Legendary racing driver Hans Herrmann turns 90

Happy birthday to the Le Mans, Daytona and Targa Florio winner – one of the true motorsport heroes of his age, whose name is indelibly linked with Porsche and Mercedes-Benz

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Legendary German racing driver Hans Herrmann celebrates his 90th birthday this week. Born in Stuttgart on 23 February, 1928, Herrmann is one of the last surviving legends of the no-holds-barred 1950s motorsport era, and scored victories at Le Mans, Daytona and Targa Florio.

He started in motorsport in 1952, driving a private Porsche 356 on a winter rally. The trained baker and confectioner won a class in the Deutschlandfahrt in the same year, and was soon snapped up by Porsche itself. He took class wins for the manufacturer in the Mille Miglia in both 1953 and 1954.

The talented 25-year-old next went to Mercedes-Benz – which, under the leadership of racing boss Alfred Neubauer, was making a return to Formula 1. In Herrmann’s very first test, driving a 300 SL at the Nürburgring, he was the second-fastest driver among much more experienced wheelmen. The next day he set the fastest lap. Following testing at Monza, the youngster was put in the Mercedes team alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling.

On July 4, 1954, the new Silver Arrows had their world premiere. Fangio and Kling finished in first and second place, and Hans crowned his Formula 1 racing debut with the fastest lap time at Reims: 2mins 32.9secs, with a 195.463kph average speed. During the remainder of the season, Herrmann achieved two podium finishes in Grand Prix races: he came third in both the Swiss GP and the Avusrennen (below).

In 1955, Mercedes lined up a full diary for the young German driver, scheduling not only Grand Prix races but also sports car events – including the Mille Miglia, below – behind the wheel of a 300 SLR (W196S). Unfortunately, Herrmann was seriously injured in a training accident at Monaco in May, and was thus unable to compete at all until the end of the racing season.

Yet despite being denied the possibility of contesting more Formula 1 races for Mercedes-Benz, ‘Hans im Glück’ (Lucky Hans) remained closely associated with the brand. For instance, he drove a 220 SEb (W111) rally car in the Gran Premio Argentinian rally in 1961 (below), eventually reaching the finish line in second place behind the very experienced Walter Schock in a twin car.

During his long career Herrmann proved himself to be a very versatile driver, taking part in Formula 1 and 2, and sports car races, as well as rallies. In addition to Mercedes and Porsches, he could also be found in the cockpits of BRM, Cooper, Maserati and Veritas machines.

Herrmann was a true artist when it came to long-distance sports car racing. In 1960 he chalked up a win in the Targa Florio – in which he participated a total of eight times over his career – and he also won the Daytona 24-hours in 1968. He ended his professional driving career in 1970 on a very high note, after winning the Le Mans 24-hours with Richard Attwood in the Porsche 917 short-tail (below).

Since then, Herrmann has devoted his time to his own accessories business, and to acting as a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz Classic. Very few people outside of Germany are aware that his personal business, Hans Herrmann Auto-Technik sells patented tow bars for passenger cars and vans, as well as a special jack designed with the ADAC.

This charming gentleman deserves an anecdote. During Mercedes-Benz testing for the Solituderennen in October, 1953, Alfred Neubauer gave all his drivers a chance to practice on the very demanding, 11.7km circuit (comprising public roads near Solitude Castle outside Stuttgart). He would run his tests with the same military precision as he would run his races.

All drivers used the same two 300 SL sports cars, and to the surprise of many, young Herrmann turned in the fastest time of 4mins 52secs, leaving Mercedes star drivers far behind, with Karl Kling achieving 5mins 17secs, Hermann Lang 5mins 10secs and Fritz Rieß 5mins 07secs. The only driver with a chance of challenging Herrmann on track was not a Grand Prix hero, but an engineer; race car-development boss Rudolf Uhlenhaut managed 5mins 3secs...

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