A Place in History - Former German TT Riders

Actually, the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man is always a home match for English, Scottish and Irish racers. This is still the same today, but a closer look and an evaluation of the results show, that, astonishingly many German riders have also participated with great success. On the one side there are commonly well known German professionals. – about them a lot of appreciation can be found in other literature. In contrast, this article is dedicated especially to the German private racers, who managed to achieve a top result as newcomers by shear endeavour.

Surprisingly, to many, the first TT winning German was not Georg Meier, who won in 1939… one year earlier Ewald Kluge dominated the Lightweight TT, taking victory, on a DKW 250 cc as a newcomer. Who is not familiar with the TT legends Hans-Otto Butenuth and Helmut Dähne? These racers completed, according to my knowledge, in the most races on the Mountain Course so far by German competitors. Helmut Butenuth participated in the TT from 1962 to 1996, Helmut Dähne from 1972 to 1996. They are also famous for finishing
second and third, respectively, behind Mick Grant (Triumph) in the Production 1000 cc in
1974 – outstanding performances. Furthermore, Horst Kassner from Munich has to be mentioned. In 1956 he came in fourth, as a newcomer, in Lightweight 250cc on NSU behind Hans Baltisberger (NSU). His brother Helmut secured eighth in 1973 on Yamaha behind the legendary Alex George in the Junior TT. In 1974 he fought to a brilliant 6th ranking in the Senior TT.

Among many German sidecar heroes Klenk /Scheerer are to be remembered. As newcomers, they reached a tremendous 4th place in 1972 on a private BMW. Staying with the sidecar racers, I would like to mention Rolf Steinhausen. It was a great pleasure recently for me to establish personal contact with him. He told me about his impressions and experience at the TT.

Here is an extract from our conversation: “The TT at that time belonged to the world championship. As a consequence everybody who wanted to become famous had to compete in the races around the famous Mountain Course. Max Deubel, my neighbour, had already won the TT; in a letter, he recommended me to race in the TT of 1972. However my entry was not accepted until the following year. My sidecar passenger was Karl Scheurer and, on a König outfit, we became the best newcomer team with two third places. I took the TT very seriously, at first, being frightened of it, but finally I enjoyed each lap. From me, my passenger and my sidecar I always demanded the uttermost. Many times
I drove around the course by car in order to gain an intensive knowledge of the track. In
doing so, I always went in the same driving direction as it was in the race itself. Klaus
Enders provided me with that hint and as a passenger in a car I always closed my eyes
when being driven around the course in the ‘wrong’ direction. During all my years I only
became familiar with the course itself, unfortunately there remained no time for sightseeing.
In my opinion all participants at the TT were absolute insiders. Each racer was handled in the same way and was paid due respect. The functionaries felt really responsible, which was essential for events like this. Only by the professional acting of all parties could the TT become and remain a success. The situation in the paddock was, even for those former times, quite frugal: a meadow with a water tap and a simple latrine – today there would only be a mild flouting about this During the races I got a great variety of experience, so it is hard to single out a special one. But I should mention that during each lap my heart almost stopped and that I interrupted breathing when turning into Bray Hill. Often I have been asked if I would race at the TT if I was at the beginning of my career today. I would have to be crazy to take the agony as in former times. Up to now I have not regretted a single start, despite of all the pain, you have to concentrate lap by lap.”

In 1975 and 1976 Steinhausen / Huber gained first places on their König sidecar outfit; in 1977, they finished third in both races. On a Yamaha engined machine, Steinhausen, with Wolgang Kalauch in the chair, again won in 1978. A special concern of mine is to remind fans of the popular road racing star, Klaus Klein. He entered the Senior TT for the first time in 1981 on a Suzuki and, at the TT Races of the following year he achieved a 4th place in the Classic TT.

Until his fatal accident in 1987 at Dundrod he took part in the TT each year. Unforgotten are the mental pictures of Klaus Klein, dressed in his white Hein Gericke leathers, with the number 1 plate on his Bimota machine. Klaus Klein inspired his best friend, the twice a Superbike Champion, Peter Rubatto – called ‘Mr. Superbike’ – to enter the TT of 1985. I got into contact with him, too - he told me he was so thrilled at seeing a photograph of Helmut Dähne’s amazing jump at Ballaugh Bridge that he decided he wanted to do the same thing himself. As a newcomer, also in the same Hein Gericke team as Klaus Klein, he came home a brilliant fourth in the TT F1 on his Egli Honda with an unmodified CB 750 engine. Despite his rudimentary knowledge of the course and sporting the yellow newcomer’s waistcoat he managed a fastest lap speed of 106.54 mph. Peter Rubatto closed his TT career in 1987 on a Yamaha-Bimota in the F1 Race at an average speed of 111.59 mph gaining 7th place. Looking back on all his experience, Peter Rubatto mentioned that he has the Isle of Man in the best afterglow, especially the atmosphere, the fans and the fact that you have to always act sensibly.

Finally, I’d like to point out that there are many other successful TT riders, which have not been mentioned here. They are not forgotten and will feature in future articles.

Gerti Eppert
German Representative of the TTSC