Biography: Rudolf Caracciola (1901 - 1959)
Stuttgart
Oct 19, 2011
Born: 30 January 1901 in Remagen, Germany
Died: 28 September 1959 in Kassel, Germany
“Rainmaster”
Rudolf Caracciola was born on 30 January 1901 in Remagen. As a boy he was fascinated by cars, gathered first experience at the wheel of an “elderly 16/45 Mercedes” during the First World War and made up his mind to become a racing driver. When still a trainee at the Fafnir-Automobilwerke in Aachen, he started in the 1922 Avus race in Berlin (fourth in class) and the Opelbahn race in Rüsselsheim (winner). After a scuffle with an officer of the Belgian occupying forces, Caracciola left Aachen and became a Fafnir representative in Dresden. In 1923, he won the Berlin ADAC (the principal German automobile club) race driving an Ego.
In 1923, Caracciola joined Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft as a car salesman at its Dresden sales outlet. He was allowed to enter races with the current Mercedes 6/25/40 hp racing car. The successes he notched up included victory in the touring car class of the 1923 ADAC Reichsfahrt (German Reich) rally. In 1924, he was winner in his class on several occasions and secured overall victory in the Teutoburger Wald (Teutoburg Forest) race. That was the year he also met his future wife, Charlotte, nicknamed Charly.
In 1925, Caracciola won eight races at the wheel of the Mercedes 24/100/140 hp. In 1926, he won the German Grand Prix in a Mercedes eight-cylinder racing car. It was in this race that he first drew attention to his brilliant driving skills in adverse weather conditions; the victory was a textbook lesson in fingertip control by the “Rainmaster”, as he later came to be known. The prize money gave Caracciola economic security. He married Charly and in January 1927 opened up a Mercedes-Benz agency in Berlin, although he continued to compete in races.
In 1927, Caracciola won the race in which the new 26/170/225 hp Mercedes-Benz S model racing touring car premiered at the Nürburgring race track. That year he also went on to chalk up eleven overall and class wins. In 1928, Caracciola won five races in the successor model, the Mercedes-Benz SS, and he continued his winning form in the new racing tourer, the 27/180/250 hp SSK model. With the SSK he also opened the 1929 race season for Mercedes-Benz in the Monaco Grand Prix (third place). Caracciola won the International Tourist Trophy in Ireland in a Mercedes-Benz SSK in pouring rain at an average speed of 117.2 km/h.
Winner in Italy
Caracciola finished the 1930 Mille Miglia first in his class. The following year he won the race, the first foreign starter ever to do so, in a 27/240/300 hp Mercedes-Benz SSKL racing sports car. After a 16-hour drive from Brescia to Rome and back he and co-driver Wilhelm Sebastian finally crossed the finish line on 13 April 1931 as winners, posting an average speed of 101.1 km/h. In 1931, Caracciola also won the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring – another rain-affected race – and again captured the title of European Sports Car Hillclimb Champion.
When Mercedes-Benz withdrew from racing, Caracciola went to Alfa Romeo. In the 2.6-litre monoposto he won the German and Monza Grand Prix and the 1932 Eifel race. He became European Racing Car Hillclimb Champion and International Alpine Champion. Then in 1933 Caracciola and Louis Chiron set up the independent “Scuderia C.C.”, but he suffered a serious accident during practice for the Grand Prix of Monaco. This forced him to pull out of his racing appearances for the entire year. That winter his wife was killed in an avalanche.
Daimler-Benz signed Caracciola again for the 1934 season. For the new 750-kilogram formula the Stuttgart company launched the W 25 racing car, the first Silver Arrow. At the Italian Grand Prix on 9 April, Caracciola was still troubled by the effects of the injuries sustained in his accident; in first place after 59 laps, he let Luigi Fagioli replace him at the wheel, and Fagioli brought the victory safely home. At the Spanish Grand Prix on 23 September, Caracciola managed a second-place finish. New competition for Mercedes-Benz arrived in the form of Auto Union. These two racing departments would dominate the championship in the coming years.
In 1935, after a long race in sweltering heat, Caracciola won the Grand Prix of Tripoli. This was followed by victories in the Eifel race (16 June) and at the Grand Prix of France (23 June), Belgium (14 July), Switzerland (25 August) and Spain (22 September). A second-place finish in the Grand Prix of Barcelona (30 June) and third place in the German Grand Prix (28 July) rounded off the year. In 1935, he was European and German racing car champion. Mercedes-Benz won 9 out of 14 grand prix events that season, with Caracciola accounting for 6 of them.
His string of successes came to an end in 1936. Although Caracciola opened the season with a victory in Monaco (13 April) – in poor weather he once again demonstrated that his reputation as “Rainmaster” was entirely justified – the redesigned W 25 with short wheelbase increasingly caused problems. “Caratsch” posted his best results subsequent to Monaco at the Grand Prix of Tunis (17 May, winner), Barcelona (7 June, second) and Tripoli (10 May, fourth). At the German Grand Prix, Caracciola and co-pilot Luigi Fagioli could manage only fifth. The star of that season was Bernd Rosemeyer, who won the European championship for Auto Union.
In 1937, Caracciola returned to the pinnacle of European motorsport. The 750-kg formula was extended for another year, and Daimler-Benz developed the new W 125 racing car specifically for this season. In the monoposto Caracciola secured his second European Championship title. His racing successes that season included victories at the German (25 July), Swiss (22 August) and Italian (12 September) Grand Prix and the Masaryk Grand Prix of Brno (26 September). In addition, Caracciola notched up successes in the international Eifel race (13 June, second place), the German Hillclimb Grand Prix (1 August, third place), in Monaco (8 August, second place) and the Donington Grand Prix (2 October, second place). He was European Champion and also secured the title of German Road Racing Champion.
In the open-formula Avus race in Berlin on 30 May, Mercedes-Benz competed with different vehicle concepts, including three W 25 fitted with aerodynamic fairings. Caracciola won the first race of the competition driving one of these streamlined cars. He married Alice Hoffmann that year.
Record-breaking runs into new dimensions of speed
In January 1938, record-breaking attempts were back on the agenda. Over past years, Caracciola had set several records on autobahns (motorways) and oval circuits. This time on the Frankfurt–Darmstadt autobahn he attained a speed of 432.7 km/h. To this day it is the highest speed ever attained on a public road. It was a record marred by tragedy, however, since his friend and rival Bernd Rosemeyer would die in an attempt to break Caracciola’s record in an Auto Union car.
A new formula was drawn up for the 1938 races that limited displacement to 4.5 litres without supercharger and 3 litres with supercharger. Daimler-Benz designed the new W 154 racing car for this “3-litre formula”; it developed a maximum output of 453 hp from its V12 engine. In 1938, Caracciola won the Coppa Acerbo (14 August) as well as the Swiss Grand Prix (21 August). He placed second or third in the Grand Prix of Pau (10 April, with Hermann Lang, second), Tripoli (15 May, third), the French Grand Prix (3 July, second), the German (24 July, with Hermann Lang, second) and Italian Grand Prix (11 September, with Manfred von Brauchitsch, third). Now 37, Caracciola won the title of European Champion for the third time and consolidated his reputation as the most successful racing driver of the era.
In the Grand Prix of Tripoli, for which Daimler-Benz specially developed the 1.5-litre voiturette W 165, Caracciola took second place behind Hermann Lang – a double victory for the Silver Arrows. But the premier racing car of the season was the redesigned W 154, with which Caracciola won the German Grand Prix on 23 July. In 1939, he was German road racing champion; however, the European title that year was captured by the promising young talent, Hermann Lang.
Alice and Rudolf Caracciola lived through the Second World War in their adoptive country Switzerland. Caracciola was intent on racing in America after the war ended. However, in 1946 his car crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500. In 1952, he actively resumed racing and finished the Mille Miglia in fourth position in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. But a serious accident during the Grand Prix of Berne in 1952 put an end to his career for good. Caracciola was dependent on a wheelchair and crutches for a long time afterwards.
In 1956, he was given responsibility for the sale of Daimler-Benz cars to Americans and Britons stationed in continental Europe. Aged just 58, Rudolf Caracciola died in Kassel on 28 September 1959. A monument was unveiled in Remagen to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2001, and the banked curve at the Nürburgring was named after him.
Rudolf Caracciola – a racing career for
Mercedes-Benz
1901
  • 30 January: born in Remagen (Rhineland-Palatinate), Germany
1922
  • June: Avus race, Berlin, in 6 hp Fafnir (4th and winner in class)
  • July: Opelbahn race, Rüsselsheim, in 6 hp Fafnir (1st place)
1923
  • 3 April: Berlin Stadium race in 4 hp Ego (1st place)
  • 11 June: Job with Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) as salesman at Dresden office
  • 4 July: Baden-Baden Automobile Tournament in a 6/25/40 hp Mercedes (2nd place)
  • 5 July: ADAC Reichsfahrt (German Reich) rally in a 6/25/40 hp Mercedes (1st place)
1924
  • 25 May: Teutoburgerwald (Teutoburg Forest) race in a supercharged Mercedes 1.5 litre (1st place)
  • 10-19 August: ADAC Reichsfahrt in a supercharged Mercedes 1.5 litre (1st place)
1925
  • 24 July: Kniebis (Black Forest) hillclimb in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (1st place)
  • 15-16 August: Freiburg hillclimb and flat race in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (1st place, touring cars)
1926
  • 16 March: Teutoburgerwald race in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (1st place, factory drivers)
  • 30 May: Herkules hillclimb in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (1st place, sports cars)
  • 9-13 June: Baden-Baden Automobile Tournament in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (winner in sports car and touring car categories)
  • 19-28 June: South German Rally in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (1st place, sports cars)
  • 11 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes 8-cylinder racing car (1st place)
  • 22 July: Grand Prix of Europe and Grand Prix of Guipúzcoa (North Spain) in a 24/100/140 hp Mercedes (2nd place)
  • 7-8 August: International Klausen Pass race in a Mercedes K (1st place, sports cars)
1927
  • January: Opens Mercedes-Benz dealership in Berlin
  • 19 June: Inaugural race at the Nürburgring in a Mercedes-Benz S (1st place)
  • 23-30 June: Kartellfahrt (cartel race) of the AvD automobile club in a 8/38 hp Mercedes-Benz (without penalty points)
  • 5-9 July: Baden-Baden Automobile Tournament in a Mercedes-Benz S (winner in sports car category)
  • 6-7 August: International Freiburg Speed Record Festival in a Mercedes-Benz S (3rd and 1st place)
  • 13-14 August: Klausen Pass race in a Mercedes-Benz S (winner in sports car and touring car categories)
  • 25 September: Teutoburgerwald race in a Mercedes-Benz S (1st place, sports cars)
1928
  • 15 July: German Grand Prix at Nürburgring in a Mercedes-Benz SS (1st place, with Christian Werner)
  • 29 July: Gabelbach race in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place)
  • 5 August: ADAC race at Schauinsland in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place/racing cars)
  • 26 August: Chamonix hillclimb in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place)
  • 10 September: Salzberg race (1st place, racing cars)
  • 16 September: Semmering hillclimb (1st place, racing cars)
1929
  • 16 April: Monaco Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (3rd place)
  • 19-23 June: Baden-Baden Automobile Tournament in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (winner in racing car category)
  • 7-12 August: International Alpine Rally in a Mercedes-Benz Nürburg (1st place)
  • 17 August: International Tourist Trophy in Belfast in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place)
1930
  • 12-13 April: Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (winner in class)
  • 12 July: Shelsley–Walsh hillclimb in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place, sports cars)
  • 18-19 July: Irish Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place)
  • 9-10 August: Klausen Pass race in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place, sports cars)
  • 24. August: Mont Ventoux hillclimb (France) in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1st place)
  • 8 September: Grand Prix of Monza in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (2nd place, sports cars)
  • European Hillclimb Champion 1930
1931
  • 12-13 April: Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 17 May: Hillclimb near Rabassada/Spain in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 31 May: Königsaal–Jilowischt hillclimb (near Prague) in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 7 June: Eifel race in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 19 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 2 August: Avus race in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 16 August: Tatra hillclimb race (Slovakia) in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 30 August: Mont Ventoux hillclimb in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • 20 September: Drei Hotter hillclimb (Hungary) in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL (1st place)
  • European Hillclimb Champion 1931
1932
  • 17 April: Monaco Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo (2nd place)
  • 22 May: Avus race in an Alfa Romeo (2nd place)
  • 30 May: Eifel race in an Alfa Romeo (1st place)
  • 16 July: German Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo (1st place)
  • 7 August: Klausen Pass race in an Alfa Romeo (1st place)
  • 4 September: Mont Ventoux hillclimb in an Alfa Romeo (1st place)
  • 11. September: Grand Prix of Monza in an Alfa Romeo (1st place)
  • European Hillclimb Champion in racing car category 1932
  • International Alpine Championship 1932
1934
  • 5 August: International Klausen Pass race in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 19 August: German Hillclimb Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (2nd place)
  • 9 September: Italian Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 23 September: Spanish Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (2nd place)
  • 28-30 October: Speed marks set in Hungary in a Mercedes-Benz record-breaking car
  • 10 December: Speed marks set on Avus course in a Mercedes-Benz record-breaking car
1935
  • 12 May: Grand Prix of Tripoli in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 16 June: Eifel race in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 23 June: French Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 30 June: Grand Prix of Barcelona in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (2nd place)
  • 14 July: Belgian Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 28 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (3rd place)
  • 25 August: Swiss Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 22 September: Spanish Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • European Champion 1935
  • German Champion 1935
1936
  • 13 April: Monaco Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 10 May: Grand Prix of Tripoli in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (4th place)
  • 17 May: Grand Prix of Tunis in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (1st place)
  • 7 June: Grand Prix of Barcelona in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (2nd place)
  • 26 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 (5th place)
  • 26 October: Record runs on Reichsautobahn Frankfurt am Main–Heidelberg
  • 11 November: Record runs on Reichsautobahn Frankfurt am Main–Darmstadt
1937
  • 9 May: Grand Prix of Tripoli in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (6th place)
  • 30 May: International Avus race in a streamlined Mercedes-Benz (1st in first run)
  • 13 June: International Eifel race in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (2nd place)
  • 25 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (1st place)
  • 1 August: German Mountain Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (3rd place)
  • 8 August: Monaco Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (2nd place)
  • 22 August: Swiss Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (1st place)
  • 12 September: Italian Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (1st place)
  • 26 September: Masaryk Grand Prix of Brno (Czechoslovakia) in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (1st place)
  • 2 October: Donington Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 125 (2nd place)
  • European Champion 1937
  • German Champion 1937
1938
  • 28 January: Record-breaking runs on Reichsautobahn Frankfurt am Main–Darmstadt
  • 10 April: Grand Prix of Pau in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (2nd behind Hermann Lang)
  • 15 May: Grand Prix of Tripoli in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (3rd place)
  • 3 July: French Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (2nd place)
  • 24 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (2nd place, with Hermann Lang)
  • 14 August: Coppa Acerbo in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (1st place)
  • 21 August: Swiss Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (1st place)
  • 11 September: Italian Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (3rd place)
  • European Champion 1938
1939
  • 8-14 February: Record-breaking runs on Reichsautobahn at Dessau
  • 7 May: Grand Prix of Tripoli in a Mercedes-Benz W 165 (2nd place)
  • 21 May: International Eifel race in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (3rd place)
  • 23 July: German Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (1st place)
  • 20. August: Swiss Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz W 154 (2nd place)
  • Pan-German Champion 1939
1952
  • 3-4 May: Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL/W 194 (4th place)
  • 18 May: Grand Prix of Berne in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL/W 194 (retired due to accident)
1956
  • Caracciola takes over sales of Mercedes-Benz cars to British and American soldiers stationed in Germany
1959
  • 28 September: died in Kassel (Hesse), Germany
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