1952 was a thorough trouncing by Ascari, but there was little anybody could do about it. In fact, the race had been going rather well for Klenk. He was running steadily and was looking in good shape. However, all was not well with his Meteor. He would end up having to slow down and conserve the car in order to make it to the finish. In no small way, Klenk's ability to press on to the end was something of a small victory. He had finished 4th amongst the German finishers. This was a good turnaround after the failure in the Eifelrennen and 24 Hours of Le Mans. He looked to keep it going heading into his next race.
The next race would come at the very end of August. It was the third round of the West German Championship. Finally, the championship had moved away from the Nurburgring. Where it headed was a circuit known for one thing: speed.
On the 31st of August, the West German Championship shifted north about 80 miles from the Nurburgring to the Grenzlandring. The race consisted of 12 laps around the insane 5.58 mile road course consisting of public roads.
The Grenzlandring was and is something of a mystery. It forms a perimeter around a number of very small villages. The largest of the villages would be Wegberg and Beeck. Made of concrete, the Grenzlandring was built right at the very beginning of World War II. Its purpose was never known and it just existed after the war was over. Therefore, Grenzlandring seemed to be the perfect site to host a motor race. It was anything but the perfect site. Made of concrete, the circuit was bumpy. The bumps weren't much trouble in and of themselves, but they helped to make the circuit absolutely terrifying, and this was because the bumps didn't go so well with the incredible speeds competitors would turn around the circuit.
Essentially an egg-shaped oval, the circuit featured practically no lifting of the gas pedal over the course of a lap. The only time the foot really came off of the floor was going around the large-radius corners. Even while going around the corners, the drivers would play with the throttle to maintain the fastest speed possible around them. Average speeds around the circuit in 1952 approached an incredible 133 mph! All of this made the circuit incredible to watch, but very dangerous. In 1952, even those who came to marvel at the speeds would find out just how dangerous the circuit really was.
Klenk would come to the race with his Veritas Meteor. He had changed the car for the German Grand Prix. He had taken the streamlined side bodywork off to expose the wheels. However, when he unloaded the car for the 5th DMV Grenzlandringrennen, the streamlined bodywork was back. This was understandable given the high-speed nature of the circuit.
In practice, Toni Ulmen would prove to be the fastest in his closed-cockpit Veritas RS and would start from the pole. Starting beside Ulmen would be Kurt Adolff in another Veritas RS. Klenk would start the race from the second row right behind Ulmen.
The race would be incredibly tough on the majority of the field. Eric Brandon and Theo Helfrich would be one of the first out of the race. Eric Brandon had come with his small Ecurie Richmond teammate Alan Brown, but would not even get through a single lap of the circuit.
Even more retirements were coming. The race was only 12 laps in length, but the circuit, with its incredibly high speeds was proving to be about eleven laps too many for some. The starting field that had number nineteen strong continued to reduce in number with just about every lap. Unfortunately, the most horrible and tragic retirement was still to come.
Up front, Ulmen was tearing up the track in his streamlined RS. He would turn the fastest lap with the car and had Klenk doing his best to give chase. Kurt Adolff had already dropped off the pace and would end up retiring some time after halfway.
All but six of the nineteen starters had retired from the race. But there were still a few laps remaining. Helmut Niedermayr was running hard and fast in his Veritas Meteor. He had just streaked down the long Rheydter-Gerade straight and was making his way around the Roermonder Kurve. He had just passed the train crossing when he lost control and went hurtling off the track and into the crowd assembled watching the race. He would end up killing five instantly. Another nine would die due to injuries some time later. Surprisingly, Niedermayr wasn't hurt much at all, but he was seen mentally and emotionally hurting afterward in the garage. This had been the second time the circuit had a death due to an accident. The first had happened back in 1950. This event; however, was much worse and it would bring about the end of the Grenzlandring, but not before the race, that was in session, came to an end.
Ulmen's pace was untouchable. Klenk would do everything he could in his streamlined Veritas but it just wouldn't be enough. Ulmen would go on to take the final victory at Grenzlandring, but the mood, because of the horrible accident, was understandably subdued. Klenk had followed up his good performance in the German Grand Prix with a 2nd place in the third round of the West German Championship. He would end up eighteen seconds behind Ulmen. Ulmen and Klenk had proven too overwhelming for Josef Peters, who would finish 3rd. He would end up a minute and a half behind Klenk by the end.
In spite of the dark clouds that had assembled over Grenzlandring, Klenk was in a rather good mood. The 2nd place had been a good result. It truly was the best he could do on that day. While beaten, Klenk had managed to score some very important points toward the West German Championship. The fourth, and final, round of the championship wouldn't take place until the end of September. The 2nd place at Grenzlandring had brought Klenk back into the championship hunt. While he could not take the overall victory, 2nd place in the standings was within reach. It would be a long month to wait and prepare knowing it came down to just one last race.
Finally, on the 28th of September, Klenk would make final preparations to his streamlined Veritas Meteor for the 8th Internationales Avusrennen. This was the fourth, and final, round of the West German Championship. And since it took place just to the west of divided Berlin, the race ranked as a very important race for both West and East Germans. The Avusrennen was also one of the more well-known races in all of Germany. The race would attract a number of foreign entries as well as local German talent. In the 1952 edition of the race there would be a couple of French, a driver from Uruguay, an American and a very important Swiss.
The Swiss driver was Rudolf Fischer. Fischer had used his Ferrari 500 to win the Eifelrennen and was a prerace favorite to win the Avusrennen. Paul Pietsch entered his bid to challenge Fischer. He had brought a new heavily streamlined Veritas to the race. It was close to Fischer's pace, but it would lose control and crash in the inside of the Nordkurve. The car was virtually destroyed. Pietsch was out of the race after only taking part in practice. Toni Ulmen would not start the race either. This left Klenk and Fritz Riess as Fischer's main challengers.
Coming into the race, Riess was 2nd in the championship standings. Klenk and Riess, who also drove for Mercedes-Benz at the Mille Miglia and 24 Hours of Le Mans, would not have to square-off for 2nd place in the championship.
The scene of their battle was the old Avus Circuit. Built between 1925 and 1927, the circuit; originally, measured over 12 miles in length. The design of the circuit was quite unusual in that it was an out-and-back circuit. The long straights utilized the Avus highway that ran between Charlottenburg and Nikolassee. Each of the straights ran almost six miles each way. At either end of the circuit there were tear-drop-shaped corners named simply, the Nordkurve 'North Curve' and Sudkurve 'South Curve'. In the mid-1930s the Nordkurve would be banked and paved with bricks. This move increased the circuit's average speed, but it also made the circuit immensely more dangerous. Dubbed the 'Wall of Death', the North Curve had a couple of problems. One of the problems was the fact it had been paved with bricks and was; therefore, quite bumpy and upsetting of the cars. Secondly, the 'Wall of Death' received its name principally due to the fact it had no retaining wall on its outside edge. Therefore, it was entirely possible for car and driver, if the driver became distracted for the tiniest of moments, to go flying off of the top of the corner.
Over time, the circuit would go through changes. The banking, and lack thereof of a retaining wall, would remain. However, the circuit would undergo a couple of length evolutions. By 1952, the circuit had been shortened to just over 5 miles. The Sudkurve consisted of a hairpin turn that diverted away from the highway slightly before turning and heading back toward the Nordkurve.
The 25 lap race got underway with Fischer taking the lead and immediately beginning to stretch his advantage. Klenk and Riess were giving chase. Almost immediately, trouble began to hit the field as Josef Peters' race wouldn't last even a single lap. Three more would fall out of the race over the next couple of laps.
Thirteen cars were left in the race with 22 laps remaining. Fischer had really begun to stretch out his lead. Riess and Klenk were locked in a battle for 2nd place. It was tight lap after lap. Riess was all over the back of Klenk.
Three more entries would drop out of the race on the same lap. Theo Helfrich, Jacques Pollet and Puni Vignolo would all retire on the 14th lap of the race. About the same time, Rudolf Fischer would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. Averaging a little more than 126 mph, Fischer would complete a lap of the 5.13 mile circuit in two minutes and thirty-six seconds. Laps of that pace enabled Fischer to not only pull away, but to come back around and be right behind Riess and Klenk threatening to lap them.
Sure enough, with laps running out, Fischer would get by both Klenk and Riess to put the two a lap down. Fischer was all by himself. The only hope anyone had of winning the race was if Fischer had a mechanical problem at the very end of the race.
While Fischer continued to circulate the track way out in front, Klenk and Riess continued their battle unabated. The two had been battling since the drop of the green flag and there was barely any respite at any time during the race.
Fischer would have a trouble-free race and would head into the North Curve for the last time. He had more than a full lap advantage on Riess and Klenk. He just needed to be careful through the last turn and the victory would be his. He would easily cruise off of the banking and would power his way to the line. Fischer had done it. He had won two of Germany's toughest races. He had scored the victory at the Eifelrennen, he had finished 3rd in the German Grand Prix and had finished the season with another victory at Avus. Had he been a West German, the championship would have been his.
The duo battling it out behind Fischer wouldn't even be battling for the title. Toni Ulmen's victory at the Grenzlandringrennen had sealed the championship for him. So, Klenk and Riess were battling it out not just for 2nd in the race, but also, 2nd in the championship. Were Riess to gain the upper hand and score the second place on the podium 2nd place in the championship would be assuredly his. However, if Klenk was able to pull out a 2nd place finish he would end up causing a tie with Riess in the championship standings.
Heading into the final turn, Klenk was in front of Riess, but only just barely. Riess was positioned right up the back of Klenk's Veritas. Riess would try and use the banking to slingshot by and steal 2nd place at the very last instant. Klenk was aware of what Riess had to do and would keep the power down all through the North Curve. Klenk held on well coming off of the last turn and maintained an advantage over Riess. Both men pushed hard to the line. It was truly an amazing battle. As they crossed the line, Klenk had managed to stave off Riess' attempts and took 2nd place by seven-tenths of a second. This meant he would also have a share of 2nd place in the West German Championship standings.
He had done it. After waiting a month, Klenk's championship hopes came down to just one race and he had delivered. He had overcome the failure in the Eifelrennen and had ended his grand prix season on a high note. After the failure in the Eifelrennen, Klenk had showed tremendous prowess behind the wheel. He nursed his car home at the German Grand Prix and had managed two-straight 2nd place finishes in order to help secure his 2nd place in the championship. He had had a number of 2nd place finishes over the course of the year. While not victories, they were still incredible results from a man that had only started racing a year prior. Still, just one victory would have been nice. That was coming.
Hans Klenk had just one more race in 1952. It was another big race and it took place well outside of the European continent. Pairing up with Mercedes-Benz and Karl Kling again, Klenk headed to Mexico for the Carrera Panamericana. This was another long distance race similar to the Mille Miglia, but much tougher.
The Carrera Panamericana race was contested over a course measuring 2,170 miles. Next to Le Mans, it was the toughest race in which Klenk and Mercedes-Benz would take part. Mercedes had brought four cars to the event. Only three of those would actually take part in the race. The fourth would be used in case there was a problem. Kling and Klenk were to drive car number 4. Erwin Grupp and Hermann Lang drove car number 3. John Fitch and Eugen Geiger drove car number 6.
Klenk's claim to fame in racing would happen during the Carrera Panamericana race. And despite his abilities and his other incredible results, it would be the chance meeting with a vulture for which he would best be remembered.
In the race, Kling and Klenk were doing as they had been for a good portion of the Mille Miglia: leading the race. While in the lead, the two would have shades of the last moments of the Mille Miglia pass through their minds as they would strike a vulture while leading the Panamericana race. The vulture had been sitting in the middle of the road as Klenk came around at well over 100 mph. The bird smashed through the windscreen and actually struck Klenk.
Kling and Klenk had the Mille Miglia in hand until a stone caused them to need to replace one of their tires. The tire wouldn't come off very easily and would end up costing the two victory. The bird strike had done some considerable damage to the car and Klenk's head and threatened to repeat the bitter disappointment suffered in Italy. Klenk wouldn't let that happen again. In spite of the damage, Klenk would keep going. After nineteen hours and over 2,000 miles, Klenk had gotten what he had come close to throughout the season, but never got—victory.
Kling and Klenk had dominated the long distance race. They would cross the finish line with a winning margin of thirty-five minutes and eleven seconds over fellow Mercedes-Benz teammates Lang and Grupp. Luigi Chinetti and Jean Lucas would finish in 3rd place with their Ferrari 340 Mexico.
Klenk had once again showed his determination and talent in endurance sportscar racing. He would prove that he was truly a talented racing driver, both in sportscars and grand prix single-seaters. In spite of his talent, Klenk had taken part in his one and only World Championship grand prix race when he raced in the German Grand Prix.
In 1953, Klenk would only take part in a couple of Formula 2 and sportscar races. He and Kling would try for that elusive victory at the Mille Miglia but would end up with a much worse result than what they had earned in 1952.
After a 2nd place at Avus in his Veritas, Klenk would suffer a horrendous accident while testing a Mercedes 300SL. The injuries would sideline much of Klenk's racing during the season. He, in fact, had intended on entering the 1953 Germand Grand Prix but was unable due to the effects of the injuries would put in an entry for the German Grand Prix, but would not attend the race.
Klenk's only other major race would be a sportscar race at Avus in July of 1953. He would take a Borgward 1500 RS and would end his season and his career with the best possible result: a victory.
After the 1953 season, Klenk would slowly begin to fade away from the racing scene. He would last be seen and heard of at a World Championship grand prix when Theo Helfrich entered Klenk's out-dated Veritas in the German Grand Prix.
Klenk would slip away and would live a rather quite life. He would end up passing away in Vellberg, Germany in 2009.